Audi’s tech-heavy A8 L 3.0 makes you feel like a commuter of the future at times, though the ride isn’t always smooth sailing
Photos: Derryn Wong
The deal with the new fourth-gen Audi A8 luxury limousine is that it’s full of new-fangled technology.
Audi touts the A8 as the first full-production car with Level 3 autonomy, which means that using its Traffic Jam Assist system, the driver can take their hands off the wheel and let the car drive itself as long as certain parameters are met.
Predictably, that system hasn’t yet been approved for Singapore, but the A8 has plenty else to offer, including more doodads than The International Doodad Festival.
Compared to the previous 3.0 V6 model, the new A8 has a far more imposing front end thanks to its wide diamond-shaped grille (Audi dubs it ‘singleframe’ as it joins the top and bottom grilles into uh..a…single..frame…) flanked by equally wide headlights.
We can say it works, as far more people seemed to take in the car and its dark blue paintwork, where the previous model slipped by in black anonymity.
It’s a look that communicates plenty of clean, capable technicality, a feeling reinforced by the interior. From the driver’s perspective, it’s a full glass cockpit with the Virtual Cockpit digital instruments, and naturally the A8 flagship is the first to debut the latest MMI Touch Response system, which is also on the A6 and A7.
As part of the Modern Car Designers’ War On Buttons, only major things like the starter and safety systems warrant a physical button – we’re just glad that a real volume knob is one of them.
The touchscreens that make for an extra elegant cabin are purposely smartphone-esque in design, and come with the same pluses and minuses.
It’s easy to click, swipe and do what you wish, but learning to press harder until the haptic feedback engages takes some time, and until the end of my test drive I was still delivering false clicks.
It’s more attention-nibbling than previous rotary dial systems, since everything has to be accessed via touchscreen, even driving modes, so deep menu-diving is unavoidable, plus it attracts swarms of fingerprints.
We experienced the same thing in the Porsche Panamera and Cayenne, though Porsche does it a little more easily with discrete buttons under a layer of glass.
Life for the passenger is equally good, if you’re the itchy-finger type: The car comes with a three-seat rear as standard, although the dual left and right seats are the very-adjustable type once you fold down the centre divider.
Like the 7 Series, a removable tablet controls many of the functions, from blinds, to lights, though it’s standard equipment in the Audi. It’s all very tech-luxurious, simply sitting down and not having to reach for any controls.
Audi’s Matrix LED tech is even integrated into the reading lamps for spot-controllability.
The car’s 5.1-metre length doesn’t shrink as much on the road, despite the all-wheel steering, but parking is made signficantly easier as the A8 has more cameras than Caldecott Hill (yes Mediacorp has moved, we know).
There’s also a 3D virtual model of the car which allows you to pan and ‘look’ at the car from the outside.
The A8 driven here is the V6 model, with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo unit (as found in the latest Audis like the SQ5, A6 and more) generating 340hp and 500Nm of torque. It’s plenty fast, even if it doesn’t have the most inspiring soundtrack, but the natural refinement of the car obviously plays that down.
The solid clunk of the soft-close doors tells you as much, as does the complete and utter lack of wind noise.
Where the A8 loses points is in ride quality – it’s busy at times, and there isn’t much of a gulf between the sporty or comfort settings in the standard air suspension setup.
While rear seat passengers didn’t complain, to a driver the A8 feels less planted than its rivals, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series, and as a key element of overall passenger comfort, that’s a rather unfortunate shortcoming.
It could be a product of the 20-inch wheels – the standard cars have 19-inch wheels, which should help, plus they deliver better fuel economy of 8.2L/100km – though the A8’s have traditionally been rather stiff-bodied cars, they have also been uniformly excellent to drive, such as the previous-gen S8.
Hopefully the crazy-capable trick suspension that compensates for bumps – Audi AI Suspension – will mitigate this.
And speaking of AI, as mentioned, the A8 can’t quite drive itself yet, but like other luxury limos it’s capable of adaptive cruise with steering assistance that takes the edge off of being stuck in traffic.
Overall, the A8 is an impressive piece of work, but the problem is that its rivals have set the bar even higher. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is here in two variants and it manages to be both supremely comfortable as well as engaging to drive.
The BMW 7 Series is right up there too, the current model being launched in 2015, with the magnificent V12-powered M 760Li as kingpin of the range. Even Lexus mounts a bold new challenge with the new LS here in LS 350 guise firmly in the mix as well.
Where the Audi claws back an advantage is onboard equipment. The Audi is priced smack in the middle of the two S-Class models – above the $405,888 with COE for the S 320 but its 340hp spells for performance closer to the S 450 L, which is $461,888 with COE.
Also it packs many features such as air-con seats, the rear-seat tablet controller, adaptive cruise and additional safety systems that come with it, which can’t always be found at this price.
It’s better looking and better made than before, though its dynamics haven’t quite the sheen of its glossy interior surfaces.
Its ‘killer apps’ like AI suspension and autonomous driving might have helped the A8 gain a clear advantage over rivals, but those haven’t quite materialised yet, so the luxury limousine space race remains a stalemate for now.
Audi A8 L 3.0 TFSI
|Engine||2,995cc, V6, turbocharged|
|Power||340hp at 5250-7000rpm|
|Torque||500Nm at 1370-4500rpm|
|Top Speed||5.7 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||C2 / 188g/km|
|Price||$417,479 with COE|