Audi readying electric 4×4

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Scout ladder chassis set to provide the basis for Audi’s answer to the Mercedes G-Class.

Automotive Daily Network partner Autocar has revealed that Audi bosses are on the verge of giving the green light to a go-anywhere electric 4×4 SUV to take on the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Class – a shock move for the German brand as it evaluates a range of bold new products to sit atop new-era EV architecture.

The firm’s outlandish new Activesphere concept – a segment-straddling off-road super-saloon – gives strong clues to the firm’s priorities in this segment with its overt focus on outdoor pursuits and rugged design cues, and indeed is set to make production as a rugged, Allroad-esque luxury saloon. But this secret new SUV is a separate project, destined to become reality in around 2027 as part of a strategic push into new segments, facilitated by the formation of new partnerships and platforms.

The new off-roader will not be based on the same PPE architecture Audi has co-developed with sibling brand Porsche for use across its core EV line-up, and nor will it use the Ford Ranger-derived underpinnings set to provide the basis for an electric Volkswagen 4×4 SUV in the coming years.

Speaking exclusively to Autocar, Audi designer Marc Lichte – who hinted at the prospect for a new 4×4 – refused to be drawn on specifics of the model’s make-up, but said it will ride on a platform taken from elsewhere in the VW Group portfolio.

Because the upcoming SSP platform – destined for use across all VW Group brands as a replacement for the currently ubiquitous MEB – has been delayed until at least 2028, it is highly likely that Audi will look to nascent sibling brand Scout to provide a more conventional 4×4 SUV architecture for its debut model in this sphere.

The rights to the dormant Scout marque were acquired by the VW Group in 2021, and plans are under way to use the name for a pair of Rivian-rivalling electric off-roaders conceived in the spirit of the bare-bones original International Harvester SUV – and both using a traditional ladder-frame chassis. Initial plans for Audi to build these Scout models alongside its own cars in a new factory in the US were cancelled, but potential still looms large for Ingolstadt to assist with – and benefit from – the launch of the brand.

Audi is already collaborating with Canadian components giant Magna (which, coincidentally, builds the G-Class in Austria) on development of batteries and electronics for Scout EVs, and the VW Group board is said to be leaning towards giving Magna the contract to build the Scout cars – with room on the production line for an Audi-badged product. The suggestion is that Magna could build 50,000 Audi 4x4s per year – a significant number that would indicate plans for launch in various global markets outside the US – alongside 100,000 Scout cars.

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To compete effectively with the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and Land Rover Defender (electric versions of which will be on sale by the time it arrives), Audi’s first entry into the luxury 4×4 market will need to combine unparalleled off-road ability with top-class interior technology and rolling refinement.

Scout’s ladder chassis will provide the steep departure angles and ground clearance needed to negotiate tough terrain, while the latest generation of Audi’s Quattro four-wheel-drive technology will boost traction on loose surfaces and steep topography – while no doubt making for enticing on-road performance potential, in a straight line and through corners.

The firm has recently stepped back into top-flight off-road motorsport with its RS Q E-tron rally-raid machine – a fearsome range-extender EV built to take on the formidable Dakar Rally – which is serving as a test bed for some of the 4×4 technologies bound for future production cars.

Lichte referenced Audi’s illustrious rallying heritage as a prevailing influence on the project: “If you think about the history of Audi – the rallying success in the ’80s with the Quattro and Sport Quattro – it’s easy to explain why Audi needs a car like this. And if we talk about Quattro 2.0, it matches even more.”

“I think there is space” for a rugged SUV in Audi’s passenger car line-up, he said. “There is potential because there are only two premium players” in this particular segment (Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover) “and I think there is a space for a third one”.

The models Lichte references as inspiration are two of the longest-standing and most successful in the SUV sphere. The Mercedes has been sold – almost visually unaltered – since 1979 and the Land Rover Defender can trace its spiritual roots right back to the firm’s eponymous debut model, launched in 1948.

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Each has evolved into a much more refined and exclusive take on its sparsely equipped ancestor, but to great effect: the Defender was by far Land Rover’s best-selling car last year, with 66,805 sold, and the G-Class set a new sales record the previous year with 41,174 finding homes worldwide.Lichte did confirm that, even if Audi is looking to claim a portion of the rugged 4×4 segment, the new SUV will not seek to obviously emulate the blocky, two-box proportions of its rivals: “It will not look like a G-Class and it will not look like a Defender, I can promise you. It will be something else.”

The new Activesphere concept gives strong clues as to how Audi would approach the styling of a dedicated off-roader, and any similarly conceived production car is expected to follow suit with purposeful protective body cladding, short overhangs, lots of suspension travel and a significantly higher ride height than the firm’s more road-focused EVs.

Lichte said that Audi’s designers have much more freedom afforded to them going forward as EV platforms essentially allow for a dismissal of the established hallmarks of passenger car design. “Working as a designer is a dream because we are creating not only a new product portfolio, we’re creating the car on a white sheet of paper,” he said. Asked if bosses had approved any particular design for the SUV, he said: “It’s too early to talk about this, but we have very concrete ideas. Very concrete ideas.”

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