WORLD PREMIERE: 2018 Audi A8 — It’s Under the Skin that Matters

The day is finally here. We’re finally seeing the brand-new 2018 Audi A8, the new flagship luxury car for the four-ringed brand. We’ve heard about the new A8 for some time now, about how Audi claimed to to be the most technologically-advance car ever, how its Level 3 autonomy would be an industry-first and how it will push the bar for luxury forward. Now, though, we finally get to see what Audi’s been working on and if it can live up to its lofty expectations.

From the look of the new Audi A8, it’s most certainly an Audi. It doesn’t differ all that much from the previous-generation A8, in terms of design, but there are some noticeable improvements that will usher in a new era of design for Audi. For instance, the massively wide Singleframe grille now dominates the front end of the car, seemingly sweeping the width of the front end. The headlights are a bit thicker and more angular than before, making them look more aggressive. They also feature Matrix LED lighting, which can light up specific parts of the road, as well as optional Laser Lighting. They look very high-tech and modern, which works with the new A8.

In profile, the stance of this new Audi A8 is better looking than the previous car. Whereas the last-gen A8 had sort of a flat barge look to it from the side, this looks lower, squatter and meaner than before. There’s also some semblance of body lines, whereas the last car was very slab-sided. As the shoulder line flows over the front wheel arch, there’s a whiff of the Audi A5, which is a good thing being that’s a pretty car. And the way the rear wheel arches just flare out a bit, while the rear bumper sort of sweeps upward, almost makes the new A8 look rear-driven, when it obviously isn’t. It looks good, though.

Out back is where most of the visual changes occurred, though. The taillights have now incorporated an LED light bar that stretches the width of the cabin. The actual taillights themselves also now feature OLED lights, which look superb. There’s even a hint of a built-in decklid spoiler, but just a hint and nothing too sporty looking. I still don’t like the fact that Audi is putting fake exhaust tips on its very expensive and luxurious cars. It adds a whiff of cheapness to an otherwise very luxurious car.

All of this points to Audi’s Prologue concept cars, penned by Marc Lichte. His design influence is being seen more and more as time goes by and it’s a change that was needed, as Audi’s design language was getting a bit stale. This isn’t drastically different from the car it replaces, but it’s different enough and there are elements of change in its design. Whether you like it or not, Audi is going to stick with evolutionary changes and that won’t change here.

If you want change, though, just look in the cabin. This might be the biggest change to an Audi interior in a very long time. From the cockpit, the first thing you notice is the fact that the traditional Audi controls have been replaced with touchscreens. So replacing your typical HVAC controls and knobs is a touchscreen, just ahead of the shift lever, that’s tilted upward toward the driver. It looks very cool, seems to have slick graphics and all of the important buttons seem to be right there on the screen, without the need to dig through sub-menus. However, we question its usability. Touchscreens are always difficult to use while driving, as you have to avert your eyes from the road to use them. Normal HVAC knobs might not look as cool, but they can be felt and grabbed and used without taking your eyes off the road.

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Same goes for Audi’s new MMI system, which is also a touchscreen, though a separate one, just above the HVAC screen. Now, the MMI screen has a bit of an advantage because it works in tandem with the digital gauge cluster, so many of the MMI functions can be controlled with the steering wheel. However, there’s still the need to touch the screen for certain things and, again, means taking your eyes off the road. It looks very nice and very high-tech but we hope its usability exceeds our expectations.

Mercifully, though, the volume knob seems to be physical, making at least one function easy to use while driving. One other party trick of the 10.1 inch screen is that, when it’s off, it blends seamlessly into the black surround, rather than just looking like a blank screen.

The rest of the cabin looks very clean, very minimalist and very typically Audi. The steering wheel, with its four-spokes, looks cool and high-tech and I’m glad to see a high-end steering wheel with four spokes again. Wood trim adorns the length of the dashboard and onto the door panels in a sleek and simple fashion. Audi is adopting the rectangular theme from the rest of its cars, as everything seems to have been designed with a straight edge.

