Imagine a car that can take the form of a self-driving lounge room on wheels, one which can wirelessly replenish its sophisticated powertrain, warn other vehicles of hazards and read the road ahead for potholes or bumps, seamlessly adjusting its suspension to ensure a smooth ride. These are all things that will be avialable in the fourth-generation Audi A8, but none of it is here today.
However, what we do get, is a very sophisticated car which packs in about as much as you can hope for without becoming the car of the future.
Audi says the new A8 will shape the looks of future models, which is interesting as the A8’s visage has not been universally welcomed, largely due to an enormous hexagonal grille that dominates the front of the car, stretching wide across its bumper like a property mogul determined to occupy three quarters of the available real estate.
Ignore on-brand talk of a “coupe-like silhouette” and “elegant muscular shapes”, this is an old-school three-box sedan in the oldest of limousine traditions - conservative on the outside and decadent in the cabin.
Look closer and you’ll spot important details including beautiful (and optional) OLED tail lamps with impossibly delicate inner lenses, laser-powered front lights and an interior fitting the flagship of a brand famous for its cabin design.
Priced from $192,000 plus on-road costs, the A8 is available in four basic forms - a short or long wheelbase, plus a choice of V6 petrol or diesel power.
Opting for the longer body and more spacious cabin will cost you $15,000, while trading the standard diesel engine for a quieter petrol unit costs $3000.
As usual, there are plenty of optional extras which drive the price into another postcode. One well-appointed press car at the vehicle’s Sydney launch wore a $281,150 sticker thanks to a litany of options including a premium plus package with 20-inch wheels, chrome exterior trim, tinted rear windows, electric rear sunblinds and front massaging seats for $11,000, along with an executive package bringing seperate rear seats with folding tables, footrests, massage and ventilation functions for $18,500.
Other goodies included LED and laser front lights with OLED rear lamps for $13,200, Bang and Olufsen’s 3D sound system for $12,100, rear seat entertainment screens for $6650, as well as night vision and all-wheel-steering for $4500 and $5200.
Of course, you don’t need to spend an enormous amount on optional extras, as the A8 comes loaded as one of the safest, most luxurious cars on the road.
Standard kit includes 19-inch wheels with air suspension, matrix LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof and outstanding digital suite including Audi’s high-resolution virtual cockpit display and twin touchscreens on the dashboard.
More than 40 driver aids conspire to keep you out of trouble, including a state-of-the-art autonomous emergency braking system capable of detecting pedestrians at speeds up to 85km/h, and vehicles at up to 250km/h.
The major difference inside the new A8 surrounds a decision to ditch the old car’s physical control wheel for the infotainment system in favour of a new "touch operating concept” which manifests as black glass touchscreens for the car’s climate control, navigation, entertainment and other key systems. Unlike conventional touchscreens, Audi’s new arrangement features haptic feedback - you have to press as opposed to tap to activate selections, making the process more deliberate than usual. There’s an audible and tactile click when you prod the screen to open its navigation display, but not when you swipe, pinch and zoom through various menus. It all feels reasonably intuitive, if a little distracting as you need to be more precise than when accessing features using a physical controller.
The move to a touchscreen-based system was not an comprehensively positive one - particularly on the move - though it is augmented by an improved voice recognition system capable of recognising natural phrases.
Audi’s displays look their best when showing beautifully rendered maps made possible by satellite photography, the car seemingly soaring over the landscape with every glance at its gorgeous dashboard.
If you use an Android phone, the A8 can recognise when you are approaching the car and adjust seat, climate and navigation settings to suit your preferences - and do the same for four other people.
Doors open at the lightest touch, activating an electrical switch as opposed to mechanical linkages, while soft-close doors never need to be tugged or slammed. touches include an elegant 3D rendering of the car overlaid within its 360-degree camera display (just like a BMW 7-Series) and perfumed air with an ionisation (just like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class).
There’s real versatility to the A8L, which can be specified as a mobile office home to WiFi connectivity ready to handle next-gen 5G mobile networks, flip-out tray tables and digital tablets. A removable multipurpose tablet between the rear passengers in four-seat versions controls everything from mood lighting, climate control and entertainment features - you can even pop it out and use the rectangular device like an oversized iPhone to conduct private phone conversations without other passengers (or your driver) eavesdropping.
