A8 raises the stakes with its AI
Tech brilliance in new flagship Audi is simply unmatched - but it doesn't come cheap, writes Philip Hedderman
Forget the hand-cut eucalyptus door and dash trim, wall-to-wall Valcona leather and even the fully-retractable, lie-flat rear seats - luxury these days is all about the level of tech.
The new Audi A8 has thrown down the gauntlet in the limo segment with a car that will leave rivals looking like thoroughbred dinosaurs.
The boffins who carry the words Vorsprung Durch Technik on their white coats have even packaged the best bits under a magic 'AI'-emblazoned switch, which takes pride of place on the centre console.
The AI moniker stands for Audi Intelligence and is home to space-age gizmos like Garage Pilot, Traffic Jam Pilot and fully autonomous Park Assist - about which, more later.
First let's look at the design of the fourth-generation flagship - which is best described as conservative. The wide single-frame grille gives the front a bit of attitude, as do the chrome blade-like scoops around the fog lamps.
The rear is a little sexier, with a full OLED band running across the bootlid, which bleeds down into the lower clusters to give the car a very distinctive tush.
Overall, the new luxury saloon is longer, wider and lighter than its predecessor, adding 37mm to the already gargantuan 5.3-metre wheelbase.
But inside is where the real magic begins to unfold. The almost-buttonless centre console is dominated by two state-of-the-art touchscreens - 10.1in in the upper dash, 8.6in in the lower.
Both have crystal-clear graphics and respond to pinch and swipe commands just like a mobile phone.
A touchbar menu runs across the bottom (like the new Apple Mac Pro) while a scribble pad instantly recognises names (for phone) or places for the unrivalled Google 3-D maps in the Virtual Cockpit - all standard.
The Garage Pilot is my favourite piece of kit: it will park the car remotely from an app on your phone.
Even at an awkward angle, the steering will adjust itself through laser-guidance into the tightest of spaces - and will reverse out of the same spot when you return.
Park Assist is fully autonomous, too, and once activated will control the gears (reverse and drive), steer and brake until the car is inch-perfect.
Traffic Jam Pilot will take over in stop-start tailbacks and will accelerate, steer and brake automatically at speeds up to 60kmh while you check your emails (law permitting, of course).
On the safety front, the new active suspension not only adjusts independently to suit changing road conditions, but also has a sensor that, predicting a side impact, will instantly raise the car 80mm to send as much force as possible through the floor - the strongest part of the chassis.
In Ireland, the new A8 will launch in three trim levels. The entry-level SE comes with the stunning Audi Virtual Cockpit, Multi Media Interface Navigation Plus with Touch Response, Head-up Display, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, side assist, Mild Hybrid Technology (allowing the car to coast with the engine switched off) and Smartphone Interface with 4G connectivity - all on top of the previous model's equipment.
Audi expects the Luxury trim to be its best seller, adding Matrix LED headlights, (which give daytime illumination), Audi Phonebox, with wireless charging, upgraded 19in, 15-spoke alloy wheels, 360-degree cameras and acoustic glass - for an extra €7,900 (which includes a 30pc discount).
Powering this beast are two extensively re-engineered V6 turbo engines: a three-litre TDI (which offers 286bhp) and a three-litre TFSI (which has 340bhp).
An eight-cylinder, four-litre litre TDI with 435bhp will follow in the coming months.
As expected, the oil burner we tested wafted along almost silently and had oceans of power on tap - hitting 0-100kmh in 5.9 seconds and boasting an astounding consumption for its size of 50mpg. The ride and handling were exquisite, as was the comfort.
The only visible chink in the armour is the price - which at €99,950 is over €10k more expensive than the newly face-lifted S-Class.