All-new Audi A8 makes its world debut at Barcelona

The inaugural Audi Summit that had select guests from media, finance, commerce and industry associations in attendance concluded at Barcelona, Spain last week. The one-of-a-kind exclusive brand event, apart from showcasing pioneering solutions from the German brand for the urban mobility of tomorrow, also hosted the global premiere of the new A8, Audi’s flagship luxury sedan.

Currently in its fourth generation, the new A8 is the most advanced and tech-laden car ever launched by the German brand. This S-Class and 7-Series rival is also the first commercial production car in the world with 'Level 3' autonomous capability. That's not all, the A8 previews the future design direction of the brand as well. To cut a long story short, the arrival if this car marks the beginning of a new era for Audi as well as the rest of the automotive industry.

In a car with such credentials, zeroing in on the good bits and the not so good stuff isn't all that easy. But, as always, here's our thoughts.

The Good:

Obviously, the headlines-grabbing stuff in the new A8 is the Audi AI 'Traffic Jam Pilot'. What's that, you wonder? Well, that's a feature you can engage using the AI button on the center console. Once engaged, the Traffic Jam Pilot will relieve you of driving duties up to 60 km/h on freeways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways.

This intelligent tech can manage starting, accelerating, steering and braking, Audi claims. Unlike Tesla's Auto Pilot that requires the driver to be ready to take control at all times, the A8 would let the driver and the occupants do what they want to. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back the controls. In case of no response, the car steers and comes to a stop at a safe spot. To accomplish this, there are twelve ultrasonic sensors, four 360 degree cameras, one front camera, four mid-range radars, one long-range radar, an infra-red camera and a laser scanner. A central driver assistance controller computes an image of the car's surroundings by merging data collected from these different devices.

Paired with the Audi AI Remote Parking Pilot and Remote Garage Pilot that autonomously steer the car into and out of a parking lot or garage with the comfort of a smartphone and as much as 41 driver assist systems, the A8 is a car like no other. Showing off has never been this classy!

The Bad:

The new A8 is a car ahead of its times. Yes, Audi's new flagship might be capable of highly automated driving but the fact is, this car is way smarter than us humans and our legislations. In other words, Audi's engineers might have their hands tied behind when it comes to enabling the autonomous functions on public roads. The prevailing statutory framework in each market followed by market-specific testing and approvals are going to take a lot of time. So the A8 that goes on sale later this year might not have the AI Traffic Jam Pilot enabled after all. That's a shame, considering all that we said it could do in our previous section.

Moreover, complex technology and reliability don't go hand in hand and the models rolling off the lines in the first year or so might have teething issues before the engineers at Audi crack them down.

The Good:

So much is expected from a car in this segment and price range that being ‘good’ is just not good enough. A lavish, well-designed cabin, like the gorgeous one in the A8, won’t make the cut on its own. How does the car differentiate itself from its competitors? Does it have that one ‘pampering’ feature that could pull in potential customers and convince them to part with their hard-earned money? Things like these influence the decision-making process and that’s where the new A8 has a few tricks up its sleeve. 

First up, the cabin is completely devoid of buttons and switches, thanks to the ‘touch operating concept’ employed by Audi. Between the pair of them, the 10.1-inch primary touchscreen in the dashboard and the 8.6-inch secondary touchscreen in the center tunnel console control the wide range of settings and options, including air-conditioning, infotainment, multimedia and navigation. The screens provide haptic feedback just so you don’t miss the solid and tactile feedback from physical buttons or dials. If that’s not enough, the rear seat passengers get cool removable touch pads of their own. 

Then, there is this optional piece of luxurious brilliance exclusive to the A8 L. Aptly called the ‘relaxation seat’, the seat behind the front passenger comes with four different adjustment options and is pretty much a first class lounge of your own. Heck, in this seat, the passenger can even warm and massage the soles of their feet! Massaging your backs are so passé, you see. 

The Bad:

Understated elegance with inherent sportiness have defined the current generation Audis and the new A8 doesn’t stray away much from the theme. While that’s good in a way, there is also this element of not moving the bar higher when it comes to design and styling. 

For a car that’s all-new, for an automobile that has taken a giant leap forward in autonomous tech, for a flagship that's supposedly previewing the very future of the brand, the new A8 is, dare we say, a bit underwhelming. It's not like the car isn't good looking. It's quite the opposite, in fact. The new A8 looks sharp, exudes a sense of elegance and debuts key visual elements - the 'single frame' grille, the LED strip that connects the taillights and the coupe-like silhouette, all of which might trickle down to other models down the chain. 

Problem is, replace the four rings with a VW logo and the car might pass off as a next-gen Passat or an Arteon. You can’t say that to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7-Series, can you?

The Good:

When the new A8 is introduced to the market later this year, it starts out with just two V6 engines on offer - a 3.0-liter, 286-horsepower TDI and a 3.0-liter, 340-horsepower TFSI. Two V8 engines - a 4.0-liter, 435-horsepower TDI and a 4.0-liter, 460-horsepower TFSI will follow as will a range-topping 6.0-liter W12 that’s exclusive to the A8 L and churns out 585 horsepower. Much later, the A8 L e-tron quattro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) with a 3.0-liter TFSI engine and electric motor, will join the range.

While the engines themselves offer a good mix of power, technology, refinement and fuel efficiency, helping their cause is the standard Mild Hybrid (MHEV) technology. A new 48-volt electrical system takes over from the standard 12-volt setup as the primary source of electrical power and is fed by a Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) connected to the crankshaft. Storage duties are handled by a Lithium-Ion battery positioned beneath the boot floor. Audi claims the mild hybrid tech reduces fuel consumption by as much as 0.7 liters per 100 kilometers in real world driving conditions by enabling the vehicle to coast with the engine off for up to 40 seconds when traveling between 55 to 160 km/h. The 8- and 12-cylinder engines also have the Audi Valvelift System (AVS) that deactivates cylinders by rendering the valves non-operational. Paired to all these engines is a 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission tuned to deliver slick and seamless shifts.

The Bad:

Audi has been making rapid progress in electrification with its e-tron range of concepts showcased over the past few years. In fact, two all-electric SUVs are slated to go into production as early as 2018, offering Tesla Model X-rivaling range. Why not shoehorn those motors into the A8 and lock horns with the seemingly-all-conquering Model S? May be there is a reason why Audi isn't doing that but, until we get to know, the lack of an A8 e-tron will remain a glaring omission from the range.

The A8 goes on sale in Germany later this year followed by a staggered debut around the globe. India launch is expected to happen in 2018. So, start digging your pockets deeper!

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