What is it?
This, the new A8, has the greatest capability for autonomous driving of any production car in the world. That, at least, is according to Audi - and even then will only apply once the full complement of 40-plus driver-assistance systems get rolled out, after deliveries have commenced early next year.
The delay stems from the fact that Audi remains at the mercy of the differing statutory frameworks of the markets it operates in. But what exactly should this comprehensively re-engineered, fourth-generation A8 eventually trim from the job description of chauffeurs the world over?
Audi seems proudest of software it calls Traffic Jam Pilot, which allows the driver to relinquish control of this 5.2-metre-long, two-tonne saloon at speeds of up to 37mph, as long as there is a physical barrier separating both directions of traffic. Other autonomous functions will be able to park the car at the touch of a button (even if that involves pulling into a garage) and should greatly reduce the risk of collision - more on which in a moment.
When the new A8 arrives in UK dealerships in December, it will do so with either a turbocharged diesel or petrol V6, making 282bhp or 335bhp respectively. A twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 version will come in 2018 (availability in the UK to be confirmed), along with a 443bhp plug-in hybrid and 577bhp W12 to top the range. Quattro four-wheel drive is standard, as is an eight-speed torque-converter transmission. There’s also a new 48V electrical system – first seen in the SQ7 – that bestows ‘mild hybrid’ status on the A8 and allows for engine-off coasting and extended stop-start capabilities.
Audi claims the A8 ushers in a new era of design for the entire brand, although you could quite easily contest that. The neat aesthetic follows on from the latest A4 and A5 models, with an understated silhouette that uses sharp creases and innovative lighting (the A8 gets optional laser headlights and OLED rear lights that offer remarkable fluidity) to inject some vitality.
However, it is not a particularly arresting machine and suffers the indignity of Ingolstadt’s current fascination with fake exhaust tips. The body, meanwhile, is 37mm longer and 13mm taller but around half a centimetre narrower than before. It’s allowed to Audi to enlarge the door openings and stretch rear leg room a touch.