The Audi AI Trail concept SUV is a star attraction of the Frankfurt Motor Show 2019

Audi’s futuristic concept car provides a glimpse of what’s in store for the German carmaker’s SUVs

The fourth member of the Audi’s AI series of concept cars has just broken cover at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Audi’s vision of a future SUV will join the racy Aicon saloon, the even racier AI Race (formerly known as the PB18 e-tron and a possible preview of the next R8) and the AI Me city car, with all of them featuring heavy use of autonomy and electric powertrains.

The most interesting bit about the AI Trail’s styling isn’t the fact it looks like a Mars rover, but the fact that like the Aicon and AI Me, its waistline looks to be exceptionally high, as defined by the ridge in the side windows, a clean break from the current automotive styling paradigm of a high waist and tiny greenhouse. 

Another striking aspect of the AI Trail’s design is how its snub nose and tail gives it virtually nil overhangs, along with floating wheelarches at each corner. Along with the massively oversized wheels and aggressive ground clearance, the effect is to make the Ai Trail look like a science fiction monster truck. 

Suffice it to say, the AI Trail is electric, with a quartet of electric motors powering each wheel. Total output is relatively modest at around 430hp (320kW), but system torque of 1,000Nm, plus the precision afforded by its differential-less adaptive ‘true’ all-wheel-drive means the AI Trail could find grip almost anywhere. 

And if its name wasn’t enough of a clue, Audi’s future of the SUV is capable of autonomous driving — Level 4 autonomy, to be precise. On the beaten path, the AI Trail is able to run autonomously and the vehicle is able to operate without human intervention, even when faced with obstacles or an impending unthinkable event.

Still, the AI Trail is equipped with a steering wheel and pedals, which will most definitely come in handy in off-road situations where roads aren’t mapped and conditions can be variable. Out there, the AI Trail will only have Level 2 autonomy, which is equivalent to what Audi has in its cars today, performing small steering corrections, modulating the throttle/brakes and sending out a warning if a potentially dangerous situation is about to unfold. 

The AI Trail is also filled to bursting with more of-the-moment trimmings, including a (mostly) leather-free cabin. The front seats look to be upholstered in fabric, the rear seats are fabric hammocks that can be removed from the vehicle and its carpets are made of recycled wool and leather. 

Those rear seat hammocks, along with the five camera-equipped drones that Audi dubs Light Pathfinders can fly ahead to light and sight the way for the AI Trail, or operate on fixed points on the vehicle (on traditional headlight mounting points or on the roof) look to be fanciful speculation, though plenty of other things on the car provide tantalising clues on what to expect from Audi in the near future. 

The electric, self-driving bit is a given, though what’s more intriguing is how Audi isn’t just intending to sell the AI Trail, or any of the other AI concept cars, for that matter. Instead, the German carmaker is envisioning a future where users merely lease its vehicles when they need it for very specific purposes.

Want to go on a weekend off-roading adventure? Go rent the AI Trail.

Want to hit the race track? Get the AI Race

Want to go on an inter-city tour? You might want to pick up the Aicon.

Want to zip to/from work in a connected mobile office? There’s the AI Me

Audi says this not only allows users the flexibility of having a highly optimised vehicle to meet their specific needs, it allows its engineers to build vehicles of few compromises that cater to highly specific use scenarios.