While Land Rover's fresh take on the Defender may be the biggest off-road launch at this year's Frankfurt, that hasn't stopped Audi from trying to steal a little of its thunder. To do so it hasn't satisfied itself with merely modernising a classic, but has instead looked into the future to bring us this, the AI:trail quattro concept.
As with last year's PB18 e-tron - which has now been renamed the AI:Race for continuity - the concept aims to demonstrate the more focussed direction in which Audi believes the market may head in coming years, as ownership decreases and the ability to borrow a specific vehicle for a specific purpose results in less compromised designs. To that end the AI:Trail has been developed with the sole purpose of exploring nature, making visibility, range and off-road prowess key to its success.
The concept bears many of the features we've become accustomed to in recent years: electric propulsion, autonomous capability and... drones instead of headlights? Yep, the Trail is equipped with five triangular rotorless drones, dubbed Audi Light Pathfinders, which can(t) fly ahead of the vehicle and use their integrated matrix LED elements to light its path. Remaining on the smart light theme, the car comes equipped with the 'Audi Light Companion', a torch-like device which not only creates a customisable ambient glow, but can also be paired with the car's sat-nav to project directional symbols and written information onto a route whilst hiking.
When it comes to performance, Audi is more realistic. Thanks to its niche design brief, the stocky AI:Trail needn't make many sacrifices to on-road ability. A top speed of just 80mph belies the 435hp and 738lb ft on tap from the four wheel-mounted electric motors, with the focus instead being on an ability to operate in remote areas devoid of charging facilities. A range of 249 miles on road and 155 off it ought to do the trick...
Thanks to those four individual motors, the 33.5-inch tyres which they turn and a suite of off-road electronics, the vehicle does without differentials. The tyres themselves offer an additional 2.4 inches of suspension travel thanks to their unique sidewall design, while also packing automatic sensor-controlled air pressure regulation which adjusts to the surface as needed. Meanwhile, 13.4 inches of ground clearance still affords its plenty of go-anywhere ability, including the ability to traverse water over half a metre deep.
To ensure its occupants don't miss a thing while exploring the great outdoors, Audi has made extensive use of glass for the protruding angled windows, "helicopter-style" wrap-around windscreen and fully-glazed roof offering plenty of visibility. Despite all that glass and a big ol' slab of batteries, a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminium and carbon fibre for the rest of the car's construction results in a kerbweight of just 1,750kg - which isn't too shabby. Those materials have also allowed for the construction of one single, spacious passenger cell, the highlight of which are the hammock-like second row seats, which can even be removed for a little added comfort once in the wilderness. Plenty of interesting ideas to look forward to in the coming years, then; if this is the direction that the Audi Q-cars are headed in, then perhaps SUVs won't be quite so bad after all.