Audi says the combination of a high-definition stereo and internet connectivity results in crystal-clear phone calls with minimal background noise on either end. Serenity is a key feature of the A8, which is quiet on the road thanks to extensive insulation and double-thickness windows.
The A8 is comfortable whichever model you choose, though the 13 centimetre-longer A8L makes a stronger impression. Either way, air vents spin to face you, the back seat features Matrix LED reading lamps capable of illuminating a specific areas of the cabin - the idea being that you move the lights to meet the pages of your book, rather than compromising your comfort to reach a pool of light.
There are elements of the A8 you won’t find in its Germanic cousins, including a flip-down footrest on the back of the front passenger seat that can warm and massage your feet. You can pay to have touch points within the cabin, including the steering wheel and armrests, warmed to ease the chill of winter mornings when the A8’s standard all-wheel-drive system could also come in handy.
Everyday touches include a self-parking system, powered tailgate for its 505-litre boot and plenty of hidey-holes throughout the cabin.
ON THE ROAD
The powertrains also play their part, using clever engine mounts to isolate the vehicle body from unwanted vibrations.
Audi offers a pair of 3.0-litre V6 engines from launch, giving customers the choice of petrol or diesel power. Either way you go, power flows through an eight-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels through a quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Petrol versions produce 250kW and 500Nm, enough for the short-wheelbase model to dash to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds before reaching a 250km/h top speed.
Diesel models serve up 210kW and 600Nm outputs good for a 5.9s dash to the highway speed limit. Both feature adequate if not outstanding punch, though potential customers might consider waiting a little longer for more powerful - and efficient - options.
Interestingly, the A8 heralds a new naming structure for Audi's engines. Rather than following convention - this duo would ordinarily be named 3.0 TDI and 3.0 TFSI - the cars wear new 50 TDI and 55 TFSI badges, with the number denoting power levels as opposed to engine size.
Longer, taller and narrower than the previous-generation A8, the new model feels like a smaller car on the road, thanks to (optional) rear wheel steering which reduces its turning circle by a metre and helps the A8 feel more compact than it actually is.
Audi’s contender doesn’t steer quite as sweetly as the lighter and more dynamically involving Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7-Series, though it feels planted and predictable in all circumstances, with traction to spare from wide rubber.
Huge 20-inch wheels on test examples thumped excessively over some bumps, compromising comfort on occasion.
The big news surrounding the A8 is its place as the world’s first car with “level three” autonomous driving capabilities. The automotive industry has agreed on a scale ranking self-driving capabilities from one to five - with level one representing basic features such as lane keeping assistance, and level five taking the shape of a driverless pod with no human controls. Audi describes its new machine as “the new gold standard” for luxury cars, which until now have only offered level one or two driver support. In its words, Audi says the “in certain situations, the car can take over the task of driving and, unlike at level 2, the driver no longer needs to permanently monitor it. They must merely be capable of taking back over control of the vehicle whenever the system prompts them to”.
Intended to work in traffic at speeds up to 60km/h, a camera inside the car monitors the driver to make sure they are ready to resume control at a moment’s notice - it won’t let you take a nap or pick up a newspaper.
The downside is Australian road rules don’t allow for level three driving, a factor which may not change for some time. Audi can’t guarantee that the 2018 A8 will meet applicable standards in the near future, and a spokesman for the brand says it is not possible to retrofit new hardware to existing vehicles.
Another intriguing touch surrounds the sedan’s ability to communicate with other cars or infrastructure through “car-to-car” and “car-to-X” networks set to reach Australia in coming years.
More practically, new active electromechanical suspension will work in concert with the regular car’s air-filled chambers when an updated model arrives next year. Promising to dramatically reduce front-end dive under braking and body-roll when cornering, the system can read the road ahead and prepare its underpinnings for potholes or major bumps in the road, counteracting physics to help the car float over rough surfaces.
The system even promises to make the car safer by raising one side of the car by 80mm to protect occupants during a side-on collision, taking the brunt of the impact with its reinforced side sill and floor as opposed to more vulnerable doors.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The A8 is an accomplished vehicle - comfortable, luxurious, and a showcase for motoring technology today.
But it will be so much more in the near future, bringing genuine driveline innovation, advanced new suspension and world-class self-driving abilities set to arrive soon. Patience is key for customers considering the flagship sedan.
While the A8 is a car for the future, the future isn’t here just yet.
- Interested in buying Audi A8? Visit our Audi A8 showroom for more information.