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Flagship Audi adds hybrid power to its arsenal of advanced technology - but is that enough to knock the excellent Mercedes-Benz S-Class off its perch?

lmost three years have passed since the fourth-generation A8 arrived as Audi’s latest super-limousine and new technological flagship, and yet somehow we’re still to subject it to full road test scrutiny.

This week, that changes, although we should say that an all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class will enter the frame this calendar year, and so whatever the verdict today, life is sure to get more arduous for this enormous and outwardly impressive Audi.

Part-electric A8 cuts a subtle figure among its range-mates but, in Volkswagen Group fashion, gets a piercing LED signature in the front bumper that gives away its hybrid status.

This particular version is the recent 60 TFSIe quattro, the first A8 to use a plug-in hybrid powertrain in the model’s 32-year history. It adds a potent and clever petrol-electric powertrain to an already long list of technological innovations, including level-three automation (that is, the car can manage its direction and speed within its lane) and the suspension’s ability to ‘stress or relieve’ the loading on each wheel by using individual actuators and smooth out the ride over inconsistent roads.

Both features are made possible by Audi’s new zFAS nervous system, which collates the inputs of 24 sensors and cameras dotted about the car and enables numerous further tricks, such as the chassis’ ability to rapidly tilt in the event of an impending side collision and take the brunt of the impact on its strengthened sills rather than the doors. Trivial developments these are not.

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And yet the fundamental requirement of any limousine that wants to topple the S-Class – something the A8 has never achieved but must be sorely desired in Ingolstadt – is world-class isolation and sublime rolling refinement. Time to find out where Audi stands in 2020.

The A8 range at a glance

Audi flirted with four-cylinder power for the last generation of its flagship saloon (for the hybrid model). This time around, the lowest available cylinder count is six, rising to eight for the range-topping S8.

As an understated luxury limousine, the A8 goes without Audi’s dual-clutch gearbox in favour of a smoother-shifting torque-converter auto, within the casing of which our test subject’s electric motor is housed.

There has been talk of this A8 receiving Bentley’s W12, which would take power to around 600bhp, though we’re not holding our breath.

First drives