Audi ups the ante in luxobarge sector

Although the assertion that the new Audi A8 is the most technically advanced car in the hyper-expensive luxobarge segment might seem a touch extravagant, it is nevertheless true.

Audi ups the ante in luxobarge sector

By Declan Colley

Although the assertion that the new Audi A8 is the most technically advanced car in the hyper-expensive luxobarge segment might seem a touch extravagant, it is nevertheless true.

This is a machine with a bewildering array of technology available on it, aside altogether from being endowed with cornea-exploding good looks, lavish comfort levels and the sort of general sophistication that a few short years ago would have been in the realm of a Philip K Dick novel.

And, despite the fact the A8 inhabits the same segment as the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes S-Class, neither of which could be described as slackers when it comes to innovation and luxury, the Audi still delivers a package which is innovative and impressive.

The very fact the car is loaded with levels of autonomous driving technology which cannot actually yet be fully utilised by drivers because of differing legal requirements in the many markets in which it sells its products, is an illustration of just how hi-tech it actually is.

With nearly 50 different driver assistance systems on offer in the A8, it would be physically impossible with the space available to go through each and every one of them, but there is a certain level of disappointment to be had from the fact one may not actually be able to plumb the depths of the abilities this car enjoys in the short time one has it.

But let that not take away from what is a rousing tour de force, whatever way you look at it.

Audi has redefined the top-line executive motor car segment with this, the fourth generation of the A8 and if the company previously stood accused of falling behind its rivals in the tech department, then such charges are now firmly in the rear view mirror.

The useable technology that is on offer here includes ultra-intelligent adaptive cruise control (including a ‘follow-to-stop’ function), computer controlled adaptive air suspension, self-parking, a hugely improved and impressive version of Audi’s virtual cockpit with a head-up display, 22-way adjustable front seats, acoustic glazing, anti-kerbing warning system, glove compartment cooling system, HD matrix LED front lights and so on… and on… and on.

Under the hood there is a terribly sweet 3-litre 286 bhp V6 turbodiesel (5.7 second 0-100km/h; 250 kph top speed; 5.88 l/100km or 47 mpg and 151g/km for a €390 annual tax bill) which is allied to an eight-speed automatic Tiptronic gearbox with Audi’s all-wheel drive quattro system.

That combination, let me tell you, adds up to a drive which is as smooth, seamless and effortless as is out there right now.

The engine also offers a mild hybrid system which allows for cylinder shut-down and lets the car coast with the engine shut down completely.

To try out the real world comfort levels of the car, I undertook a 300km round trip with a full complement of five people on board and it is fair to say that as we wafted across a route which encompassed A-roads, B-roads, and motorway driving — and that no matter what the state of the surface — the A8 was completely unruffled by whatever was thrown at it.

Indeed over the twistier bits of the journey, the three rear seat passengers languished in the sort of QEII levels of comfort to which they were completely unaccustomed.

The smoothness of the air suspension delivered refinement in spades for those being driven while providing the driver with an astonishing level of body control, especially when you consider the king-sized two tonne weight of the thing.

The air suspension offers three driving modes, Comfort, Efficiency and Dynamic and even in the most lugubrious Comfort setting, the tightness of the driving experience is astonishing. Sure you will get a touch of body roll and a smidgen of understeer if you carry too much pace into a corner, but in general it is hard to find a hole in the package.

The passengers all commented on how untroubled the chassis was even when I was pressing on and how little they were troubled — in terms of not being thrown around the place by such a determined effort to ruffle them. No, there was none of that coarseness or vulgarity on offer here at all.

The quattro link to the four wheels is assisted by a rear steering system whereby the rear wheels steer in the same direction as the front ones at speeds over 59km/h and although my guinea pigs might not have realised it, it allowed me — at the helm — to take on a range of sweeping bends at the sort of pace which would normally, in the interest of passenger comfort, been unthinkable.

They were also astonished by the three screen (and 3D if you wished it) infotainment system. Audi’s old MMI and climate control systems are now operated by a really clever haptic touch arrangement. So impressive is this whole deal, that there was an obvious ‘wow’ factor emanating from the rear seats.

And if that impressed them, then the amount of room they had to themselves was also hugely striking, as were the huge and hugely comfortable — adjustable — chairs.

Worth noting too is that options include reclining rear seats and even a foot massage system. Really? Yes, really.

I have driven many large cars down the years and have been very impressed by the most recent S-Class and 7 Series respectively, but it seemed clear to me after my time with the A8 that Audi has really upped the ante with this car by manufacturing something that is huge and hugely dynamic at the same time. Those two things are often mutually exclusive.

The exterior look, gorgeous and all as it is, is probably a little conservative, despite stuff like the sporty wheel arches, but then that will probably appeal to the core conservative demographic which will be in the running to buy one.

Everything else, however — the magnificent interior, the technology, the engine and the driving dynamics — add up to a machine that is as close to the top of the pile as anything Audi has ever made in the luxobarge segment.

Even allowing that the autonomous driving elements of the car have been somewhat stymied by slack international regulation, the A8 is a tour de force and certainly qualifies for the soubriquet ‘a great car’.

That they will not sell than many of them in Ireland is something of a shame because the more people that see — and believe what they are seeing — the abilities and capabilities of the Audi and be gobsmacked by them, then the more legendary the A8 will become.

It may not be a car for the masses, but the masses would certainly appreciate the sheer awesomeness of what is an astonishing piece of kit, which is why it gets a very rare and much sought-after five-star rating.

Colley's verdict

★★★★★

The Cost: A8 starts at €99,100 — €112,753 as tested

The Engine: Velvety V6 turbodiesel

The Specification: Mind-blowing

The Overall Verdict: Very close to best in class

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