Audi guns for Defender with rugged off-road EV

Audi guns for Defender with rugged off-road EV

Audi off-roader Shock new Defender rival on the way. Plush go-anywhere electric 4x4 is part of Audi’s radical bid to enter new segments.


DrivesToday can reveal that Audi bosses are on the verge of giving the green light to a go-anywhere electric 4x4 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.

Audi’s 4x4 is likely to share a ladder-frame chassis with Scout

The firm’s outlandish new Activesphere concept – a segment-straddling off-road super-saloon (see overleaf) – gives strong clues to Audi’s priorities in this segment with its overt focus on outdoor pursuits and rugged design cues and indeed it is set to make production as a tough, 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 that Audi has co-developed with sibling brand Porsche for use across its core EV line-up. Nor will it use the Ford Ranger-derived underpinnings set to provide the basis for an electric Volkswagen 4x4 SUV in the coming years.

Speaking exclusively to DrivesToday, Audi designer Marc Lichte – who hinted at the prospect of a new 4x4 – refused to be drawn on the specifics of its 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 4x4 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 offroaders conceived in the spirit of the bare-bones original International Harvester SUV – 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 the potential still looms large for Audi 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 the 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, which would suggest plans for launch in various global markets outside the US – alongside 100,000 Scout cars.

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.

Audi 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 4x4 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 added. “There is potential because there are only two premium players” in this particular segment (Mercedes 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.

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 4x4 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.”

Lichte said Audi’s designers have much more freedom afforded to them now as EV platforms essentially allow for a dismissal of the established hallmarks of car design. “Working as a designer is a dream because we’re 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.”

This secret new SUV is destined to become reality in around 2027
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