First Drive: Audi's new A8 takes the tech game to a whole new level
James Baggott has been to test the latest incarnation of Audi's tech-laden A8. What's it like? Let him explain.
What is it?
This is Audi's ultra luxurious, pioneering limousine that debuts a fresh new look, an incredible interior and game-changing technology.
Beloved by chauffeurs and their leading business people passengers alike, the previous-generation A8 was handsome and comfortable, but starting to look distinctly long in the tooth. Now Audi is hoping the Mercedes S Class and BMW 7 Series will no longer be running away with class honours, thanks to this, its
reimagined new model.
The A8 has been drastically overhauled, from the chassis right through to the seats. Most notable of the updates is a striking new dash that has abolished buttons in favour of two touchscreen displays that take control of everything, from heating to sat nav. It's a massive improvement and a class-leading
interface between driver and car.
The system is connected to the now familiar, and frankly brilliant, virtual cockpit that replaces traditional dials behind the dash with a slick, modifiable digital screen. The speedo and rev counter can be shrunk at the touch of a button to give the sat nav dominance or vice versa. Phone, media and journey details can all be called up, too.
But it's those two new screens that really impress. Offering "haptic" feedback – the same sort of tapping feel you get through your finger from a smartphone screen when you press a button – it works slickly and quickly. It's a wonderful new interface and the sooner it's rolled out across the range the better.
There's a host of clever technology implemented on the new car to make drivers' and passengers' lives more comfortable and safer. Things such as the electromechanical door handles that open the door like a button when you pull them just 3mm – and they won't let you do it if the car senses an oncoming car
or cyclist from behind.
Even more impressive is the Audi AI systems, set to be rolled out throughout 2018. These include parking, garage and traffic jam pilot. The introduction of the system, which can autonomously drive the car at speeds of up to 37mph on roads where a physical barrier separates traffic, and help park the car, will only be introduced in countries when and where laws allow.
What's under the bonnet?
There are two V6 engines available at launch, a diesel and a petrol, both of which are "mild hybrids". This belt alternator starter (BAS) system enables the car to coast with the engine switched off and to restart smoothly. Think of it as an improved cylinder shut-down system, which saves even more fuel.
We tried both the 3.0-litre diesel with 282bhp and 600Nm of torque – confusingly titled the A8 50 TDI quattro – and the 3.0-litre A8 55 TFSI quattro petrol unit, which offers 335bhp and 500Nm of torque. The 50 and 55 digits correspond to the power outputs, but need a degree in maths to understand. We'd suggest consulting a brochure – carefully.
The diesel is likely to be the best seller. It can hit 60mph in 5.7 seconds and is limited to a top speed of 155mph. Thanks in part to the mild hybrid system, it returns 50.4mpg and emits 145g/km.
We preferred the power delivery and sound of the petrol unit. There was some clatter audible on the diesel, and despite the increased torque, we found the TFSI the sweeter drive. The hybrid system doesn't work as often as you want it to on motorways either, only shutting down a few times on our two-hour test route.
What's it like to drive?
Continuing the clever new technology theme, the A8 boasts a host of innovations designed to improve its ride and handling. Optional dynamic all-wheel steering is definitely worth specifying as it reduces the turning circle by 1.1 metres – that's the same as the far smaller A4.
It makes tight spaces and U-turns far easier by turning the rear wheels the opposite way to the front at low speeds, while at higher speeds it improves stability and lane changes by turning the rear wheels in the same direction as the front. It's a shame, then, that there's absolutely no feel to the steering for the driver.
Adaptive air suspension comes as standard – and although not quite perfect, in most situations it offers an incredible ride. Using a camera linked to individual electric motors in each wheel, it can adjust the suspension independently to smooth out bumps it spots in the road. Sleeping policemen are
impressively almost completely levelled out. However, the system doesn't work at night.
During daylight hours on the road, pitch and roll are drastically reduced, sometimes somewhat disconcertingly so. There's very little movement under braking or acceleration, which feels strange if you're driving, but is a delight for passengers.
That smart suspension has other benefits too. Cleverly, if the onboard radars detect an imminent side impact, it raises the suspension on that side by 8cm to help dissipate the energy through the floorpan. Audi says this won't affect the chances of it rolling over, as the centre of gravity stays the same. To help passengers get in, as you open the doors the suspension springs up 4cm too. It's very clever stuff.
How does it look?
A huge, gaping, bottom-feeder-like grille dominates the front of the car, but sharp lines along the body and striking LED headlights make it really stand out.
At the back, the LED lights wrap around the whole of the car and evoke memories of the Saab 95. They won't be to everyone's tastes, but overall the proportions are stylish and give the car a powerful stance. The long wheelbase option is the one to go for, if you can afford the additional outlay.
What's it like inside?
Inside, in the back is where things really count, as Audi says "this is where the King sits". You certainly feel like royalty in the reclining, heated and cooling seats. The rear passenger gets a tablet-like control panel which can be removed from the centre armrest and used to adjust the rear blinds, the music,
stereo and other settings too.
Up front, the driver gets all the benefits of that brilliant new cockpit, climate comfort and optional massaging seats, a smart new-design steering wheel and wireless charging for a mobile phone. It's a wonderful place to spend time as a driver and passenger and as luxurious – if not more so – than its rivals.
What's the spec like?
The specification is impressive with that mild hybrid system, adaptive air suspension, virtual cockpit, LED headlights, eight-speed automatic gearbox, acoustic windscreen and heated front seats, among other things, all coming as standard.
But, as you'd expect, you can go mad on the options with that clever, dynamic all-wheel steering, Audi AI functions, Bang & Olufsen sound system, TV in thefront and back, and even a foot massaging system, all extras you'll want to add.
Audi has moved the luxury limousine game on to new levels with this A8. Truly innovative technology both inside and out, plus some game-changing new suspension, steering and safety systems has catapulted Audi's flagship to a position where stealing the number one spot from its rivals looks very likely. Whether you'll be sat in the driver's seat or the "king's seat" in the back, you'll be sure to enjoy Audi A8 ownership very much indeed.
Model: Audi A8 L 50 TDI quattro
Price as tested: £73,095
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel
Power (bhp): 282
Torque (Nm): 600
Max speed (mph): 155
0-60mph: 5.7 seconds
MPG (combined): 50.4
Emissions (g/km): 145