Audi A8

How’s the serenity? Quite technologically advanced, naturally

RYAN LEWIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

TWO GROUPS of people will be interested in the arrival of the all-new A8: the lucky few who actually have $200,000 to blow on a full-size limo, and the rest of us who appreciate the Audi flagship’s crystal-ball quality. Like those before it, the fourth-gen A8 previews the future of Audi’s more accessible models, and the technological leap is a big one.

Local showrooms will offer it with a choice of 3.0-litre turbo V6s; a 210kW/600Nm diesel and a 250kW/500Nm petrol. Both pair to eight-speed autos, and both benefit from 48v mild hybrid systems that assist low-end performance and fuel economy. Pricing starts at $192,000 for the oiler and $195,000 for the petrol.

Regular and long-wheelbase formats are available, the latter adding 130mm between the axles and $15,000 to the price. Elsewhere the car is longer, taller and narrower than the old one. It’s also significantly stiffer. Audi’s Space Frame is now a multi-material meld, including a 19-layer board of structural carbonfibre behind the rear seat.

The A8 has often been ground zero for technological invention and, in this case, reinvention. The brand’s familiar MMI rotary controller is no more, replaced by a secondary touchscreen mounted low on the centre console. There are four screens in total; a central pair, a large head-up display and a gorgeous high-resolution instrument cluster now with detailed satellite maps.

The major new frontier here is autonomy. At its reveal, A8 was presented as the world’s first Level 3-capable production car. In reality the D5 A8 has been developed with future Level 3 capability factored in, but the models coming to Australia now are not ready. There’s some time before we get there, but short-term benefits from the advanced hardware include 40 separate safety and driver-assistance systems.

Its beautiful interior is finished with Ingolstadt’s utmost level of care, and there’s a smartphoneinspired seamlessness to its form and function. Storage space is limited, but passenger space and comfort are no issue, even in regular-wheelbase variants. The extended versions are practically unnecessary unless you happen to have a driver on staff.

Even if that’s the case, it would be a shame to hand the reins over as this A8 is genuinely enjoyable to drive. The strong petrol V6 is the pick; able to reach 100km/h from rest in 5.6 seconds, but well isolated and tuned to cruise with sufficient torque below 3000rpm that calling upon its more vocal (albeit silky) band of revs is rare. The ride on standard adaptive air suspension is effortless, and nails the A8’s mile-munching brief, while Dynamic brings an expertly judged balance between tautness and compliance. No A8 before could boast the same.

Highway performance is an obvious strong suit, but that’s not all it has going for it; there’s an unexpected appetite for corners. Optional rear-wheel steering, bundled with a well-weighted variable-ratio rack ($4500), brings further stability and manoeuvrability, trimming the turning circle from 12.5 to a mere 11.4m.

What’s not yet available is Audi’s pothole-detecting active suspension, which pre-emptively reacts to road surface defects. That’s still up to a year away, but could be enough of a gamechanger that buyers might want to wait. An inevitable V8-powered S8 is also in the works. But even knowing what’s to come, this car is a significant advance for the A8’s stock. It’s the most impressive big Audi ever, and finally stands toeto-toe with its core rivals.

RYAN LEWIS

PLUS & MINUS

Ride quality; interior elegance; long-haul effortlessness; agility

Falls short of Level 3 autonomous billing; relatively conservative styling

Model Audi A8 55 TFSI

Engine 2995cc V6 (90°), dohc, 24v, turbo

Max power 250kW @ 5000-6000rpm

Max torque 500Nm @ 1370-4500rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

Weight 1920kg 0-100km/h 5.6sec (claimed)

Economy 8.3L/100km

Price $195,000

On sale Now

01 BUSINESS; CLASS

Four-seat Exclusive pack ($25,190) for L variants includes more screens, massage seats, tables, heated armrests and footrest, extended console, etc.

02 BRIGHT IDEAS

Optional laser headlights project 600m ahead; more than double the range of normal high beams. They’re bundled with animated OLED taillights and cost $13,200.

03 LESS EASILY SPOOKED

A first-of-its-kind laser scanner can ‘see’ the contours of objects further ahead than radar and triggers less abrupt interventions from A8’s safety systems.

OR TRY THESE...

Off its interface

Ditching MMI’s intuitive rotary dial and forcing serial buyers to accept a new interface is bold. The touchscreen needs more of the driver’s attention, even with its haptic feedback and audible clicks. The improved voice and handwriting recognition should make the transition easier. In spec terms, A8’s sharp pricing undercuts immediate rivals by around $20K, even with the requisite Premium Plus option package ($11,000) for 20s, extended leather, privacy glass, digital TV, seat ventilation and massage, and more.

BMW 740i

$228,100

Slight power/torque deficit but thrifty on fuel. Claims 7.0L/100km; weighs 100kg less than A8. Spacious, high-quality interior is a highlight, some of its tech less so. Gesture control, anyone?

Mercedes-Benz S450L

$227,500

Class-leading attention to detail and perceived quality, and advanced tech. S450 is petrol A8’s closest rival, albeit only in cityunfriendly long-wheelbase guise.