The A8 has, for a long time, been the pinnacle of luxury in the Audi range and this new model is no exception. While the last generation A8 was always popular with chauffeurs and wealthy businessmen, it was starting to look rather plain and long in the tooth. The Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series have stepped up their game recently, which means that it was now time for Audi to take its turn.
The A8 has had a drastic overhaul including everything from the chassis right through to the seats. A striking new dash is connected to Audi’s brilliant virtual cockpit, replacing traditional dials behind the dash with a customisable digital screen. You can shrink or increase the size of the speedo and rev dials as well as the sat nav too.
The screens even offer “haptic” feedback, essentially similar feedback that your smartphone gives you when you tap on the screen. It is one of the best systems we’ve come across and the sooner it makes its way onto further Audis the better.
One thing that is absolutely staggering though about the A8 is the safety technology that aims to keep drivers and passengers as safe as possible. Electromechancial door handles won’t let you open the doors if it senses that there is an oncoming cyclist or car from behind, while Audi’s AI systems are even more impressive. It includes technology such as parking, garage and traffic jam pilot – the system can autonomously drive the car at speeds of up to 37mph on roads where barriers separate traffic (dual carriageways and motorways for example) and can park itself. The system is set to be rolled out from next year in countries where the law allows.
Two V6 engines are available from launch, one diesel and one petrol, both of which are described as “mild hybrids”.
Some genius at Audi has also (confusingly) decided to change the engine names of its car – because describing a car as a 3.0-litre is too complex, obviously. Instead, we now have numbers to describe a car, such as the 50 and 55 that have no direct correlation to the size of the engine. We struggle to understand it, so it’s definitely worth reading a brochure very carefully, or quizzing your unfortunate local dealer. Basically, the digits correspond to the power outputs.
Anyway, we tried both the 3.0-litre diesel – named the A8 50 TDI Quattro - and the 3.0-litre petrol – called the A8 55 TFSI Quattro. The diesel comes with 282bhp and 500Nm of torque while the petrol has 335bhp and 500Nm of torque.
The diesel is likely to be the best seller, hitting 60mph in 5.7 second and having a top speed of 155mph. Yet the petrol was actually better to drive, as it didn’t have the mild diesel clatter and had a smoother power delivery. Despite hybrid systems being used, they seem to infrequently work, shutting down a few cylinders on just a couple of occasions on our two-hour test drive.
Ride and handling
While chauffeurs are going to be the ones more likely to be at the wheel, it provides an excellent drive thanks to its ride and handling innovations.
Optional dynamic all-wheel steering is a worthy option to tick as at low speeds, it allows the rear wheels to turn in the opposite direction to the front, reducing the turning circle by 1.1m and giving you a welcome helping hand when it comes to parking. It also helps at high speeds too by turning all four wheels in the same direction to improve stability and lane changes. Despite all this tech, as a driver you feel a bit underwhelmed by the lack of steering feel, though.
Adaptive air suspension is standard on the A8, and while not entirely perfect, largely it offers an incredible ride - perfect for being chauffeured around. The suspension adjusts to smooth bumps out in the roads, so much so that you barely even feel it when you go over speed bumps. However, because the system works around camera, it doesn’t quite have the same capability once the sun goes down. When operating at its best, the system works so well that you barely even feel it rolling at all in corners, making the driving experience quite bizarre, although it works a dream for passengers.
The air suspension also has safety benefits too, as it can even raise the car if it detects a side impact, targeting the impact at the car’s strongest point to dissipate the energy through the floor plan. The suspension even raises to help passengers get in, it’s pretty clever stuff.
Interior and equipment
In the A8, it really is all about rear space – that is “where the King sits”, as Audi describes it. You certainly feel like a royal when you’re sat in the reclining, heated and cooling seats. Rear passengers even get a tablet-like control panel that’s removable from the centre armrest and can adjust the rear blinds, music, stereo and more. It’s standard on the LWB model and an option on the SWB.
As for the front , drivers are spoilt too with that brilliant new cockpit, climate control and optional massaging seats, as well as a smart new steering wheel and wireless charging for your phone.
The A8 is equally brilliant for both driver and passengers, and is finished off to a standard you’d expect from the pinnacle of the Audi range. It is also extensively well equipped, although you would expect this from a car costing nearly £70,000.
It comes with adaptive air suspension, a virtual cockpit, LED headlights, an acoustic windscreen and heated as front seats and much more. As it’s an Audi though, you can always spend so much more on options. Just a fraction of the options available include the clever dynamic all-wheel steering, Audi AI functions, a Bang & Olusfen sound system, front and rear TVs and even a foot massaging system.
The Audi A8 starts from £69,100 with its first customer deliveries expected early in 2018. While it is very well equipped, it is quite pricey, particularly when compared to the BMW 7-Series which is quite substantially cheaper. The Audi almost the matches the price of the Mercedes S-Class, however.
As for running costs, the A8 is surprisingly fuel efficient for a car of this size, helped by its mild hybrid system. The A8 50 TDI Quattro returns 50.4mpg and emits 145g/km of CO2.
The new Audi has shifted the luxury limousine game onto new levels. The technology it showcases is breath-taking both inside and outside with its game-changing suspension, steering and safety systems and propels Audi’s flagship to a position where a number one spot in the luxury car class looks likely. Whether you’re in the front or rear for the majority of the time, you will be very happy either way.