Audi’s huge A8 adds top tech to boardroom comforts
THERE'S very little that's mild about Audi's fourth-generation A8 limousine, beyond the ride. The already impressive length is up by 37mm, the grille now extends the full depth of the nose and there's a Blade Runner-rivalling array of digital technology.
Leading the charge is a 48-volt mild hybrid drivetrain that helps boost the V6 diesel and petrol turbos' reaction time off the line, while enabling a coasting function once underway to help save fuel. Recovered energy is fed to a 10Ah lithium-ion battery under the boot that powers a "belt-driven starter generator" connected to the crankshaft to start and restart the engine as required.
The 48V electricals were first applied to the SQ7 wagon but has been extended here to help power the battery of 22 sensors, including a laser scanner to add range and clarity to forward imaging.
Inside the digital driver's display is supplemented by a pair of touchscreens with haptic and audio feedback. The tile-based -inch infotainment display is easy to navigate, as is the smaller screen under it that handles aircon adjustments and direct writing inputs. It is still possible to miss-hit a virtual button if you roll over a bump while selecting a feature but in most situations it works well, if not as immediately intuitive as the physical dial still found in most Audis.
The stacked display extends down to the transmission tunnel, limiting the A8's ability to
afford much storage space upfront. The centre console has space for a pair of drinks; the bin between the seats contains room to charge a couple of phones and that's about it. There's no room in the glovebox for anything other than the manuals, leaving the door pockets as the only option.
Being in an A8 is much more about being in the back and those in the rear pair of pews won't be disappointed.
Opt for the 130mm longer A8L and that space is fed directly into the rear seat area, enabling the likes of optional relaxation seats, footrest massager/heater and fold-out tables.
Prices are nominally well down over the outgoing model, starting at $192,000 for the short wheelbase diesel. That's $8800 cheaper than its predecessor but you need to add $11,000 for a premium pack to add the likes of 20-inch wheels, privacy rear glass and powered blinds, digital TV, full leather interior, air-fragrance dispenser and digital TV tuner. Audi has also included a V6 petrol turbo for $195,000. Long wheelbase variants add $15,000.
The 4.2-litre turbo diesel V8 has been deleted but a 4.0-litre version on sale overseas could end up here at some stage. Performance fans' interest in the S4 should be satisfied sooner, despite the fact it hasn't been officially announced yet.
Prospective A8 owners should also factor in $4500 for the all-wheel steering. As well as trimming a metre off the turning circle, it makes parking easier and endows the big car with far more reactive steering than you first appreciate on windy roads.
I'd be less inclined to part with $13,200 for the full-house matrix LED/laser headlamps and OLED rear lamp pack unless I did a lot of dawn and dusk driving in 'roo country.
ON THE ROAD
A slight tremor as the adaptive air suspension keeps the optional 20-inch tyres on the tarmac belies just how chopped up this under-repair section of road outside of Sydney is.
The A8 cushions its occupants, front or rear, from all but the smallest and very worst of the ruts and ridges. The former - road gaps, crack sealant and the likes, can be lightly felt as the low-profile rubber runs across them with a patter that doesn't require suspension intervention. The latter intrude because even air suspension has its limits.
In most situations the A8 is a delight to repose in. The seats, like the suspension, are indulgently cushiony yet grip securely enough passengers don't necessarily need to hang on for enthusiastic cornering. And this car is capable of enthusiastic cornering, should the situation demand.
Audi has bolstered its alloy spaceframe with a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic rear section to keep unladen mass down to less than two tonnes, yet both versions will stretch to triple figures in less than six seconds.
Both six-cylinder engines are smooth, making the auto-coasting mode all but undetectable as the engine shuts down and reactivates while cruising at freeway speeds. In stop-start traffic it is super-responsive and Audi says what is effectively a bolt-on hybrid kit can save up to 0.7 litres of fuel every 100km.
There's no level three autonomy for now - and the lane-keep assist certainly isn't infallible on tighter turns - but Audi is working out the legislative and homologation details to ensure when the stars do align the A8 can be at the fore of the autonomous fleet. The "AI suspension" that links into the car's sensors to assess the upcoming road and prepare to react accordingly should be here by next year.
The technology is terrific and the execution is clinical but the A8's next-gen electronics aren't matched by a next-gen interior. For mine the opulence is too conservative to impress those who don't know what they're looking at.
PRICE Down from $200,800 to $192,000 plus on-roads for the short wheelbase diesel. A V6 petrol turbo joins the line-up from $195,000. Long wheelbase versions add $15,000.
TECH A pair of touchscreens with haptic feedback now control most functions in place of the physical circular controller. A laser sensor extends the range and definition of the AEB and adaptive cruise.
PERFORMANCE Both short wheelbase limousines will hit 100km/h in less than six seconds should the need arise, courtesy of help from the 48V mild hybrid battery pack. Fuel use is also down.
DRIVING The Audi's ride is unruffled by urban environs, even the tree-root ridged surfaces found in some of our more affluent suburbs. Optional all-wheel steering should be standard.
DESIGN The grille is wider and deeper than ever to highlight the slim headlamps. The profile is intentionally flat and taut to highlight the length, up 37mm over its predecessor.
PRICE $192,000-$21,000 plus on-roads
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/unlimited km; 12 months/15,000km
SAFETY Not tested, 11 airbags, AEB, blind-spot alert, lane-keep assist, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control.
ENGINES 3.0-litre V6 diesel, 210kW/600Nm; 3.0-litre V6 turbo, 250kW/500Nm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto; AWD
SPARE Repair kit
CARGO 505 L