Today is where the future begins in the luxury class: The new Audi A8 made its world debut at the Audi Summit in Barcelona. In its fourth generation, the flagship model again sets the benchmark for Vorsprung durch Technik with a new design language, an innovative touchscreen operating concept and systematic drivetrain electrification. The Audi A8 is also the first production car in the world to have been developed for highly automated driving. From 2018, Audi will gradually be taking piloted driving functions such as parking pilot, garage pilot and traffic jam pilot into production.
Doyen of style: the exterior design
The new Audi A8 is stylistically defining – it signals the beginning of a new design era for the entire brand. The front end with its wide, upright Singleframe grille and the fluid, muscular body convey power, elegance, sophistication and modernity, and deliver on the promise made by the Audi prologue design study. The luxury saloon makes a suitably emphatic statement whether in 5.17-metre ‘standard’ form or as the A8 L, which has a 13 centimetre longer wheelbase.
The Audi brand is renowned worldwide for consistent innovation in design and engineering, for lightweight construction and for quattro permanent all-wheel drive – and every facet of the new A8 reflects these values.
The balanced proportions emphasise all four wheels in equal measure, and the muscular definition above the wheel arches gives visual expression to the quattro drive. Viewed side-on, the upright front end combined with the gently inclined rear create visual tension which is intensified, particularly at night, by the striking HD Matrix LED headlights with Audi laser lighting, and the LED light strip combined with OLED technology at the rear. These produce unique light animations as the driver approaches and leaves the car.
Luxury from head-to-toe: the interior
Space is often considered to be the ultimate luxury, and compared to its predecessor the new A8 has grown substantially in length in both body styles. Occupants can also now relax in even more sublime surroundings, with every detail radiating superlative bespoke quality – from the perforation in the seat upholstery to the electrically opening and closing shutters on the air vents.
The most sought-after seat in the new Audi flagship model could quite possibly be the rear left – the optional relaxation seat in the A8 L that comes with four different adjustment options and a footrest. In this seat, the passenger can warm and massage the soles of their feet on a unit with multiple settings incorporated into the back of the front-passenger seat. The new comfort head restraints complete the experience. Rear passengers can also control an array of functions such as ambient lighting, the new HD Matrix reading lights and seat massage, and can make private phone calls via a separate operating unit. The rear seat remote control, with its smartphone-size OLED display, is a removable unit housed in the centre armrest.
Fingertip response: the controls
The luxury saloon’s interior deliberately adopts a reductive design; the interior architecture is clear and with a strictly horizontal orientation. Audi carries its high quality standards into the digital age with a radically new operating concept. It dispenses with the familiar rotary pushbutton and touchpad of the predecessor model in favour of an instrument panel which is largely free of buttons and switches. At its centre is a 10.1-inch touchscreen display which, when off, blends almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround thanks to its black-panel look.
The user interface appears as soon as the car is opened. The driver controls the Infotainment system with a fingertip on the large display. He or she can use a second touchscreen display on the centre tunnel console to access the air conditioning and comfort functions as well as make text inputs. When the driver activates a function in the upper or lower display, a click is heard and felt by way of confirmation. The glass-look operating buttons respond in the same way. The combination of acoustic and tactile feedback along with the use of common touch gestures such as swiping make the new MMI touch response especially safe, intuitive and quick to use.
The A8 can also engage in intelligent conversation. The driver can activate an array of functions using a new, natural form of voice control. Information on destinations and media is either available on board or is delivered from the cloud at LTE speed. The extensive Audi connect range also includes traffic sign recognition and hazard information – innovative car-to-X services that draw on the swarm intelligence of the Audi fleet.
The navigation system has also evolved in line with the car which houses it: It is self-learning, based on the route just driven. This provides the driver with intelligent search suggestions. The map also incorporates highly detailed 3D models of major European cities.
World premiere: the pilot-driving Audi A8
The new A8 is the first production car to have been developed specially for highly automated driving. The Audi AI traffic jam pilot takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 37mph on major roads where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways. The system is activated using the AI button on the centre console.
The traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking. The driver no longer needs to monitor the car permanently. They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back control of the task of driving.
The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system. The brand’s high quality standards are equally applicable in the realm of highly automated driving. In addition, a range of approval procedures and their corresponding timescales will need to be observed worldwide. Audi will therefore be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models.
From a technical perspective the traffic jam pilot is revolutionary. During piloted driving, a central driver assistance controller (zFAS) now permanently computes an image of the surroundings by merging the sensor data. As well as the radar sensors, a front camera and the ultrasonic sensors, Audi is the first car manufacturer also to use a laser scanner.
The Audi AI remote parking pilot and the Audi AI remote garage pilot autonomously steer the A8 into and out of a parking space or a garage, while the manoeuvre is monitored by the driver. The driver does not need to be sitting in the car – he or she can start the appropriate system from their smartphone using the new myAudi app. It broadcasts a live feed of the parking manoeuvre taken from the car’s 360-degree cameras on their handheld device for easy monitoring.
New dimension: the suspension
With a whole package of innovations, the suspension pushes the very limits of what is physically possible. One such innovation is dynamic all-wheel steering, which combines quick and direct response with unshakable stability. The steering ratio for the front wheels varies as a function of speed; the rear wheels are turned in or against the direction of steering depending on the speed range. The car’s handling becomes even more dynamic and precise with the sport differential. This actively distributes torque between the rear wheels, complementing the quattro permanent all-wheel drive that is standard in the new A8.
The second new technology, Audi AI active suspension, is a fully active suspension system. Depending on the driver’s wishes and the driving situation, it is capable of raising or lowering each wheel separately with electric actuators. This newfound latitude enables it to deliver the polished ride comfort of a classic luxury saloon and the taut, composed agility of a more driver-oriented performance car in equal measure. In combination with pre sense 360°, the car is rapidly raised if there is an impending lateral collision, reducing the potential consequences of the accident for all occupants.
This highly innovative suspension system obtains the energy it requires from a 48-volt electrical circuit. The A8 is the first Audi model to use this more powerful network as its primary electrical system, and all versions reap its benefit. In conjunction with the advanced air suspension for the A8, the innovative fully active suspension concept delivers an utterly new driving experience.
Mild hybrid and e-tron
The new A8 makes its debut with two extensively reengineered V6 turbo engines: a 3.0 TDI and a 3.0 TFSI. The diesel develops 286PS, and the petrol version 340PS. An eight-cylinder TDI – a 4.0-litre with 435PS – will follow slightly later. The exclusive top engine version is the W12 with a displacement of 6.0 litres.
All five engines operate in conjunction with a belt alternator starter (BAS), which is the nerve centre of the 48-volt electrical system. This mild hybrid technology (MHEV, mild hybrid electric vehicle) enables the car to coast with the engine switched off, and to restart smoothly. It also has an extended start/stop function and an energy recovery output of up to 12 kW. The combined effect of these measures is to bring down the fuel consumption of the already efficient engines even further – by as much as 0.7 litres for every 100 kilometres (62.1 miles) covered in real world driving conditions.
The A8 L e-tron quattro with its powerful plug-in hybrid drivetrain will follow at a later date: Its 3.0 TFSI engine and powerful electric motor achieve 449PS of system power and 700 Nm (516.3 lb-ft) of system torque. The lithium-ion battery stores enough power for about 31 miles of electric driving. It can optionally be charged by Audi Wireless Charging. A pad in the garage floor transfers the power inductively to a receiver coil in the car with a power output of 3.6 kW.
The new Audi A8 and A8 L are being built at the Neckarsulm plant in Germany and will be appearing on UK roads in late 2017 following initial availability for ordering in September.