For all the exciting new technology it can be fitted with, the 2018 Audi A8 is not quite the revolution in terms of design we had hoped.
Pleasant, and handsome, the fifth-generation A8 has a few design flourishes from the Prologue concepts, such as the flatter, wider single-frame grille, full-width tail-lights, and the ever-so-subtle humps over the wheel arches, but overall the design remains conservative.
Perhaps that’s just what the target market wants.
Unlike previous generations, the new A8 doesn’t feature a body shell primarily constructed out of aluminium. Instead, there’s a mix of carbon-fibre, aluminium, magnesium, and high-strength steel.
With the interior, Audi’s designers have been given a freer hand to break away from the past. The lines are clean, simple and modern, and the detailing and acres of soft, plush leather are surprisingly inviting.
With a dual touchscreen setup in the middle of the dashboard, Audi has bid tschüss to the knob-and-dial MMI interface that have graced the last several generations of its products.
There’s an upper touchscreen for entertainment, infotainment and navigation systems, while the lower screen is primarily used for the climate control system and data entry via either an on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition.
A built-in haptic feedback system gives a very light jolt whenever you run your hands over, or deliberately press an on-screen button.
When parked or positioned in the passenger’s seat, the new setup is a joy to behold and use. On the move, though, it’s still easier to blindly operate a suite of physical dials and switches while keeping your eyes on the road.
Also, be prepared to keep to a cleaning cloth handy because the screens, especially the upper unit, flaunt fingerprint oil and smudges like the latest Instagram trend.
In a way, the new MMI system shepherds you towards the natural language voice recognition system and the steering wheel buttons that are used in concert with the instrument panel-replacing virtual cockpit screen, which has been given a resolution bump.
Australian-bound A8 models will miss out on some of the car’s headline tech features, including level three autonomous driving, AI active suspension, and remote parking functionality.
Aussie A8s will still be available with a host of new tech features, though. The LED matrix headlight system has been upgraded with more bulbs to improve performance, both when operating at maximum capacity and when blocking off parts of the beam from other road users.
There’s also laser light extended high beam units, and an electric Active Body Control system with predictive air suspension, active roll stabilisation and dynamic height adjustment. The optional OLED tail-lights are intriguing from a design perspective as they are thin, flat and produce an even light over their entire surface.
As a driving experience, the A8 dealt with the twisty winding roads outside of Valencia with aplomb. The MLB platform means the longitudinally-mounted engine hangs slightly ahead of the front axle, but at moderately vigourous speeds, this never seemed to be an issue.
The optional all-wheel steering system makes the A8 a much more manageable beast in the city and in tight spaces. The system can add extra steering input to the front wheels, and steer the rear wheels at up to five degrees.
At low speeds, the rear wheels are typically turned in opposition to the front wheels, which reduces the turning circle by around a metre to 11.4m on the standard wheelbase model, and 11.8m on the LWB.
Equipped with all-wheel steering, the A8 displayed a surprising amount of agility and nimbleness.
Perhaps the greatest impediment to the A8’s ability to chew up mountain switchbacks is its width.
Until scientists figure out the secrets of the Tardis, that’s one thing A8 drivers will just have to put up with.
The 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol model (55 TFSI) we drove at launch had more than sufficient grunt to ascend mountains with ease. And the eight-speed automatic transmission was eager to hold onto gears as we descended back to sea level.
There’s also a 210kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 turbo-diesel variant (50 TDI). Although the initial engine range for Australia is still to be confirmed, these two engines are the most likely starters.
Australians wanting a V8, a 12-cylinder or plug-in hybrid drivetrain will have to wait or look elsewhere, because the 4.0-litre turbo V8, plug-in hybrid and W12 engines seem to out of the local picture for now.
A 48V mild-hybrid setup is standard on both engines, and it allows the internal combustion engine to switch off during coasting, braking, and at low speeds. Especially at a standing start with the engine shut off, it operates more smoothly and less obtrusively than a regular automatic engine stop/start setup, but it’s not in the same league as a full hybrid.
It’s hard to get a true handle on the A8’s ride, because, even at their worst, the roads in and around Valencia are pretty darn smooth. The few bumps, speed humps and road irregularities we found were dispatched with barely a thump.
Given the nature of our roads, it’s a real shame we won’t be able to sample the top-tier AI Active Suspension system Down Under, at least for the time being.
The trick new setup operates at urban road speeds, and uses the vision and detection equipment required for level three autonomous driving to scan the road ahead and adjust the suspension and ride height to suit. In a closed road test, it made bumps as tall as 100mm pass by with barely a ripple.
The A8 models we tried were four-passenger variants with individual sliding, reclining, massaging, heated and cooled rear seats.
Set to a relaxing massage, it’s easy enough to drift off even when the driver is hustling the A8 along at a decent clip. Owners who prefer to be driven should opt for the detachable Android entertainment tablets mounted on the front seat backs, and the touchscreen controller for the climate control and infotainment systems.
One would never criticise the standard wheelbase model, at 5172mm in length and riding on 2998mm wheelbase, for lacking interior space, but the long wheelbase model adds an extra 130mm all to the benefit of those sitting in the rear.
There’s no doubt the A8 is a good steer, and an impressive feat of engineering. It’s a real shame of the most cutting edge elements won’t be making the trip Down Under, for now.
Anyone wanting level three self-driving and its related features will just have to wait and hope, or use their power and influence to lean on the powers-that-be.
The new Audi A8 arrives in Australia from the middle of 2018 in both short and long wheelbase formats. Pricing and final specifications have yet to be announced.