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Fizzing touchscreens and space-age tech on our Audi A8

Published: 12 February 2019

► CAR lives with an Audi A8 limo
► This thing is loaded with tech
► Daily driver diary updates

Month 5 of our Audi A8 long-term test review: MMI Touch and the clever haptic infotainment

The Audi A8 is one of the most technically advanced cars on sale and wears enough TLAs to whip Gadget Show types into a frenzy. Mercifully, it also lets you jump in and just drive, should you prefer to shun techno trickery. No key required, press the start button, tug the chunky joystick gearlever into D and off you schmooze.

But to drive the A8 in this fashion is to miss the point. It’s dripping with microchips. Where to start? Usually with MMI Touch, the haptic touchscreen that replaces most switchgear. It’s disconcerting at first – the screen fizzes when you prod buttons: the virtual becomes visceral. Gliding your finger to swipe and write addresses is simple and effective.

Audi MMI Touch on our A8 limousine: a clever touchscreen

Voice control is improving, but still misconstrues too many of my mutterings. Audi Virtual Cockpit lets you display dials, nav and infotainment, and the A8 syncs seamlessly with every phone we’ve tried. Special mention also to the Audi Laser Lights, whose piercing glow comes into its own at this gloomy time of year.

What of its semi-autonomous tech? Much of the A8’s Level 3 self-driving toolkit lies dormant while legislation catches up; after spending half a year being driven by a Tesla Model S, Munich’s autopilot is a step back.

Our 50 TDI feels untapped, straining at the leash to drive itself. We’re truly at a technological crossroads.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Audi A8L 50 TDI Quattro 286ps Tiptronic

Price £72,210
As tested £93,015
Engine 2967cc V6 turbodiesel, 282bhp @ 3750rpm, 443lb ft @ 1250rpm  Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 5.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 152g/km CO2  
Miles this month 1075  
Total 5017  
Our mpg 37.5
Official mpg 48.7  
Fuel this month £213.20
Extra costs None

Month 4 living with an Audi A8 L: up close and personal

Tim Pollard and the MASSIVE grille on his Audi A8 limousine

A giant grilling
What a big gob! That's the Audi A8, not me. I've never fully understood this obsession with super-sized grilles, but our A8 certainly has one. The trapezoidal front end has grown ever bigger in recent years and it's now 119cm wide and 47cm tall, peppered with cameras and radar sensors. Yes, this beast from the deep can see through its mouth.

Audi A8 badge

Still confused by Audi badges? You're not alone. Our car is a 50 TDI Quattro and I wager you can decipher two of those. (This car is indeed diesel and AWD.) The numerical hierarchy is nonsensical yet easy enough to understand: bigger is brawnier, basically. I wonder when car makers will start using CO2 as a naming convention...

Audi A8 L rear

Classical styling
This is a big car, measuring 5302mm long, 1488mm high and 1945mm wide, or 2130mm with mirrors. I've never understood why manufacturers quote width without mirrors; it's not like you can remove them before squeezing through a narrow gap... (Though squeezing through may remove them.) I prefer the elegant styling at the rear to the rather over-the-top face.

Audi A8 wheel

The wheel deal
Our A8 rolls on these rather unusual – and pretty – 20-inch, 20-spoke, contrasting grey, partly polished alloy wheels. Turns out they're rare, too: Audi has now discontinued them. Perhaps the £3100 cost of this option put people off. They're shod in grippy, quiet Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, whose vital stats are 265/40 R20.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Audi A8L 50 TDI Quattro 286ps Tiptronic

Price £72,210
As tested £93,015
Engine 2967cc turbodiesel V6, 282bhp @ 3750rpm, 443lb ft @ 1250rpm 
Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive 
Performance 5.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 152g/km CO2 
Miles this month 1263
Total 3942
Our mpg 37.5 
Official mpg 48.7
Fuel this month £173.93 
Extra costs None

Month 3 of our Audi A8 long-term test review: the super-long diesel range

Seven hundred and twenty miles. That’s the range of our A8 when you brim its 82-litre tank. Enough to drive from London to Milan. Seems unlikeIy? In mixed driving, we’re averaging 37mpg. But get it on a motorway and the A8 shines.

