The fourth-generation Audi A8 has made its global debut at the 2017 Audi Summit in Barcelona, Spain, in a glitz-heavy unveiling that heralded its arrival as a turning point for the brand.
And it is, in more ways than one. Large luxury cars are usually the technology flagships of the world’s prestige marques, and the A8 is packed with some incredibly cutting-edge gear – not least of which is its self-driving tech.
Billed by Audi as the world’s first production car with a true level-three autonomous capability, the new A8 is festooned with enough sensors and computing power to be able to drive itself along a road at speeds up to 60km/h.
‘Level three’ isn’t exactly what you may think of when you think of a self-driving car – and Audi takes the time to describe it as “highly automated” rather than truly autonomous – but the new A8 can, in certain circumstances, permit fully hands-off driving.
These include when parking (you don’t even have to be in it for that one), as well as when driving on a freeway at sub-60km/h speed. The latter mode, dubbed Traffic Jam Pilot by Audi, has some caveats however: there must be a barrier between the car and traffic coming the opposite direction, and there must be clear lane markings. Even so, for those who routinely deal with freeway congestion it’ll no doubt be worth its weight.
Both systems rely on a 360-degree array of optical cameras, laser scanners and radar/ultrasonic sensors to build up a picture of their surroundings, which is rendered on the driver’s instrument panel in real-time.
Speaking of which, the A8’s infotainment suite is very much cutting edge. Boasting more screens than a JB Hi-Fi, the fourth-gen A8 replaces the bulk of traditional centre-stack controls with virtual buttons, with very few physical switches. Haptic feedback sends a light buzz into your fingertip whenever you press an on-screen button, which helps simulate the tactile feel of conventional switchgear.
As part of Audi’s decluttering strategy for the A8, the company’s MMI infotainment controller has vanished from the interior. With two high-resolution multifunction touchscreens occupying the entire centre stack (the top displaying sat nav, audio and phone data, the bottom showing climate control functions), Audi reckons you won’t miss that rotary dial and its shortcut buttons.
There are more screens elsewhere too. Rear seat entertainment screens are available, naturally, but Audi has also followed BMW’s lead and grafted a removable tablet into the fold-down centre armrest as well.
A more luxurious rear seat option sees a pair of powered seats replace the standard bench, which are then bisected by a centre console offering and new an even larger touchscreen. A fold-out footrest on the rear of the passenger side front seat is also available, and has a built-in massage feature.
Running all of this technology is a 48-volt charging system, a significant departure from the usual 12-volt automotive electrical system, but one that’s necessary for the high-end equipment and their high energy consumption.
An example of that equipment is the A8’s active suspension, which uses cameras to detect bumps in the road and adjusts a titanium torsion bar attached to each wheel to help smooth out the ride. It’s a concept that’s been played with before, but Audi reckons its system can make the A8 handle as crisply as a sports car while being as compliant as a limousine.
Further enhancing dynamics include the availability of four-wheel steering, as well as a variable steering rack ratio – both of which serve to help the A8 corner more tightly.
Two engines will be available initially in Europe, with a 3.0-litre turbo petrol V6 and 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 being the mainstay motors of the family with power outputs of 210kW and 250kW respectively.
A pair of 4.0-litre petrol and diesel V8s will follow, with the petrol making 338kW and the diesel generating 320kW, while the A8 L e-tron quattro plug-in hybrid will generate 330kW via a 3.0-litre diesel V6 and electric motor setup.
These will be the most powerful engine options until the eventual arrival of a 6.0-litre, twin-turbo W12 flagship.
Australian launch timing, pricing and specifications have yet to be announced.