Priced from £69,100 OTR, and due with its first customers in early 2018, the fourth generation luxury saloon built at the Neckarsulm plant in Germany draws inspiration for its design from the Audi prologue study, and 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 balanced proportions emphasise all four wheels in equal measure, and the muscular definition above the wheel arches gives visual expression to the standard quattro all-wheel 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 optional 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.
Space is often considered to be the ultimate luxury, and compared with its predecessor the new A8 has grown substantially in length in both body styles. Occupants can relax in suitably exceptional surroundings that radiate quality - from the perforation in the seat upholstery to the electrically opening and closing shutters on the air vents - and subtly integrate the most advanced technology.
The interior design is deliberately reductive, and this has been made possible thanks in large part to a radically different operating concept that dispenses with the familiar rotary pushbutton and touchpad of the previous generation car, and also renders many of the familiar instrument panel buttons and switches unnecessary. 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 Infotainment system is controllable via the large display, and a second touchscreen on the centre tunnel console gives access to the air conditioning and comfort functions and enables text inputs. Function activations are acknowledged in the upper and lower displays by a click which can be heard and felt, and the glass-look operating buttons respond in the same way. Activations can also be made via a new, natural form of voice control.
Information on destinations and media is either available on board or is delivered from the cloud at ultra-fast LTE speed. The navigation system has also evolved in line with the car which houses it - it is able to learn from the route just driven, providing the driver with intelligent search suggestions, and also incorporates highly detailed 3D models of major European cities.
Drivers of UK specification versions of the A8 and A8 L will be left in no doubt as to their status as the technology standard bearers of the Audi range. The fittingly extensive UK standard equipment list includes everything from the fully digital Audi Virtual Cockpit, the high definition colour head-up display and internet-based Audi Connect services to MMI Navigation Plus and Audi Phonebox wireless smartphone charging.
Standard LED headlights with high beam assist provide suitably precisely defined and far-reaching illumination and are paired with a rear LED light strip. The list of onboard driver aids also includes adaptive cruise assist with Stop&Go, front and rear parking sensors supplemented by a rear camera, lane departure warning with emergency assist and the Audi Pre-sense collision avoidance and mitigation system giving robust occupant protection.
Naturally, supple Valcona leather covers the electrically adjustable climate comfort seats, which offer both a heating function for colder days and an internal ventilation option for warmer weather. In the long-wheelbase A8 L the most sought-after seat could quite possibly be the rear left (in UK specification versions) - the optional relaxation seat which features 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.
Rear passengers can also control an array of functions such as ambient lighting, the optional 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 and is optional for the A8 and standard for the A8 L.
The new A8 is the first production car to have been developed specially for highly automated driving. The Audi AI traffic jam pilot, which forms part of the package of piloted features that will begin to be rolled out from 2018, 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 will be accessible via the AI button that will be positioned on the centre console.
Using images of the car's surroundings computed by the central driver assistance controller (zFAS) based on feedback from the radar and ultrasonic sensors, from the front camera and - in a first for Audi - from an advanced laser scanner, the traffic jam pilot will manage starting, accelerating, steering and braking. The driver will no longer need to monitor the car permanently, and will be able to take their hands off the steering wheel for prolonged periods 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 will call on the driver to take back control of the task of driving.
The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot is wholly dependent on the clarification of the statutory framework in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system. 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.
The Audi AI parking pilot and the Audi AI garage pilot will 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 a 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.
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, as will the exclusive top engine version, the W12 with a displacement of 6.0 litres.
All four 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. Fast charging will be possible via public or domestic charge points and wall boxes, or in the latter case via induction-based Audi Wireless Charging, which uses a pad in the garage floor to transfer power inductively to a receiver coil in the car with a power output of 3.6 kW.
The platform underpinning the new Audi A8 combines the surface-suppressing comfort of standard adaptive air suspension with the all-weather control of quattro all-wheel-drive throughout the range. It also epitomises Vorsprung durch Technik through additionally available features including predictive active suspension, dynamic all-wheel steering and the sport differential.
The optional predictive active suspension is a fully active suspension system which is capable of raising or lowering each wheel separately using electric actuators depending on the driver's wishes and the driving situation. This newfound latitude enables it to deliver an even more finely differentiated balance between the ride comfort of a classic luxury saloon and the agility more commonly associated with a more driver-oriented performance car. 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.
The dynamic all-wheel-steering system combines quick and direct response with unshakable stability. The steering ratio for the front wheels varies as a function of speed, and the rear wheels are turned in or against the direction of steering depending on the speed range. Reactivity to inputs can be enhanced even further by adding the sport differential, which actively distributes torque between the rear wheels.