New super-refined A8 saloon is a technological marvel
Audi A8 50 TDI quattro
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, turbocharged, diesel
Torque: 443lb ft
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 1975kg
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 48.7mpg
CO2/tax band: 152g/km, 29%
Progress through technology. Audi used to make a lot of its ‘vorsprung durch technik’ line: the new fourth-generation A8 brings that back with a smooth and sophisticated bang.
Built on the Q7/Q5 platform from a mix aluminium, steel, magnesium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, the longer and taller new A8 launches with a choice of a 3.0-litre, 335bhp ‘55 TSI’ twin-turbocharged petrol engine and the 3.0-litre, 282bhp ‘50 TDI’ diesel we’ve just tested.
Top-spec V8 diesel and W12 petrol options will be coming later, along with a more powerful petrol-electric plug-in hybrid with wireless inductive battery charging. Every A8 is a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid’ that can coast without conventional engine power for up to 40 seconds at extra-urban and motorway speeds.
High-tech chassis features include standard height-adjustable air suspension system and optional four-wheel steering, but the A8’s biggest claim is to be the first production car with Level 3 conditional automated driving, ‘Audi AI’ allowing the A8 to drive itself for much longer periods than other ‘piloted’ or ‘drive-assisted’ production cars, albeit only in heavy motorway traffic at speeds of up to 37mph.
Self-parking in a bay or a garage via your smartphone will also be on offer at the same time (expected to be in spring 2018) along with the option of a fully active electromechanical suspension system that will be able to ‘read’ the road ahead, moving each wheel in readiness of bumps and ridges.
Even without these headline features the new A8 is one of the smoothest and most modern luxury cars you can buy. Microswitched doorhandles operate with barely a touch and the central control panel stack of two widescreen touch-sensitive displays (requiring quite a heavy prod, and delivering rather artificial-feeling responses) is almost entirely devoid of conventional switches.
The influence of the Tesla Model S is clear, but the Tesla’s interior doesn’t match the Audi’s on perceived quality and comfort. You might wish for a bit less ‘piano black’ veneer, but it’s practical, and few would cavil at the clarity of the digital instrumentation, the wonderful comfort of the leather massage seats and the cocktail lounge atmosphere created by the ambient lighting.
Audi says this is the quietest car ever to wear the 4-ring badge. The A8’s 3.0-litre diesel makes a faint hum over 3500rpm, but most of the time you never hear it. Wind noise is uncannily absent too, but you will detect some background road noise on 20-inch-wheeled examples like our test car. Standard wheels are 18s.
There are four driver modes – efficiency, dynamic, comfort, automatic and individual – and each setting is ‘right’ for a large luxury saloon. Despite the sub-six-second 0-60mpg time, it’s not what you’d call a driver’s car, but the wieldiness in ‘dynamic’ mode, the easy glide of ‘comfort’, and the excellent compromise of ‘automatic’ mode all deliver a beautifully laid-back attitude. A 250-mile journey in an A8 will be less taxing than a five-mile jaunt in many other cars – and all with an easily-attainable 45mpg.
Perhaps the best thing about this car is its old-school Audi feel. It comes across as a totally authentic luxury car. We’ll need to test it against the revised Mercedes S-Class to see exactly where it stands on the podium, but if you’re unconcerned by comparisons like that you can move straight to the purchase stage and be highly satisfied by your choice.