Lie back, and think of China. Relaxing in the back of this new Audi A8 Hybrid, amid all the luxurious trappings of smoothed chrome, deep leather and pin sharp sound systems, I ruminated on the likely buyer of this car. Mainly to take my mind off the bloody racket.
So what's going on in the new Audi A8 Hybrid?
There's an elephant in the cabin: a common four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine in a car of this stately demeanour is just plain wrong. This Audi A8 Hybrid is powered by a 208bhp 2.0 TFSI (meaning it's got direct injection and a turbocharger) petrol engine that at various times works in conjunction, or not, with an electric motor offering a further 53bhp. That electric motor is tucked cleverly into the space in front of the gearbox where the torque converter would usually sit, and connected to the engine by a multi-phase clutch.
And to hide the downmarket patois of this proletarian powertrain, engineers have come up with Active Noise Control, which broadcasts a thing called 'antiphase' through the car’s speakers to cancel out frequencies coming from the engine. I think they used it in Star Trek to get rid of some Romulans once.
The A8 Hybrid can operate in electric only, a bit of both, or petrol only-modes with the electric motor able grab energy back from light braking (which cleverly doesn’t use the brakes to slow, but the motor instead) and proper braking. That means it can travel for two or three miles in zero emission mode.
So what does this mean for the A8's fuel consumption?
Like all A8s, it is relatively light, being constructed using aluminium, and this has 'official' emissions of 147g/km, way less than any other hybrid limousine. It will be priced towards to low end of the A8 range (sub-£70k we reckon), and there will be a long wheelbase version too, so it looks a fairly enticing proposition.
But here come the buts. And there are a few.
Despite the Star Trek noise thing, when accelerating that engine roars away. It’s pretty swift, but the electric motor pops in and out like the bird on a cuckoo clock, and in EV mode the petrol engine parps back into helpful life if you so much as run up the side of a speed bump. Audi has done a great job, relatively – it’s as refined as any hybrid – but users of this type of car are bastards when it comes to refinement. They just won’t put up with it, in this country at least.
And if a chauffeur firm considered buying a few for urban work, one look at the laughable boot would dismiss it out of hand. Because of the batteries therein, there’s more luggage space in an A1, and asking a jetlagged chief executive if he could have his bags in the back with him is likely to get you in a work experience scheme stacking shelves in Tesco.
There’s also a front-wheel drive 204bhp V6 diesel coming at the end of the year, that will (on paper) be slightly less efficient, but possibly cheaper, and probably more refined too.
So, back to my original musing. China is the biggest A8 market in the world, they want small engines for tax purposes, care less about refinement and abhor diesel. The Hybrid will probably be the best selling A8 in the world. But it won’t sell here.