Audi A8 range: a long-distance 720-mile range on one tank

The ride is cushiony, the stereo sublime, the seats supportive and soft – and fuel consumption regularly tops 44mpg. For a two-tonne, 5.3-metre, all-wheel-drive limousine, this is nothing short of remarkable. Diesel’s not done quite yet.

By Tim Pollard

Should you still buy a diesel car? We look at the pros and cons

Diary update: should you pay £4900 for Audi's HD Matrix LED headlights?  

Audi A8 Laser Lights

As gloomy nights creep in, stealthily extending hours of darkness, it's a good time to analyse the the Audi A8's most expensive single option: the £4900 'HD Matrix LED headlights with Audi Laser Light and OLED rear lights,' to give them their full description on the spec sheet. Five grand for fancy lights! Is this a bright idea? 

Now I've always said that as a rural country dweller that I would pay to upgrade my headlamps for better visibility at nighttime. But this does seem a large amount to sign off - although in fairness, modern financing means the hit would be in tenners per month, not hundreds, when baked into a long-term lease or PCP.

It means they're state-of-the-art lights. There's the party trick at the rear, where the OLEDs play Knight Rider, taking active 'scrolling' indicators to the next level: the flashers dance and strobe, there's a cool full-width lighting bar and the start-up routine is something else. I captured it on slo-mo for a tweet recently and it shows you the light show in intricate detail:

A few of you commented back about the needless complexity and long-term reliability concerns over these complex units. Will you be able to replace a bulb if it goes? No. Is this potentially storing up big bills in future? Time will tell. You could level the same accusation at most new electro-advances in the automotive industry; it's fair to say the days of simple, repairable cars are rapidly receding.

The lights at the front are equally clever. Flick them on to full beam and the algorithms take over, flicking up and down to full beam with no manual assistance, staying fully illuminated but shuttering off individual LEDs to avoid blinding oncoming traffic and bending to read the road ahead.

Audi A8's headlamps have active shuttering to avoid blinding oncoming traffic

They're mighty impressive and the tech has improved to such an extent that I don't remember any occasions this winter where I've been flashed by other drivers for having full beam on. This would happen on occasion when the tech was nascent (funnily enough on another Audi, my old TT S long-termer).

Perhaps the A8's lighting party trick, however, is the Laser Light technology. When speeds rise above about 40mph full beam is assisted by lasers in the main lighting unit, piercing the dark ahead for what looks like a full mile. It's uncannily clever and uses sat-nav data to predict what's ahead. 

How Audi A8's Laser Lights work

Audi claims it nearly doubles the range of the lights and the extraordinary reach - and shaping - of the main beam does a good fist of that old cliché, turning night into day. When the cool Laser Light logo comes on the dash, you know you've got the best chance of seeing obstacles or animals in the road ahead for hundreds of metres ahead.

I'm still not convinced I'd spend the thick end of £5k on this tech, but they're about as sophisticated lights as I've seen on any production car.

By Tim Pollard

Month 2 living with an Audi A8: the capacious rear passenger compartment

Audi A8 L rear passenger compartment

I’ve never lived with anything bigger than a 5-series for an extended test so it’s taken a while to get used to having a 5.2-metre luxury leviathan on my driveway. Gaps have to be judged more carefully and country lanes approached with circumspection, and my family is resigned to me parking in the largest, most remote bays of car parks. It spills out of most spaces like an overweight passenger sprawling beyond the confines of an airline seat.

The flipside is that we have oodles of space inside. My children can’t quite believe the legroom in the rear of our long-wheelbase A8 L, complete with the comedic little footrest blocks nestling in the rear footwell. I’ve spent most of my time up front, where it’s equally roomy, but the rear compartment is where the Audi flagship makes most sense.

Our car comes with the Rear Comfort Pack which bundles in those footrests, double glazing, electric rear seat adjustment and power door-close for a chunky £2195. The acoustic glass makes the A8 recording-studio hushed, and the large fold-down armrest lets you choose between four-seater limo spec and occasional five-seat taxi duty.

