At a special event in Barcelona, Audi revealed the next generation of its flagship luxury sedan, the A8. While in Spain we had the opportunity to explore the significant changes to the fourth-generation A8 and came away quite impressed. While exterior styling could be called evolutionary, the new model is revolutionary under the bodywork and inside the luxurious cabin. Here are some of the highlights of this technological tour de force.
VIDEO: Debut of the 2019 Audi A8 in Barcelona
Up front, the new A8 features Audi’s signature Singleframe grille, but now the grille is wider and has a hexagonal shape. The stylish headlights integrate nicely around the new grille, and are the start of sculpted lines that carry over the hood and along the beltline all the way to the rear of the car.
The A8 will be available with HD Matrix LED high-beam lights with laser lighting. Each of the matrix high beams consist of 32 small light-emitting diodes that can be controlled individually. With information supplied by the front camera, the LEDs can be turned off individually to blank-out the light aimed at oncoming vehicles. The cone of light in front of the A8 can continuously “shadow” the oncoming car, so its driver is not blinded by the light, so to speak, while the A8 still properly lights the road.
The matrix lighting can also be used to aim light into corners. Unlike current lighting systems for cornering that are tied to steering direction, Audi’s matrix lighting uses the navigation system to recognize upcoming corners and light them prior to turn-in.
Frickin’ Laser Beams
At speeds above 70 km/h (43.5 mph), the lasers can also be activated, in effect doubling the lighting distance of standard high beams. Blue ambient lighting on the side of the headlight unit identifies the laser equipment. While the HD Matrix LED high beams and laser lighting are legal for use in other markets around the world, they are not currently allowed on American roads. Audi hopes U.S. laws will change by the time the A8 reaches this side of the pond, allowing this innovative lighting system to gain acceptance with American drivers.
The A8 utilizes organic light-emitting diode taillights for a unique look, enhanced by a lighting strip that stretches the width of the car.
Prior-generation A8s have had adaptive suspensions, but Audi is taking road feel to the next level with an all-new active suspension system. The system features an electric motor at each wheel supplied by the 48-volt primary electrical system. A rotary tube houses a titanium roll bar, with a lever that exerts up to 1,100 newton-meters (811.3 lb-ft) on the suspension via a coupling rod. This makes it possible to increase or decrease the load at each wheel individually.
Comfort or Sport
In the new A8, the driver will be able to select a driving mode and the suspension will adjust to fit. Body roll can be diminished with sharper turn-in for sportier driving, while the suspension can absorb the bumps in the road for a more comfortable ride. The suspension can also react to road conditions via a forward-viewing camera that helps prep the suspension for the appropriate wheel to extend for a pothole or retract for a bump.
If the A8 detects an impending side collision, the suspension can raise the side that is about to be hit, which puts the stronger side sill and floor in position to absorb the initial impact. Audi claims that deformation of the cabin and impact to the passengers can be reduced by up to 50 percent with this system.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the new A8, Audi will offer a Traffic Jam Pilot in the new luxury sedan, which the automaker claims to be the world’s first system that reaches Level 3 automation — requiring no driver input. At speeds below 60 km/h (37.3 mph), the driver can activate the traffic jam pilot system. From that point the car will automatically handle acceleration, braking and steering, releasing the driver from paying attention to the road. When traffic clears and speeds increase beyond the 60 km/h, the driver will be notified and have 10 seconds to take back control of the car. With so many variables that must be accounted for during automated driving, the Traffic Jam Pilot system will only operate at the aforementioned speeds and on multilane highways with a physical barrier between the two directions of traffic.
Some vehicles on the road today will locate parking spaces and take care of the steering to park themselves, but these systems require a person in the driver’s seat who can follow instructions to accelerate and brake. The new A8 can handle this task remotely for parallel or right-angle parking. If the only parking spot available is too tight to open the doors, occupants can get out before the car parks.
The new A8 will feature two displays that work in conjunction with each other or separately, depending on the function in use. These large touchscreens replace the familiar rotary dials and buttons in the current Audi lineup. Although we’re not typically fans of touchscreen since they can be difficult to use while driving, the large icons on the main screen require pressure to activate, with haptic feedback making them feel like physical buttons. And, happily, there is an independent volume control knob.
While we fully expect the new A8 to be a joy to drive, it may be even more enjoyable to sit in back as a passenger. The large, plush seats are extremely comfortable — especially in the A8 L, with its additional legroom. The right-rear seat can be set up as an optional relaxation seat — in addition to heating, cooling and massage functions, a footrest opens from the back of the front passenger seat that can warm and massage the soles of a passenger’s weary feet.
A small display between the two seats acts as a remote control and allows passengers to access seat functions, climate control, audio systems as well as lighting. About the size of a smartphone, the device is detachable for easy use.
We were most fascinated by the matrix lighting in the rear seat. Using the remote control, a passenger can pinpoint exactly where the overhead lights should be directed.
The new A8 will not begin to arrive in America for another year, but we can make some educated guesses regarding available powertrains when it arrives. The base engine will likely be the reengineered turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 putting out 340 horsepower. Other expected engine options might include a 4.0-liter V8 with 460 horsepower, and eventually the big twin-turbo W12 that will produce an impressive 585 horsepower.
All powertrains will feature a mild hybrid system that uses a new 48-volt primary electrical system with a lithium-ion battery pack. The system allows for engine-off coasting for as long as 40 seconds at speeds up to 100 mph. Once the accelerator gets pressed, the engine instantly and smoothly restarts. Audi estimates fuel consumption could be reduced by as much as .3 gallons per 62 miles.
Although the A8 will be available in Europe with the option of two different diesel powertrains — a 3.0-liter V6 and 4.0-liter V8 — Audi will likely withhold these models from the America market, considering the recent Volkswagen diesel issues.
All engine options will be teamed with a newly-developed 8-speed automatic transmission. Designed for smooth, quick shifts, the new transmission can recognize stop-and-go situations and modify shift patterns for a smoother ride.
All Audi A8 models will come standard with the latest version of Audi’s legendary quattro all-wheel-drive system. Up to 70 percent of the power can be directed to the front wheels, and 85 percent to the rear. Torque can be directed to individual wheels to improve handling and stability.
A plug-in hybrid version of the A8 is also planned. The A8 e-tron quattro will feature a 3.0-liter V6 teamed with an electric motor for a combined 449 horsepower, which is good enough to power a sprint to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. The A8 e-tron has an expected electric-only range of about 31 miles.
The A8 e-tron will be one of the first vehicles available to offer wireless charging. A floor pad is positioned in the car’s parking space. When the car is positioned correctly above the pad, it rises to the car and commences charging. An indicator on the display helps the driver properly position the car for charging.
Coming Next Year
The new A8 is going on sale this fall in Europe, but will not be arriving in the U.S. until next summer as a 2019 model. Pricing will be released closer to the on-sale date, but based on prices released for Germany, we expect the A8 to start around $100,000, with the extended-length A8 L to be about $5,000 more.