In the back seat of the Audi A8 L, the long wheelbase luxury model, rear occupants get a center armrest that features its own touchscreen and seat controls. That touchscreen controls the rear passengers’ HVAC system and entertainment on the optional, and massive, screens that adorn the front seatbacks. The way the screen tilts up toward the rear passengers looks quite nice and looks easy to see and use. It seems much better than the flat units in its competitors’ rear seats. As we’ve already seen before, as well, the rear can have optional foot massagers built into the front seatbacks.

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At night, ambient lighting adorns the entire cabin and looks very classy. In a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the ambient lighting is very nice and impressive but it’s too much and almost looks like the inside of a nightclub. This looks luxurious, soft and classy.

Underneath the skin, Audi has made big changes to the A8, though. The big news is the automated driving assistance systems. For instance, Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot can drive the car on its own in slow moving traffic at speeds up to 60 km/h (37.3 mph). The traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking relinquishing the need for the driver to monitor the car. They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back control of the task of driving. So while you can watch TV in traffic, you still need to be at the ready in case the car recognizes something it can’t handle. So no napping.

One really cool automated driving function of the new Audi A8, and one the brand already teased in a short video, is the Audi AI remote parking pilot/Audi AI remote garage pilot. This can allow the Audi A8 to drive itself into and out of a parking space or even your garage. As the driver, you don’t even need to be in the car. You can engage the system from your smart phone and can watch what’s happening from your phone as well, via a 360-degree camera system, right from your device. It’s quite remarkable, actually.

The new Audi A8 also features a new suspensions system that should give it an edge over its competitors. While the new A8 does feature rear-wheel steering, which is impressive, that’s the boring part. What’s really impressive is the completely independent suspension system which can raise or lower each wheel individually. The system uses electric actuators on each wheel, which can adjust the height of each wheel for various situations, such as to smooth out upcoming bumps in the road, adjust to the driver settings or even raise the car in case of an impending crash, so as to keep occupants as safe as possible. All of this is possible thanks to the car’s 48-volt electrical system that works in tandem with the air suspension.

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That same 48-volt electrical system also helps run the new Audi A8’s mild hybrid system. The new A8 isn’t a hybrid (though a plug-in hybrid model is on the way), as a mild hybrid system means that the car can coast, using electric power with the engine switched off, for small amounts of time. The system uses what’s called a BAS (Belt Alternator Starter), which is essentially and electric motor that runs off the 48-volt system and is connected to the crankshaft, via serpentine belt. So at cruising speed, the engine can shut down but this small electric motor can power the crankshaft until more power is needed and then the engine kicks back on.

It’s sad that when talking about brand-new cars nowadays, we don’t get to the engine until the end. However, the engines are pretty unremarkable when compared with the rest of the impressive technology. Two V6 engines will be offered as standard, one diesel and one petrol. The diesel unit will be a 3.0 liter TDI V6 with 286 hp which will probably the be volume model in Europe. The petrol will be a 3.0 liter turbocharged V6, the same unit as in the Audi S4, and will make 340 hp. There will also be two V8 models, again one diesel and one petrol. The 4.0 liter TDI V8 will make 435 hp and the 4.0 liter TFSI V8 will make 460 hp.

The top-of-the-line engine will be a 6.0 liter W12 engine, though power figures aren’t available yet. We’re excited to hear what Audi has in store for the upcoming Audi S8, but not word on that as of yet.

Later to come, an Audi A8 e-tron Quattro, which will be the upcoming plug-in hybrid model, will feature a 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 engine and an electric motor to make a combined 449 hpand 516.3 lb-ft of total system power. It will also be capable of driving 50 km (31.1 miles) on pure electricity. The Audi A8 e-tron will also feature wireless inductive charging, with the proper charging mat placed in the owner’s garage.

Prices for the new Audi A8 will begin at EUR 90,600, for the standard wheelbase, and EUR 94,100, for the long wheelbase. Overall, the new Audi A8 looks to be a significant improvement over the old car, with new powertrains, a ton of new technology, new luxury and a new chassis. While it doesn’t look all that different, its looks are improved a bit. Plus, it’s what’s underneath the skin that matters.

CategoriesA8 Editorial
Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.