► Tech-packed Audi A8 tested
► UK limited to 3.0 TDI & TFSI at launch
► Good to drive, ride in the back of...
Tech. It’s the great disruptor for the car industry right now. The way we buy, use and love cars is becoming increasingly defined by how they interact with our online lives. For the 2018 Audi A8, this hasn’t just been acknowledged, but positively embraced.
It’s the most advanced car money can buy right now – which is quite something considering its rivals, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Lexus LS are far from luddite conveyances.
The headline grabber for the fourth-generation Audi A8 is its level three autonomous capability, but don’t think for a moment that this is the only topic worth talking about. Equally, don’t buy an Audi A8 and expect it to drive you to work the following morning – it isn’t going to happen.
So, what is there to get excited about?
Plenty. All models are hybrids, you can buy them with self-parking technology, and all models boast computer-controlled air suspension. Just as relevant, the interior is bang up to date with the latest touch-sensitive kit, after falling behind the Mercedes-Benz S-Class by at least two generations in the technology arms race.
Outside, it’s a case of evolution not revolution. It’s handsome and imposing, but hardly classically elegant. It looks like an Audi, despite ushering in some new design tricks, such as its flared wheelarches (Audi designers nod towards the UR-Quattro when they mention that) and some OLED jewellery front and rear, which should keep its conservative buyers happy.
They will get excited when they climb in, though. The dashboard is now a sleek and polished affair and perfect for the iPhone X generation. An improved version of Audi’s Virtual Display replaces conventional analogue dials, while the old climate control and MMI system has been swept away in favour of a new haptic-touch sensitive screen. In total, there are three digital screens facing the driver – one in the eye for Mercedes-Benz.
Other tech you can specify on your A8 include a remote parking system, active pedestrian protection, anti-kerbing warning, adaptive cruise control, and fully active suspension (called AI Control) with road surface recognition technology. Finally, the car’s navigation and infotainment systems feature car-to-x capability.
What’s the Audi A8 packing under its bonnet?
For the UK market, the choice of A8s will be limited to a V6 engines – a 3.0-litre TFSI turbo petrol with 282bhp and a 3.0-litre TDI turbodiesel with 334bhp. But the range will expand to include a 4.0-litre V8 petrol, a 3.0-litre PHEV (available with induction charging) and eventually a W12-petrol.
Both 3.0-litre engines in the UK models are described as 'mild hybrids,' which means they employ a 48-volt electrical system, can coast with the engine shut down and have extended stop-start intervals. They’re evolutions of the existing power units, but both deliver better fuel consumption, lower power, more power and improved responsiveness over their predecessors.
And what’s it like to ride in? And drive?
The driving position is excellent, and visibility blindspots, such as the one created by its bulky A-pillar, are handled by a 360-degree camera system. Various other safety systems, such as one which warns you if you're about to kerb a wheel take up the strain, too.
In the rear, head and legroom are excellent, and the seats are supremely comfortable and adjustable. There are optional reclining systems, and even a massaging footrest for those who spend lots of time in the back of their Audi.
Ambient lighting and remote controls are useful and add luxury, but even the standard five-seat short-wheelbase model has more than enough lounging room.
Does the diesel Audi A8 spare the horses?
We tried both the petrol and diesel V6s, and both offer plenty of punch and refinement. But with 282bhp to haul this large saloon (in TDI form), it will still accelerate from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, and on to a limited maximum speed of 155mph. The 334bhp petrol version reduces the acceleration run too 5.6 seconds - limited top speed remains unchanged. But numbers are meaningless – how it responds at the throttle is where it counts.
The V6 TDI will probably be the biggest-selling model in the UK. Drivers won’t be disappointed, even if it’s far from being the nicest A8 to drive. The best way of describing it is effortless. Acceleration is rapid, but in Efficiency mode, it never really feels it thanks to a slightly lazy throttle.
But put it in Dynamic and it’s better, with instant response. It definitely feels happiest at high speeds, where the 70mph motorway slog trickles along at little more than 1500rpm, but with plenty in reserve. Sadly, it’s a bit of a gruff engine, but it's so well insulated that you'll seldom hear it.
So, the petrol one’s the one to go for?
Absolutely, as long as your purchase is not from a financial perspective. It’s refined, eager and happily revs cleanly to 7000rpm. Ditch the rear seat passenger, and you'll prefer driving the A8 in Sport mode.
Enjoy fast gearchanges, a more responsive throttle, and more mid-range punch – and it feels like there’s a distinct lack of holes in its power delivery. In Efficiency mode, the A8 will coast when off the throttle, but only between 35 and 100mph, exaggerating its more lugubrious nature.
In conclusion, the Audi A8 performs admirably and efficiently in either diesel or petrol form – your choice merely comes down to how generous your fuel budget is. If it’s not an issue, we’ll take petrol every time.
And how is the handling and performance?
It might be king-sized, but the Audi A8 is great to drive away from the autobahn. For the air suspension system, you get three driving modes: Comfort, Balance and Dynamic. But if you value handling, even in Comfort mode, you'll be surprised at just how agile it is in bends.
There is some body roll in Comfort mode, though, but not enough to cause concern, and all in all, it's a remarkable performance for a car of this size. In Dynamic mode, the steering is sharpened, making it feel precise, accurate, and easy to place in bends.
High-speed handling is helped also by the car's Quattro all-wheel drive set-up and its rear-wheel steering, which over 37mph sees the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts. It works, too – lane changes are effortless and planted, while A-road sweepers are shrugged off with ease.
But riding on a variety of wheel sizes between 19- and 21-inches, the A8's handling remains calm and unflustered at all times – and it's capable of cornering quickly and without drama in this most luxurious of cars.
The latest A8 comes in standard- and long-wheelbase forms, with order books opening in September 2017 ahead of UK deliveries from early January 2018. Although the range starts at £69,100, speccing-up an A8 can be an eye-watering experience.
But we love the tech on offer, and thanks to some very clever thinking in and around its interior, it all seems to work pretty seamlessly. To drive, it's a triumph – forget the notion it’s just another wooden Audi with under-developed chassis settings.
Its air suspension adds smoothness and refinement and comes with a degree of body control previously unseen on any Audi. Forget the headline-grabbing autonomous announcement (it’s a way off yet, thanks to dozing legislators), and the fact it's not available as a plug-in hybrid, simply put, this is a great car. And one that’s at or very near the top of the luxury state of the art.
*Specs below are for the 55 TFSI L model