Conforming to a new control regimen called ‘MMI Touch Response’, the car’s centre stack has been stripped almost completely bare of physical switchgear. It is made up of two widescreen touch-sensitive displays through which you adjust the temperature of your heated seat; cycle through the car’s various driving modes; adjust the plotted route in the navigation system; and also achieve just about everything else. If features like those don’t instantly bring to mind another conspicuously popular luxury saloon car, it may only be because you’ve never driven a Tesla Model S – a car whose influence on luxury saloons looks like running way beyond its electrified powertrain.
Not that Tesla has thus far proved itself capable of producing an interior of such immutable perceived quality and apparent integrity, and of such outstanding comfort, as the A8’s. The fascia, styled with bold horizontal features and arcing bands of open-grain wood trim and satin chrome garnish, makes the wide cockpit feel even wider than it is. For this tester’s preference, there’s a bit too much ‘piano black’ veneer on the car’s centre console, dashboard and door cards to make its glossy ambience practical and easy to maintain. I’m not so struck, either, on the heavy touch needed to bring a response from the car’s touchscreen displays, nor the slightly contrived-feeling haptic feedback with which each touch is met.
That apart, though, I was deeply impressed with an awful lot about the A8’s driving environment: from the clarity and flexibility of its digital instruments, to the beautifully cushioned comfort of its massager leather seats (adjustable in more ways than you can count), to the lounge-like atmosphere created by its ambient lighting features after dark, and even the way the door pockets are illuminated just as you reach into them.
This, reckons Audi, is the quietest car the company has ever built. Sure enough, the A8’s 3.0-litre diesel starts very smoothly indeed for a compression-ignition engine and, while it raises its voice to a very faint hum when you work it beyond 3500rpm, most of the time it’s incredibly hushed and distant.
Even more remarkable is the sense of isolation you get from wind noise in the car: there’s barely a flutter even at motorway speeds. And over a smooth surface the A8’s suspension is supremely quiet too.
The A8’s refinement levels can suffer over more coarse tarmac, though, when an occasional sense of reverberant hollowness begins to present itself in the ride – albeit perhaps more so on our 20in-rim-shod test car than it might have on a car with Audi’s standard 18s. It’s background noise only, mind you: a gentle rumble that is absent more often than it’s present, and is only open to criticism in a car that otherwise cossets its occupants so effectively.
Audi offers you the familiar choice of driver modes here (efficiency, dynamic, comfort, automatic and individual) and in all of them the A8 is tuned in a way entirely befitting of such a large luxury saloon. That doesn’t mean it feels like a bigger A6, of course – though it does very well, at times, to shrink itself around you when the need presents.
In ‘dynamic’ mode, the car feels amazingly wieldy and directionally responsive for its size and heft, though the consistency of its close body control isn’t always brilliant. In ‘comfort’, it glides along with that distinguishing long-wave ride compliance that truly comfortable cars all share, though the suspension does permit the odd muted, under-damped thump to trouble the bump-stops. ‘Automatic’ mode is, by and large, a convincing attempt to split the difference and makes the A8 pleasingly precise-handling and easy to place on the road; insulated and beautifully modulated in most of its controls; and thoroughly laid-back in its general demeanour.