Development goals for the new A8 see Audi targeting upmarket rivals such like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series more closely than ever before with a range of high-tech features designed to give the new model a perceived edge compared to its competitors.
Underpinned by the latest evolution of Audi's MLB platform, the A8 also introduce 48-volt electrical system used as part of a new mild hybrid drivetrain, with a claimed potential electric-only range of up to 50km, plus a new road-scanning active suspension, and an almost entirely buttonless touchscreen-controlled interior.
Audi also claims that the A8 is the first series production road car to have been developed expressly for what Audi describes as "highly automated driving", including functions like Traffic Jam Pilot system that can take full control of driving function at speed of up to 50 km/h on highways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways.
Traffic Jam Pilot meets so-called Level 2 automatic driving requirements, via cameras, short and long range radar and ultrasonic sensors, as well as the first use of a laser scanner for a Level 2-capable car, with the unit integrated into the front bumper. Information gathered from the sensor systems is processed by a central controller, which Audi describes as the key permanent merging of data for added autonomous driving precision.
Over time the new system will spread across other vehicles in Audi’s range, taking responsibility for starting, accelerating, braking and steering functions. Audi admits that the legal limitation of various markets could impede the technology’s roll-out and will adopt a step-by-step approach to its introduction.
The new styling approach isn’t unexpected, having be forecast by Audi’s Prologue concept series, with a more expressive single-frame front grille that stretches further from side-to-side dominating the new styling direction.
The bodysides feature a more complex arrangement of horizontal lines, with strakes pulled through the door handle line, blistered front and rear wheel arches, and a crisp crease that runs from front to rear and underscores the traditionally arched glasshouse creating a busy arrangement of design features atop one another.
Audi’s attention to signature lighting has been met via LED headlamps with simple L-shaped running lights and the option of either LED Matrix or laser headlights. Rear lighting upgrades to intricate OLED units, with a detailed startup animation sequence, and full-width tail lights that enhance the A8’s visual width.
Cues from other Audi models can also be seen with a stronger bonnet crease that flows from the base of the A-piller, per the new A5 and a stronger light catching surface in the lower doors modelled after the Q5, albeing with a less-resolved continuation into the rear bumper.
Audi unveiled both A8 body variants at the same time, with the regular A8 riding on a 2998mm wheelbase, and the longer A8 L on a 3128mm wheelbase, both 6mm longer than before.
The regular A8 stretches to 5172mm in length, 1945mm in width and 1473mm in height, making it 37mm longer and 13mm taller than its predecessor, yet surprising narrower than before, though only by 4mm. The extended wheelbase A8 L covers 5302mm from nose to tail and features a slightly raised ride for 1488mm of height.
As with previous A8s aluminium features heavily in the new cars construction, though at only 58 percent of the new vehicle’s structure the lightweight material is also accompanied by steel, magnesium and carbon fibre with different processes used to join the various materials.
Audi’s experience with carbon fibre as part of the development of the second-generation R8 led to its use in the A8 for part of the rear bulkhead and parcel-shelf using a new process developed by Audi and its suppliers. The bulkhead is made using carbon fibre tape laid together in different directions by machine, impregnated with resin and cured in just five minutes.
Compared to a the same section in aluminium the rear bulkhead weighs half of what it otherwise might at just 2.6kg, with the panel said to account for only one percent of the total body weight but 33 percent of the overall stiffness.
While Audi attempted to save weight where possible the A8's body-in-white (the body shell without the driveline gear and interior) weights 51kg more than the that used by the outgoing model, at 282kg versus 231kg. Audi claims the extra weight is due to the need to engineer the structure for greater crash protection in the face of more stringent safety legislation, with the changes also contributing to a 24 per cent increase in stiffness over the old structure.
Audi is yet to quote an official kerb weight for its new flagship model, though the stiffer body structure, added dimensions and the inclusion of additional sound deadening material to improve refinement levels is said to have pushed it beyond that of the outgoing A8, which tipped the scales at 1920kg in 3.0 TDI quattro guise.
The technology onslaught continues in the interior with an all-new design that incorporates multiple touchscreen displays, designed to take the place of nearly all switchgear, once again modelled after those of the Prologue concepts.
Space has also been expanded with an extra 28mm of knee room and 14mm more headroom for rear seat occupants of both the standard and long wheelbase models.
The driver now faces a 1920x720 pixel high definition instrument cluster controlled via a revised MMI (multi-media interface) system with two separate displays, one integrated into the middle of the facia measuring 10.1 inches in diameter and a second within the front section of the centre console measuring 8.6 inches.
Rear seat passengers aren’t forgotten about either with an available modular infotainment system that uses a quad core processor from NVIDIA and is claimed to be 50 times faster than the first generation unit. It forms part of an extensive list of options, that also includes a head up display unit, a revised Bang Olufsen sound system, conversational voice control and a navigation system featuring self-learning capabilities that is claimed to provide greater accuracy than existing systems.
At its European launch in September the A8 will be available with just to engines, both turbocharged V6s, starting with a 3.0-litre direct injection petrol engine capable of 250kW or an optional 3.0-litre V6 common rail diesel engine producing 210kW, a step-up of 17kW compared to the car it replaces.
Both initial engines, and indeed the entire powertrain range planned for the new A8 will be paired with a new 48-volt electrical system that offers a range of mild-hybrid functions, including engine off coasting, extended start/stop operation and kinetic energy recuperation under braking, via a belt driven alternator.
Standard driveline specifications are also set to include an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission and quattro all wheel drive, also available with an optional sport differential.
From 2018 Audi will expand the engine range to include a turbocharged 4.0-litre direct injection petrol V8 producing 338kW and a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 common rail diesel with 320kW, taking the place of the previous 4.2-litre V8 engine, but stepping power up by 37kW.
The flagship variant is set to be the A8 L W12, which matches the long wheelbase body to a revised version of the Volkswagen Group's 6.0-litre turbocharged W12 direct injection petrol engine with 430kW of power available (62kW more than the old model) despite a 300cc reduction in size.
Further down the track Audi also has its sights set on adding an A8 L e-tron plug-in hybrid that pairs the entry-level turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 with an electric motor mounted within the bell housing of the automatic gearbox to provide an overall system output of 330kW. Wireless charging is also expected to the e-tron variant.
The full range for Australia is yet to be confirmed though both the 3.0 TDI and 4.0 TDI diesel engines are expected to be offered here. Further down the track Audi is also expected to introduce a new S8 featuring a more powerful version of the turbocharged 4.0-litre TFSI engine as seen in the related Porsche Panamera Turbo.
Underpinning the new Audi is an advanced, aluminium intensive suspension featuring a combination of double wishbones up front and a five-link arrangement at the rear. Hydraulically operated air springs are expected on basic variants, with a new active suspension also available, that Audi claims as the most advanced series production car system yet.
Like the Magic Body Control system offered on the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the system scans the road ahead 18 times per second via windscreen mounted cameras to and can adjust the damping and spring characteristics via electric actuators within the spring towers on each individual wheel.
The system also forms part of a new pre-sense 360° system, which is used to raise the body of the car, putting the vehicles strongest structural members in-line with impact forces when an impending lateral collision is detected, which Audi claims can reduce the risk of occupant injuries.
Further tech highlights include a new four-wheel steering system on selected new A8 models to reduce the turning circle at low speeds and increase stability at high speeds, and a remote parking pilot and remote garage pilot feature that allows the car to be manoeuvred at low speeds via a smartphone app.
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