Audi has set a new benchmark with the latest version of its A8 luxury saloon. The new flagship will be the first production car to offer an autonomous driving function.
While it isn’t a core fleet model, the A8 is extremely important as it showcases technology that will eventually filter down into future mainstream models.
Traffic Jam Pilot will allow hands-off driving in certain conditions up to speeds of 37mph. The A8 will also have an autonomous remote parking capability.
These functions are possible thanks to a dedicated driver assistance controller, which has more computing power than previous generation A8 systems put together.
Data is collected from 24 sensors, including four cameras, a laser scanner and an infra-red camera.
Unfortunately, legislation prevents the driverless technology from being sold in the UK right now, so UK customers will have to settle for adaptive cruise control, with stop and go function and lane-keep assist, until further notice.
Another Audi breakthrough is the standard fitment of a 48v mild-hybrid system across the line-up. It can increase the engine-off time while driving and provide extra boost at lower revs. The upshot is improved fuel economy and emissions.
Two engines are available initially; the 50 TDI is expected to be the most popular and is the one we tested. It is a 3.0-litre V6 which develops 286PS and 600Nm.
Official combined fuel consumption is rated at 50.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 145g/km.
During our week with the car we were able to reach the official figure, but an average closer to 45mpg is more realistic for day-to-day driving. Still, it's an impressive result considering the A8 has all-wheel-drive.
The motor is silent and vibration-free, yet when opened up can accelerate the A8 to 60mph in less than six seconds.
A petrol version is also available, badged 55 TFSI. It emits 171g/km with average fuel economy of 37.7mpg. A plug-in hybrid version of this engine is expected to go on sale this year with wireless charging ability.
Standard-fit air suspension ensures the ride remains supple, yet can be stiffened using the Audi Drive Select switch if the driver prefers a more dynamic feel.
All-wheel steering complements the A8’s nimble handling while also minimising its turning circle.
Audi has kept the styling of the new car discreet. The most exciting element of the exterior is the animated LED rear lights which extend along the entire boot lid and perform a sequenced illumination when switching them on or off.
Inside it’s a different picture. The A8 has the most advanced interior in its sector. The central multimedia screen is complemented by a second touchscreen lower in the console – eradicating the need for physical buttons.
Both the glass-fronted displays offer haptic feedback, while other interior switches – such as those for the lights and air vents – are replaced by touch-sensitive panels.
At the rear, it is equally impressive. Electrically adjustable seats with heating, cooling and massage functions are available. All of which are controlled by a removable 5.7-inch tablet which is housed in the central armrest.
Rear-seat passengers can also control the audio, multimedia, climate and ambient lighting plus the full suite of electric sun blinds.
The A8 costs from £69,100 and offers a similar BIK tax proposition to user-choosers as a Mercedes-Benz S350d. Both will set a driver back around £8,500 per year.