The Audi A8 was one of the first cars I ever reviewed, and took my breath away. Fabulously comfortable, quick off the mark, bristling with technology and boasting sleek good looks, I’ve never forgotten the A8’s ability to experience hyperspace in comfortable surroundings, like a classier version of the Millenium Falcon (sorry Han, she’s still got it where it counts).
Audi’s new A8 has made its world début at the Audi Summit in Barcelona, combining a fresh and bold design with big strides in automotive technology, laying down a very clear marker in its battle with the Mercedes S-Class. Among the myriad features Audi’s lab coat-wearing geniuses have incorporated within the new flagship model is a nifty active suspension setup. Advanced cameras are linked to individual electric motors on each wheel, which read the road ahead and feed information to allow each wheel to adapt to changes in the road surface. The result promises to be an incredibly refined ride, with bumps and jolts virtually eliminated from the driving experience. I like it already.
Handling is also improved via a suspension that pushes the boundaries of physics; the car is made more dynamic with a sport differential that distributes torque between the back wheels, working in tandem with quattro all-wheel drive to provide pinpoint handling and acres of stability. And, the combination of dynamic and rear axle steering means that the A8 has a turning circle smaller than the A4.
But there’s more. The navigation system is self-learning, reviewing past routes and providing intelligent search suggestions. Passengers behind the front passenger seat can warm and massage their feet via an array of settings, so there’s sure to be an argument between the kids (big or small) if they find out. It also takes safety systems to new heights. Should the computer detect an imminent side impact at speeds of more than 24km/h, the suspension on the exposed side will be raised by up to 80mm within half a second, spreading the force of the collision to the strongest parts of the car, such as the floor structure and side sills.
Audi claims that the A8 is the first production car developed specifically for highly automated driving, with a variety of driverless systems due to enter production from next year or 2019. Traffic Jam pilot takes the wheel in slow-moving traffic up to speeds of 60km/h, providing there’s a barrier between the roads, allowing you to eat your breakfast and peruse the newspaper in peace while struggling through the M50. A combination of systems and sensors combine to keep the car on the straight and narrow; the computer permanently generates an image of your surroundings using radar and ultrasonic sensors, a front camera, and a laser scanner – who can resist a car that uses lasers!
Whereas other cars like Tesla or Volvo require you to keep your hands on the wheel, the A8 will do the lot – steering, braking, accelerating. The remote parking and garage pilot will take care of tight parking spaces, and presumably greet you outside your front door in the morning.
Two V6 turbo engines that have undergone extensive re-engineering accompany the A8 on its début – a 3.0L TDI producing 282bhp and a 3.0L TFSI with 335bhp. On the cards is a 4.0TDI with a hefty 430bhp, while the mighty W12 6.0L engine tops the engine wishlist with a cool 450bhp. If you’re forking out the kind of money Audi will ask for, you may as well go big or go home.
Each of the engines are hybrid blocks, combining fossil fuel propulsion with electric power to boost fuel consumption. Audi describes the set-up as ‘mild hybrid technology’ – each engine works with a belt alternator starter (BAS), which contributes power via an electric motor through a belt. A more straightforward hybrid platform will arrive in the form of the A8 L e-tron quattro (say that ten times in a hurry), powered by a 3.0 TFSI and an electric motor and boasting 442bhp and an impressive 700 Nm of torque. The onboard lithium-ion battery will hold enough charge for about 50km, and wireless charging could be on the cards at an unspecified point in the future – a pad installed in your garage floor would transfer power via an electromagnetic field to a receiver coil in the car.
Orders for the new A8 are due to begin this September, with the first of the new models appearing on roads by the end of the year. Audi has certainly built an interesting car, undoubtedly one of their finest. Automated functions like its traffic jam pilot will have to be catered for and covered by law, something which tends to move at a glacial pace within these borders. Still, it’s a mark of where the world of motoring is heading, and it’s exciting.