What is it?
The A8 is Audi's equivalent to the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series. It's a super-luxurious executive limousine, which is intended to display the very pinnacle of technology – or at least the best Audi can fit to a passenger car. It's long been somewhat of a low-key choice for a luxury limo, beloved by chauffeurs and their high-class passengers who'd rather fly under the radar than shout about their wealth and opulence.
In the new model, customers can still enjoy discreet luxury, but Audi is hoping that the sheer level of tech on offer will attract new buyers who might have otherwise considered one of its German rivals.
The A8 is a brand-new car from the ground up, utilising a totally new chassis, updated engine lineup, and most excitingly, a totally new interior.
The A8's dashboard completely does away with buttons in favour of two touchscreen displays. These control everything from the usual sat-nav and infotainment, to safety kit and even the air-conditioning.
The screens impress with their slick operation, and even offer 'haptic' touch feedback to make them easier to use. They're also connected to Audi's brilliant virtual cockpit, which replaces traditional dials and gauges behind the wheel with a configurable LCD display.
There's also a whole host of other technology, including groundbreaking safety tech – like doors which won't open if they detect an oncoming object. Audi's AI systems are set to be rolled out from 2018, and turn the A8 into as near to an autonomous car as you can get.
The system includes parking, garage, and traffic jam pilot, and will drive the car totally autonomously at speeds of up to 37mph on certain roads.
What's under the bonnet?
At launch, the A8 will be available with two V6 engines – one diesel and one petrol. Both have a form of hybrid assistance, mainly aimed at improving economy and smoothing out the stop/start function rather than allowing you to drive on electric power alone.
We sampled both engines. The 3.0-litre diesel is predicted to be the biggest seller – with 282bhp and an ample 600Nm of torque, it's able to hit 60mph from rest in 5.7 seconds. Thanks to the mild hybrid system, Audi claims an impressive 50.4mpg and 145g/km in CO2 emissions.
However, thanks to some clatter, we preferred our drive in the TFSI petrol. It's also a 3.0-litre unit, and produces 335bhp and 500Nm of torque. We found it the sweeter drive, although it's not much quicker and less economical to boot.
What's it like to drive?
For every bit of technology you interact with in the A8, there's another system working away behind the scenes. It's packed with innovations to improve ride and handling.
Optional all-wheel steering is well worth speccing, as it reduces the turning circle by 1.1 metres – making the A8 as manoeuvrable as the smaller A4.
Adaptive air suspension comes as standard, and in most situations offers an incredible ride. Cameras scan the road ahead, and adjust the suspension accordingly. The system works brilliantly, and makes the A8 disconcertingly smooth for the passengers – though the driver will likely find it a little strange. The system only works at night, though.
However, the smart air suspension does have other benefits. Not only will it raise when a door is opened, aiding ingress and egress, but if radar sensors detect an impending side impact, it raises the suspension by 8cm to help dissipate the energy through the strong, stiff floorpan. It's very clever stuff.
How does it look?
Sharp lines wrap around the car, and striking LED lights front and rear make it stand out from the crowd.
However, you'd struggle to call the A8 beautiful – mostly due to the huge, gaping, bottom-feeder like grille at the front.
Overall though, the A8 is well proportioned and has a powerful stance bound to appeal to its prime customer base.
What's it like inside?
Traditionally an Audi strong point, and one that hasn't been lost in the new A8. Build and material quality is top-notch.
Up front, the driver is ensconced in total luxury, aided by those brilliant touchscreens, virtual cockpit, and supremely comfortable seats fitted with optional massage function.
However, the back is where things really count. Audi says "This is where the King sits," and it certainly feels that way in the reclining, heated and cooling seats. There's another tablet-style control panel, but this one can be removed from the centre armrest. It controls items like the rear blinds, the stereo, and plenty of other settings besides.
What's the spec like?
There really is no such thing as a 'base-spec' Audi A8 – standard kit is impressive with all models gaining a mild hybrid system, adaptive air suspension, virtual cockpit, LED headlights, eight-speed automatic gearbox, acoustic windscreen and heated front seats.
However, tick a few boxes and you can go crazy with dynamic all-wheel steering, autonomous Audi AI functions, Bang & Olufsen sound system, TVs all around, and even a foot massaging system.
Audi may just have a class-leading luxury limo with this new A8. Incredible technology both inside and out means it will be just as much of a hit with high-ranking executives as ever before.
However, the new innovations in safety, comfort and autonomous driving catapult this flagship to a position where stealing the number one spot from rivals looks very likely. Whether you sit in the front, or the 'king's seat' in the rear, Audi A8 ownership will treat you well.
Model tested: Audi A8 L 50 TDI quattro
Base price: £69,100
Engine: 3.0-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 5.9 seconds