The third-generation Audi A8 luxury saloon has been unveiled in Barcelona, re-establishing its position as the standard bearer for the German manufacturer’s technical know-how and engineering prowess. It might not sell in huge numbers in the UK, but the A8 shows us where the brand is heading and the features we expect to see in mainstream models in years to come.
Its huge new ‘single-frame’ grille is the most obvious exterior styling change, but the whole car is now sharper and more heavily creased, with broader hips and a more elegant roofline. There’s innovation too, in the form of an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) strip of rear lights which produce animations as the driver walks towards and away from the car. The headlights use LED matrix technology to adapt to the conditions and traffic. Like before, the A8 will be available in A8 L long-wheelbase form, increasing its normal length of 5,170mm by adding an extra 13 centimetres between the wheels, for VIP levels of rear legroom. Indeed, interior space has grown in both versions, and the best seat in the house is said to be the rear left-hand passenger chair when fitted with the optional ‘relaxation seat’. This can recline and has a footrest that can warm and massage your feet. Everything is controlled by a removable display. The chauffeur might need some retraining, because most controls are now taken care of by two display panels, one of which blends into the glossy black console when not in use. The upper panel takes care of the infotainment system, while the lower one includes the climate controls and text inputs. Despite being flat, the screens also provide tactile feedback and clicking sounds that mimic the sensation of pressing a key. The voice control system has been enhanced, and the navigation system includes detailed three-dimension models of larger European cities.
According to Audi, the A8 is the first production car developed specifically for highly automated driving, with Traffic Jam Pilot able to control the car at up to 37mph, providing there’s a central barrier on the road. Unlike most current systems, it can allow you to take your hands fully off the steering wheel and focus on another task, but this function will only be introduced in countries where legislation allows it. It will also be possible to drive and steer the A8 in or out of a parking space or garage using a smartphone app from outside of the car.
Mechanically, the biggest advances are the introduction of fully active suspension and a 48-volt mild hybrid system. This suspension aims to beat Mercedes-Benz’s Magic Body Control in the S-Class, the A8’s biggest rival along with the BMW 7 Series, with each wheel able to lift or lower using separate electric actuators. By constantly adapting, the suspension can boost ride comfort or handling, and even improve safety by rapidly raising the car if an imminent side impact is detected, ensuring that the doors take the brunt of the impact. The active suspension system is made possible by the powerful 48-volt electrical system, which is also key to the belt alternator starter (BAS) that can allow the engine to switch off while coasting, with smooth restarts when you accelerate again. The A8 will also redefine stop and start, allowing intelligent starting when the car in front pulls away for example. Altogether, the mild-hybrid technology is said to save up to 0.7 litres of fuel per 62 miles.
At its UK launch later this year, there will be a 282bhp 3.0-litre TDI diesel engine, followed later by a 4.0- litre V8 unit with 429bhp. Also set to arrive post-launch is a plug-in hybrid e-tron version of the 3.0-litre TFSI petrol powerplant with 443bhp and an electric range of up to 31 miles, with wireless charging allowable via a pad you place on the garage floor, though this feature will arrive after the e-tron edition goes on sale.