THE clash of the Teutonic titans has stepped up a notch with the covers coming off Audi's latest flagship, the $200,000-plus A8. Audi is launching a technology offensive in a bid to challenge market leader Mercedes-Benz for the top spot in the premium limousine sector.
The new A8 has features such as traffic jam pilot, which can take control in stop-start traffic, and garage pilot, to park it remotely. Not that you'll be able to use them any time soon.
Legislators around the world, including Australia, are still deciding on how best to implement them on public roads.
Both items are level-three autonomy, where the manufacturer takes over liability from the driver for the car's actions. That brings a potential minefield of legalities that governments have yet to deal with.
Garage pilot allows the driver to park or retrieve the car via a smartphone while standing outside the vehicle. Via a battery of sensors, cameras and radar, it reads the surroundings to negotiate tight garage spaces.
Traffic jam pilot takes over accelerating, steering and braking control in slow-moving traffic on motorways at up to 60km/h.
The driver would be free to focus on other things such as watching the on-board TV or checking the web.
Meanwhile, we still get plenty of hi-tech wizardry. There are two mild-hybrid 3.0-litre V6s, one petrol, the other diesel.
The petrol TFSI (250kW/500Nm) clocks 5.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. The TDI diesel (210kW/600Nm) is good for 5.9 secs.
The mild hybrid combines a belt alternator and lithium-ion battery, enabling the car to cruise for between 55km/h and 160km/h for up to 40 seconds without the engine running. Audi claims this can save 0.7L/100km.
As soon as the driver steps on the accelerator, the 48V electrics restart the engine.
As in the past, the A8 heralds a new design era for Audi with a wide, upright single frame grille and fatter haunches over the guards to emphasise its all-wheel drive platform, now also with four-wheel steering. The distance between the front and rear axles is extended to 3.0m in the 5.2m long sedan - and the stretch A8L gets an additional 13cm of rear legroom.
It hasn't taken any bold design leaps, although the coupe-like roofline and rear is more adventurous incorporating a new, full-width red LED display at the rear.
ON THE ROAD
Apart from the copious rear legroom, the magic carpet ride is clearly noticeable thanks to the active suspension, which constantly adjusts itself via electric actuators that operate each wheel independently to keep the ride flat over potholes and rough surfaces.
Front-mounted cameras read the road ahead 18 times a second and make split-second adjustments to the suspension before the wheel reaches the obstacle. The result is a freakish feeling of flattening speed humps and manhole covers as if they didn't exist.
The suspension is also called upon to reduce the impact of side-on collisions above 25km/h. Detecting an imminent crash, it raises the facing side by 80mm within half a second to deflect the hit. This is expected to reduce occupants' chest and abdominal injuries by up to 50 per cent.
On twisty mountain roads the A8's four-wheel steering makes the car feel half its size as it negotiated bends more like a hot hatch than a large, luxury cruiser. The rear wheels steer in parallel to the front at speed but at parking pace, they steer in an opposing direction, endowing the limo with a turning radius in line with Audi's smaller A4.
The A8 is due mid-next year. Pricing is expected to be in line with the current range, topping out just over $250,000.
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