What is it?
The Audi A8 may be the executive limousine of the future but it’s also a car built like Ingolstadt used to make its flagship saloons. It feels like a true pioneer with an old soul.
This Mercedes-Benz S-Class rival, rolling out to its very first British owners in January 2018, is a car that seems to refocus its German maker’s philosophy absolutely dead-centre on its old ‘advancement through technology’ mantra. That mantra has felt like a vestige of Audi’s former self at times throughout the past two decades, while the firm’s management has been convinced that things like outstanding design appeal, dynamic handling, ‘quattro’ four-wheel drive and market-leading powertrain efficiency would sell its cars better.
But, having made its returning influence plain in last year’s second-generation Q7 SUV, ‘vorsprung durch technik’ is now back with a bang in the fourth-generation A8; as well, we might add, as with a fancy flash of tail-lamp and a bit of musical fanfare.
Longer and taller than the car it replaces, the new A8 has been developed on the Volkswagen Group’s ‘MLB-evo’ platform as used by the Q7 and Q5, as well as the Bentley Bentayga and the new Porsche Cayenne. But just like its forebears, the new A8 takes the luxury car into new territory in the multi-material mix of its body structure, which is comprised of aluminium, steel, magnesium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic all joined using no fewer than 14 different techniques.
At launch, the car’s engine range consists of a 3.0-litre, 335bhp ‘55 TSI’ twin-turbocharged petrol option as well as the 3.0-litre, 282bhp ‘50 TDI’ diesel that we were loaned to test. Along later will be a more powerful petrol-electric plug-in hybrid model compatible with ‘wireless’ inductive charging, as well as higher-end V8 diesel and W12 petrol derivatives.
All A8s are 48-volt ‘mild hybrids’, however – the car having a sufficiently powerful electrical architecture to allow it to coast, engine-off, for up to 40 seconds at extra-urban and motorway speeds; to scavenge power more quickly on a trailing throttle than a car with a 12-volt electrical system could; and to run some highly sophisticated powertrain and suspension systems.
Among the latter are a three-chamber, height-adjustable air suspension system fitted to every A8 as standard, and a four-wheel steering system (coupled with an ‘active’ variable steering rack) that is offered as an option and that our particular test car had fitted.
And in addition to all of that, there’s the new Audi A8’s knockout draw. This promises to be the first production car for sale anywhere in the world with Level 3 conditional automated driving, by which Audi means it’ll be a ‘driverless’ series-production car like no other the world has yet seen.
The suite of technologies that its maker is packaging as ‘Audi AI’ will allow the A8 to drive itself unsupervised for much longer periods than a current ‘piloted’ or ‘drive-assisted’ production car can – although only in heavy motorway traffic and then only at speeds of up to 37mph. The A8 will also be able to park itself, either in a bay or in a garage, once you’ve got out of the driver’s seat and are keeping tabs on it via your smartphone.
And coming into the A8 range at around the same time as the Audi AI autonomous driving functionality, currently expected in spring 2018, will be a fully active optional electromechanical suspension system capable of reading the topography of the road ahead, and of manipulating each of the car’s wheels independently in advance of every bump and ridge they’re about to cross.