Almost a year has passed since I was invited out to Ingolstadt for an exclusive blind taste of Audi’s 2018 A8; Without the use of sight, I ‘experienced’ the car in a unique way, which certainly left me inquisitive for more. Roll on to 2018, and I managed to get my hands on a production model for a full review.
Approaching the A8 for the first time, it’s difficult to overlook its size sat next to an Audi R8 the latter is dwarfed. The front end of most modern Audi’s is dominated by the grill, with the A8 taking this to a whole new level. Finished with sharp lines and plenty of chrome, the A8 portrays the business executive look the line has become synonymous with. The styling may not offer universal appeal but you certainly can’t deny the car’s presence.
Alive with technology
In terms of technology, the A8 is at the forefront of Audi’s line-up; it, therefore, came as no surprise to find it jam-packed with clever tech.
Driving off in the A8, the seat belts self-tension after a few seconds – an asserted reminder that a lot of the technology in this car is for the benefit of the occupant’s safety. Audi’s ‘pre-sense’ technology is constantly on the lookout for potential incidents and gives early warnings via the HUD if something looks to be going awry. Should the worst happen, pre-incident actions include shutting the windows and sunroof, adjusting the suspension so the impact is taken at the strongest point of the chassis (model dependant), tensioning the belts for impact, adjusting the seats and applying the brakes – safe!
The Audi technology gods have also given a helping hand to those looking to park this beast. Using a multitude of sensors, cameras and a sprinkling of magic, the cars internal displays map an aerial view of the car as you manipulate it into a space, making it an absolute doddle to line the car up when parallel or bay parking. The car will also look out for obstacles, warning you should you get too close and even apply the brakes. Of course, should this prove too tricky there is an option for smartphone-controlled automated parking (market dependent)…
Features now considered common-place on modern cars have also seen refinement. The stop-start has received a subtle but effective tweak; Instead of waiting for the user to apply the accelerator to restart the engine, the car uses its radar systems to monitor the traffic, and restarts the engine when it’s time to move, streamlining the whole process.
Visibility aids have also been overhauled. The windscreen wipers now feed the windscreen wash directly through the wiper blade, minimising the ‘blind’ time between the wash being applied and wiped away. The headlights on the test car were Audi’s latest ‘Matrix LED’ variants, which dynamically dips segments of the full beam which would blind other road users, whilst keeping the periphery fully lit. In practical terms this results in an unlit circle encapsulating on-coming cars, creating a negative spot-light effect and maximising night time visibility. It’s difficult to explain just how well this system works, but it’s certainly a tick-box feature to go for.
The A8 launches a new generation of the Audi infotainment/MMI system, moving away from the hockey-puck rotary input system of the previous generation and instead relying entirely on a touch interface. I’m not usually a fan of touch screens in cars, but Audi has again been smart here; incorporating haptic feedback into the screens to give button-like physical feedback to function selection. This makes the whole experience feel a lot more natural and engaging, a definite step forward from Audi’s previous system. The new UI is fluid, well laid out and very intuitive – our only gripe is that it could sometimes take a while to fully boot when the car was fired up.
The touch screen benefits aren’t exclusively for those in the front of the vehicle either, with the A8 on test fitted with a back seat remote (a £500 option) which stows away in the central armrest. This phone-sized tablet gives back seat control of the car’s multimedia, as well as allowing various comfort settings to be accessed. For anyone looking to be a chauffeured exec, this is an absolute must and fully integrates the rear of the car with the infotainment system.
Audi has also worked hard on the driving efficiency, with all latest-generation A8’s packing an electric motor allowing for ‘mild hybrid’ operation. In real-world terms, this means the electric motor aids with vehicle coasting, intelligently supplying or absorbing energy were required to maintain cruising speeds and maximise efficiency.
The car also uses the navigation system to look at upcoming road changes (such as speed limit or inclination changes), then feeds this back into the cruise control system to optimise the vehicles speed. When driving manually, this feedback is relayed physically via a ‘tap’ to the accelerator pedal, giving the driver a subtle aid towards efficient driving.
It’s difficult to gauge how much these individual elements bring to the party, especially as they all operate so discreetly, but the real-world economy was surprisingly good. With the test car featuring the V6 ’50 TDI’ engine, average MPG was around 45 for long runs, dropping to mid-’30s on shorter journeys – not bad for a car with 4-wheel drive & weighing around 2 tonnes. This economy doesn’t come at the cost of performance either, with the 0-60 time coming in just under the 6-second mark.
The A8 isn’t designed to be the ultimate driver’s car, with suspension and drivetrain suitably tuned towards the soft, supple end of the spectrum. The A8 is buttery smooth over all but the largest of potholes, but surprises by still handling bends with impressive composure: the chassis doesn’t roll excessively, whilst the steering offers enough feedback to confidently know what’s going on in all 4 corners. If you were to find yourself in a sticky situation with a VIP, the A8 would be an assured choice to evacuate them with minimal fuss…
Our only annoyance when on the road was the 8-speed automatic gearbox, which we found rather fond of dropping gears whenever additional engine throttle was applied. This tended to lurch the car as engine speed and power took a sudden hike. It may be that with additional time behind the wheel I’d get a little more in-tune with the car, but after ~1000 miles it was still causing frustration.
The interior is an area you can always rely on Audi to deliver, with the latest A8 being no exception. Trim options are aplenty here, with dark brown walnut inlays (£450) and the extended leather pack (£2,350) both fitted and looking stunning on the test car. Everything looked and felt as premium as the cars price tag demands, with the fit and finish generally exemplary (minus the one speaker grill which had worked its way loose). The seats are superb – after 6 hours straight driving discomfort was non-existent with support offered in all the right places and electronic adjustment aplenty.
Whilst the sound system wasn’t the optional £6,350 Bang & Olufsen upgrade, it was still fantastic offering plenty of detail and bass. Armrests, cubby holes, USB ports and wireless charging pads are all neatly arranged around the cabin, ensuring everything you could possibly need is within arms-reach. No rear USB ports are offered in the rear as standard, a slight surprise for a car of this calibre (although they can be added for £150).
When I first sampled the A8 last year, a lot of the focus was on tick-box features of the car; the sort that is only available when spending serious money on options. The taster was also stationary, so again the features were passenger rather than driver-focused, leaving me a little cautious of the A8’s fundamental abilities as a car. To that end, the A8 has left me pleasantly surprised. As one of MSF’s resident petrol heads and a serious RS Audi fan, I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy driving the A8 as much as I did. That’s not to say it’s a point and shoot the monster with an insane cornering ability like an RS4 or R8, but the A8 is enjoyable in its own effortless, mile crunching, supremely comfortable kind of way.
Audi deserve great praise – the 2018 A8 feels every bit the next generation car it set out to be, one which we’d thoroughly enjoy experiencing again in the future. Thank you Audi UK for organising our review loan.
On the road price of the model as reviewed: £84,665