Rechargeable tablet sits in Audi A8 L rear armrest, controls many minor functions

Note also the removable micro-tablet in the armrest; back-seat drivers – sorry, passengers – can use it to adjust temperature, check the trip computer or even re-tune the stereo. Parents should note the potential for familial chaos on long journeys, as infotainment control is inevitably ceded rearwards.

It’s not all about the newly-entitled passengers in the back, though. Up front I too have become accustomed to sitting in the lap of luxury thanks to the extremely comfy armchairs. There are no massaging or ventilating tricks here, but these are inherently well designed, pampering pews.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Audi A8L 50 TDI Quattro 286ps Tiptronic

Price £72,210
As tested £93,015
Engine 2967cc turbodiesel V6, 282bhp @ 3750rpm, 443lb ft @ 1250rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 5.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 152g/km CO2
Miles this month 1257
Total 1619
Our mpg 37.5
Official mpg 48.7
Fuel this month £173.93
Extra costs None

Should you still buy a diesel car? We look at the Dieselgate backlash

Month 1 of our Audi A8 long-term test review: the introduction

The CAR magazine UK Audi A8 L long-term test car with keeper Tim Pollard

Is the Audi A8's time now? From its 1994 launch to the latest fourth generation, there are many reasons why the limo from Ingolstadt has been ahead of the curve. But despite its pioneering aluminium architecture, its starring role in Ronin and now its embrace of autonomous driving, it feels like the A8 has never quite won the plaudits its technology deserved.

Over the next half year we'll test its Vorsprung durch Technik to the max. And there's an awful lot of tech to get our heads around; the manual stretches to 356 pages. Our car has done away with most buttons, replaced with a haptic touchscreen. Laser lights strobe through the darkness like something from a Jean-Michel Jarre lightshow.

Add in four-wheel steering, 48-volt mild-hybrid creds and an array of semi-autonomous systems and it's easy to make a case for the A8 being one of the most technologically advanced cars on sale today.

Will we be able to master the machine? Will we applaud this technological marvel, or wish it was a little bit simpler? The CAR long-term test should uncover the truth, warts 'n' all.
We've picked an A8L 50 TDI Quattro 286ps Tiptronic finished in classy, subdued Navarra Blue metallic. The 'L' denotes an extra 13cm of wheelbase, creating an echoing rear passenger compartment. Audi UK says around 80 per cent of buyers pick the stretched model.

Audi A8 rear seats

The '50 TDI' bit still confuses us, frankly. To mask the downsizing revolution, Ingolstadt has dropped engine capacities for power bands – 50, which is towards the top of the scale, reflects our car's 282bhp output. At the bottom of the scale, the entry-level A1's 25 TFSI badging conceals a more humble 94bhp. The system will apply to future electric models as well as petrol, diesel and hybrid Audis, although exception will be made for hot S or RS models.

'Quattro' in the name says that all four wheels are driven, although there's nothing to say that each axle steers, too. 'Tiptronic' reflects the standard eight-speed automatic transmission. What's left for the driver to do, apart from browse the internet and chat away to the supposedly more natural voice recognition?

The price of all this progress is a punchy £72k for the base car, on a par with a similarly specced BMW 730Ld xDrive. But ours is one extravagantly specced A8, featuring a cornucopia of extras that add £21k to the price.

So step in, relax and join us throughout the rest of 2018 as we find out if the A8's undoubted technical wizardry exists to treat or taunt us.

£21k of Audi A8 optional extras: the highlights

Rear-wheel steering: £1950
20-inch part-polished alloys: £3100
HD Matrix LED headlights with Laser Light and OLED rear lights: £4900
Phone Box for chauffeured execs: £750
Comfort and Sound Pack with 360º cameras, B&O stereo, 36-colour LED interior lighting: £1695
Rear Comfort Pack with footrests, double glazing, electric seats and power door-close: £2195

Logbook: Audi A8 L 50 TDI quattro

Price £72,210
As tested £93,015
Engine 2967cc 24v V6 turbodiesel, 282bhp @ 3750rpm, 443lb ft @ 1250rpm  
Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 5.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 152g/km CO2 
Miles this month 20
Total 362
Our mpg TBCmpg  
Official mpg 48.7mpg  
Fuel this month £n/a  
Extra costs None

Check out our Audi reviews

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet