VEHICLES ranging from large sedans, full-sized crossovers, hatchbacks and sportscars have all been given the electric treatment, but it seems only recently that the small-SUV space has started to charge up.
Hyundai launched its Kona Electric earlier this year, starting at $59,990 before on-road costs, while Toyota’s funky CH-R has been available in overseas markets with a hybrid powertrain since its release in 2017.
Weirdly, the premium brands have shied away from an electric compact crossover, but that could all change with Audi’s AI:ME concept possibly foreshadowing a new emissions-free small SUV.
Taking centre stage at this year’s Shanghai motor show, Audi’s latest concept vehicle could very well be found on the city streets in the early 2020s.
Befitting a small, inner-city crossover, the AI:ME sports diminutive exterior dimensions but also a roomy interior and clever packaging for up to four occupants and some luggage.
Built on a bespoke electric-vehicle platform – likely Volkswagen Group’s MEB modular electric-drive architecture – the AI:ME measures 4300mm long, 1900mm wide, 1520mm tall and features a 2770mm wheelbase.
Power comes courtesy of a rear-axle-mounted electric motor capable of 125kW, while the 65kWh battery pack positioned under the floor should be good for a respectable driving distance.
And, of course, can a concept that looks this futuristic be complete without featuring some sort of autonomous technology?
In the AI:ME’s case, it is Level 4 self-driving capable, which means the steering wheel and input controls can be folded up and away to create more space for occupants.
All seats – barring the driver’s pew – can also be transformed into various positions or folded away to create more storage space for an arrangement Audi dubs a 2-plus-X-seater.
The cool tech doesn’t just stop there, either, with features such as AI-based bio-signal recognition that allows input functions via eye movement, active noise control and an bleeding-edge virtual reality infotainment system.
Even the exterior is tech-laden thanks to a seamless glasshouse, intelligent LED lighting elements and lightweight body materials.
Although the AI:ME looks ground-breaking in design, it actually draws much inspiration from the Aicon concept car from the 2017 Frankfurt motor show.
However, the Aicon is significantly larger due to its Level 5 self-driving technologies (no steering wheel or pedals) that make it much more robo-taxi than city runabout.
The Aicon is also more powerful with two electric motors combining for a 260kW/550Nm output, and cutting edge thanks to a wireless recharging system that can top up 80 per cent of battery capacity in just 30 minutes.
Not all of Audi’s electric concept vehicles are as sedate as the AI:ME and Aicon though, with the PB18 e-tron concept of last year pointing the way forward for a new-generation R8 supercar.
With 570kW/830Nm available under the right foot, Audi says the PB18 will demolish the zero-to-100km/h spring in just over two seconds – wow!
The future certainly looks electric for Audi – and the rest of the automotive industry – but does that make you excited to see what tomorrow brings?