The Audi A8 is now one of the oldest among its peers but a redesigned version of the flagship sedan was unveiled on Tuesday at a special event in Barcelona, Spain.
This new, fourth-generation A8 is due on sale in 2018, as a 2019 model, and though its design is a tad on the conservative side the technology residing within is a real tour de force.
Chief among the new technological features is what’s referred to as Audi AI, an artificial intelligence-based software system that controls the self-driving aspects of the car and also acts as an electronic concierge. Audi AI is the first self-driving system announced for production with “Level 3” self-driving capability. The most advanced self-driving system in showrooms today is Level 2 which requires constant monitoring by the driver who needs to able to take over in an instant in case of an emergency.
As outlined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Level 3 is where a car can take complete control but only in specific situations and still with a driver ready to take over after a short warning period. In the A8, the system can handle some parking situations as well as traffic jams on long sections of uninterrupted roads, such as highways, as long as there is a central divider for oncoming lanes. In such conditions, the system can take over control at speeds up to 37 mph. It means you could use a phone or read a book while the system is active. Fans of the “Spider-Man: Homecoming” movie got a small preview of the system in action.
You won’t be able to nod off in a Level 3 car, though. Sleeping behind the wheel won’t be possible until more advanced Level 4 self-driving cars are realized. Level 4 cars will be able to handle specific situations on their own but may need a driver to take over in extreme circumstances, for example in poor weather or if insufficient map data is available. Many automakers predict Level 4 cars will be available by early next decade. Level 5, the ultimate goal, is where no driver is needed whatsoever.
2019 Audi A8 LEnlarge Photo
Once again, two body styles are being offered, though the United States will only receive the stretched model. Both of them are considerably up in size compared to their respective predecessors: the standard model measures in at 17.0 feet and the stretched version adds an extra 5.1 inches to the wheelbase. The generous size means the new A8, even in standard form, should be roomy.
The front of the cabin is dominated by a strictly horizontal orientation and introduces a new interface for Audi. Gone is the familiar rotary pushbutton and touchpad found in the center console. Instead, this is kept largely clear of buttons and switches. Controlling the interface is via a 10.1-inch touchscreen display on the center stack, which, when off, blends almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround thanks to its black-panel look.
The user interface appears as soon as the car is opened. The driver can use a second touchscreen display on the center console to access the air conditioning and comfort functions as well as make text inputs using a fingertip. When the driver activates a function in the upper or lower display, they hear and feel a click by way of confirmation. The glass-look operating buttons respond in the same way.
As mentioned above, the Audi AI system also acts as an electronic concierge. It means the driver can activate an array of functions using a natural form of voice control. The concierge can also come up with suggestions. For example, when using the navigation, the concierge can provide the driver with intelligent search suggestions, based on preferences or prior journeys.
Underpinning the A8 is the latest version of the Volkswagen Group’s MLB platform for front-wheel-drive cars with longitudinally mounted engines, although all A8s will come standard with all-wheel drive. The body continues to be a spaceframe structure composed of aluminum, around 58 percent of the total, plus steel, magnesium and even some carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). Most notable is the use of CFRP in the rear panel, contributing 33 percent of the total torsional rigidity of the car.