Audi’s A8 means business, business class, that is

Audi’s A8 means business, business class, that is
When you think of chauffeur-driven cars you probably think of Maybach’s, Bentley’s, Mercs, BMWs and blue lights. We certainly do. But Audi is hoping to add its forthcoming A8 to that list. The German automaker has unveiled the fourth generation of the 8 at its Audi Summit in Barcelona, and it’s the long-wheelbase A8 L that’s really got our attention, along with the automation features Audi’s talked up that’ll act like a virtual chauffeur in traffic and when parking.

Though Audi’s understandably mum on pricing for now, it has said the new A8 and A8 L are expected to land in South Africa in the second half of 2018.

In its release about the A8 Audi says the A8’s interior resembles a “lavish, spacious lounge”. We can’t argue. If the youngins think they’re eating chocolate ice cream in the back seat they’re sorely mistaken. Especially because, with the A8 L, the optional “relaxation seat” is intended for the grownup that paid for the car.

“In this seat, the passenger can warm and massage the soles of their feet on a unit with multiple settings incorporated into the back of the front-passenger seat. The new comfort head restraints complete the experience. The rear passengers can also control an array of functions such as ambient lighting, the new HD Matrix reading lights and seat massage, plus make private phone calls, via a separate operating unit. The rear seat remote, with its OLED display as large as a smartphone, is a removable unit housed in the center armrest.”

Sounds like bliss to us.

Home, Jeeves and don’t spare the horsepower

Audi’s also ditched the rotary pushbutton and touchpad of the previous A8 in favour of a 10.1in touchscreen display. Hurray! It’s time more high-end car makers embraced touch screens. Rotary dials aren’t just a pain in the posterior, they’re unintuitive and a distracting nuisance. And while it’s at it, the company has added support for natural-language speech controls.

But it’s the self-driving features that have us really excited. “The Audi AI traffic jam pilot takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 km/h on freeways and highways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways,” Audi says. “The system is activated using the AI button on the centre console.” Audi says it’s managed this feat thanks to array of included radar sensors, a front camera, ultrasonic sensors and something called a laser scanner.

“The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system,” it warns.

Remote parking is also supported, and drivers needn’t be in the car to do it. They can oversee the process — and control other things like the car’s climate control — using the myAudi mobile app and the A8’s 360-degree cameras.

At first the A8 will come in two V6 turbo variants, a 3.0 TDI and a 3.0 TFSI. The diesel develops 210kW, while the petrol version offers a somewhat beefier 250 kW. The company says a pair of eight-cylinder versions will follow, and adds that the models South African consumers will see “will be confirmed closer to the model introduction”. There’s also going to be a plug-in hybrid version called the A8 L e-tron quattro, but there’s no indication if that’ll come to our shores.

Normally seeing someone reading in traffic is alarming, even in Johannesburg, where we’re pretty immune to such even the most shocking, selfish or otherwise abhorrent driver behaviour. But with the new A8, all manner of alternative activities could become commonplace behind the wheel. If it means we get closer to properly self-driving automobiles we say bring it on.

Craig is Stuff magazine's editor. He's provides tech analysis and commentary for TV stations like eNCA, CNBC Africa and BusinessDay TV, and radio stations like 702, CapeTalk, PowerFM, MetroFM and Classic FM. You can contact him at craig@stuff.co.za

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