Set aside the self-driving hype, the new A8 is an engineering masterclass

First drive: Audi inches closer to lifting its A8 high enough to tackle the mighty Mercedes S-Class

Make: Audi

Model: A8

Year: 2017

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: October 12, 2017

Wed, Oct 18, 2017, 06:25

   

Since its high profile unveiling several months ago, all the hype surrounding the new A8 has focused on its promise to offer self-driving technology in the car. The new system operates full self-drive in select conditions up to speeds of 60km/h. Billed as a “traffic jam pilot” the only issue is that in most countries the technology is more advanced than the regulations, so the German car giant must wait for legislators to catch up before it fits it to production cars.

So what does the A8 offer in the meantime? Well, there’s certainly no shortage of technology. Given this is the flagship model for a brand that prides itself on being in sync with Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that it aims to match luxury car class with tech wonders. And in almost every way it delivers.

Perhaps given the revolutionary technology on board, the designers wanted to play it more conservatively in terms of changing the look. In truth the new A8 needs close inspection to distinguish it from the outgoing model. That’s always been the case with the big Audi, though. It’s always been a really slow-burning evolution for this model in terms of design. That’s not unique to Audi, however. No one could claim either the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series have radically changed their looks of late. And those that have – Jaguar’s XJ, for example – haven’t recorded any great success.

Styling changes

Talk of little change on the design front belies the enormous efforts of engineers to encompass a host of styling changes while retaining the family look. There are some really distinctive design touches that set the new A8 apart. Lighting, for example, which has become a major engineering battleground in the motor industry, even if car buyers aren’t paying it much attention as yet.

LED lights are standard up front and impressive OLED strip lights on the back add real theatre to the car’s look on the road. Then there is an optional Matrix LED setup – not fitted to our test car – and the range-topping Laser system that, as demonstrated previously at the launch, is reminiscent of the sort of long-range lighting normally associated in movies with the arrival on Earth of alien spacecraft. Compared to these latest innovations, all other cars seem to be lit with tea candles.

The real theatre, however, is when you step inside. This is where a luxury saloon must really shine. Audi interiors have always been about clean elegant lines over the opulence you find in an S-Class. It’s in keeping with the tech focus at the brand.

Three big screens dominate the A8 dashboard. At the base, replacing the scroller on the current model, is a touchpad, similar to that fitted to the new Range Rover Velar. It’s an 8.6-inch display that controls the climate control and comfort features in the car.

Heavy tech lifting

The heavy tech lifting is done by a 10.1 inch screen that incorporates user features we have become accustomed to on tablet computers. So, unlike many rival systems, the Audi screen lets you zoom out on a pinch, or pull your fingers together to pull in, while you can also swipe left and right to review options. It shows how quickly the in-car infotainment world is moving that it makes the big Volvo touchscreen system seem incredibly old hat.

And of course no modern Audi would be complete without its virtual cockpit digital screen right in front of the driver, and there is also a high-resolution, full colour head-up display as well. It all means that, as with many modern interiors, a button is a rare sight in the cabin.

There is no need to dwell on legroom and the like; suffice to say this is not going to be an issue for anyone. The only gripe would be that while the seats are comfortable, this is one area where the S-Class retains an edge.

The tech advances don’t end with lights ,screens and gadgets, however. Engineers intend the A8 to become the first Audi with inductive charging for its hybrid versions, while the car features electronically controlled active suspension that predicts and manages the road ahead.

Hybrid systems

The Audi is also fitted with mild hybrid systems that allow it to regenerate 10Ah of energy, so it can coast, even on cruise control, at anywhere between 55 and 160km/h, with the engine switched off and the electricity doing whatever driving needs doing.

Our test car was the 3-litre TFSI petrol, putting out 340bhp. It’s rare to consider a petrol engine for a car of this size, but it’s only when you spend time with this powertrain that you get to appreciate how much more smoothness and sophistication it has over diesel. That’s probably not good enough to lure buyers to change the engine choice, but it was noteworthy on the test drives.

And smoothness was the watchword for the A8, for there is little intrusion of the vagaries of the real world into this car’s cabin. Even at motorway speeds, when it was blowing a gale in northern Denmark, the only sound was the odd whistle from around the wing mirrors. It doesn’t so much cruise along at 120km/h, it glides. And there’s another little noticed engineering touch at work here to create this sense of refinement: the cabin is fitted with a noise-cancelling system, which taps into five speakers, four microphones, a boot-mounted amplifier and an engine control unit in the engine bay. It listens for unwanted sounds and vibrations and simply cancels them out.

Impressive torque

Thanks in part to the mild hybrid system, the petrol A8 delivers impressive torque and the car boasts and impressive time of 0-100km/h in 5.6 seconds. in terms of fuel economy the official figures are 7.8 litres/100km, with emissions of 178 g/km.

The A8 is refinement on European standards while once more setting the benchmark in terms of the latest technology. It still lacks the opulence and sheer comfort of the Mercedes S-Class – preferring a stiffer ride set-up for example – but it brings to the market it’s own traits of engineering prowess.

Ultimately the Audi has bridged the gap with the all-conquering S-Class, even if it’s still a little distance away from a head-on challenge. What this new car does is push the A8 ahead of the BMW 7 Series, which is a big leap for the brand.

Lowdown: Audi A8 3.0 TFSI quattro

Engine: V6 petrol putting out 340bhp and over 500Nm of torque

0-100km/h: 5.6 seconds

L/100km (official): 7.8

Emissions: 178g/km

Price: TBA

Our rating: 3/5

Verdict: First impressions is that it exemplifies what Audi is about: vorsprung durch technik