We only know them for trade, crafts and trades, for camping or as Pampers Bombers for large families.
Despite all efforts, the VW Bulli and Mercedes V-Class never really made it into the luxury class on this side of the staff room.
Students may love the minibuses, but executives in this country prefer to be chauffeured in limousines, if at all.
But different countries, different customs: In Asia in general and in China in particular, where privacy is scarce and people huddle together, space is pure luxury and the van is often more popular than the large notchback.
Although this is not new, word has apparently not really gotten around to European car manufacturers so far.
Because while Toyota dominates the streets of Shanghai with the Alphard and Nissan with the Elgrand, you see there at most a V-Class from Germany - and the Chinese converters, above all, make the most of it, who upgrade the Benz with plenty of paintwork and leather and digital frills Rebuild business shuttle.
But at least Audi has now apparently gotten on to the funnel and, in close cooperation with Chinese customers, has put the Urban Sphere on wheels as the last study in its "Sphere" triology - a space glider that is larger than anything they have built in Ingolstadt .
The interior presents itself as generous as possible
The showpiece is 5.50 meters long and should actually be shown this week at the motor show in Beijing, which has now been postponed to the summer, and the huge 23-inch wheels are 3.40 meters further apart than in the newly launched XXL version of the Audi A8.
But above all, the designer piece is around 1.80 meters high and therefore looks like a giant cone, which can only be recognized as an Audi by the digital single-frame grille and the brightly lit rings.
While the designers have used every trick on the outside to ensure that the van doesn't appear as a box, crouches reasonably sleekly in the wind and looks smaller than it actually is, on the inside they are concerned with the feeling of maximum width.
When the two doors, which are hinged in opposite directions and connected without a disturbing B-pillar, open electrically and you step over a red carpet of light into the sober and noble salon with your head held high, you slide elegantly into a lounge bed that comfortably accommodates the passenger turned a few degrees in the opposite direction.
In front of it, even with the footrest extended, there is still so much space that the Color & Trim department has woven a Zen garden into the carpet on the floor.
Anyone who prefers media rather than meditative pastimes can slide a transparent screen from the ceiling – with gesture control, of course – that spans the entire width of the vehicle and turns the Urban Sphere into a cinema on wheels, while a water dispenser comes out of the console between the seats for refreshment in between.
And if you want to be by yourself in this intimate atmosphere, you can slide the head guard to the side like a shield, shielding yourself from your neighbors.
750 km range and 800 volt technology for charging
It is true that the second row plays first fiddle in the study.
But because the MPV has a few more seats, there are of course two reasonably comfortable places in the front and a better platform in the rear, which is at least suitable for the offspring or as an extension of the trunk.
The technical basis for the show star for Beijing, which was prevented by the pandemic, is the so-called PPE platform for the electric luxury class, which Audi is developing together with Porsche and will be mass-producing in the Q5 and A6 from next year.
In addition to the flat floor, the Urban Sphere inherits the 120 kWh battery for a range of up to 750 kilometers, the 800 volt technology for fast charging and – without quattro, no Audi – two motors with a total of a good 400 hp.
As in the other two Sphere studies, there is also a radically reduced operating system with very few central control elements and virtual switches in the ergonomically best spot as well as the idea of largely autonomous driving, which is why the steering wheel and pedals only whirr out of the dashboard when the Autopilot no longer knows what to do or the owner would like to experience the “Vorsprung durch Technik” for himself.
While the Sky Sphere luxury roadster for the 2021 Pebble Beach Concours should never be more than a dream and the Grand Sphere from the IAA last autumn is a declared template for the next generation of the A8, the UrbanSphere is still stuck between dream and reality.
And actually, the Bavarians wanted to take the reaction at the motor show in Beijing as a yardstick for this decision.
But now that the fair has been postponed, they may have to decide for themselves whether to get into space travel.
A look at the competition is only of limited help.
Because while the examples of Toyota and Nissan are encouraging, Mercedes is not such a good role model.
Not because the V-Class wouldn't do well.
But because the Swabians dreamed of luxurious space travel almost 20 years ago, just like Audi does now, and experienced a severe crash with the R-Class.Keywords: