By Duncan Bell
So on Tuesday, in Barcelona, Audi unveiled the fourth-generation A8, at possibly the most OTT, in-depth car launch of all time.
Boasting everything from massed ranks of dancers to a garage-load of classic Audis to a full-on mini Audi expo, the event was a triumph of the old vorsprung durch, and the A8 was its centrepiece.
It's all-but fully self-driving in town, festooned with touchscreens inside, boasts 'signature lights', if you please, new suspension/steering and is every bit the ice-cool, uncompromising, ruthlessly efficient flagship that you'd expect from Audi.
Here are eight reasons you might be willing to hand over the doubtless rather stringent amount of dosh that will be required, in order to own one.
1. Luxury for you, in the back
We'll start in the back because that, realistically, is where most A8 owners will be sat, while the help gets on with driving. At least until such time that laws and technology allow the A8 to fully drive itself.
The rear left (in the UK, right everywhere else) is the place to be in the A8. That's thanks to an optional 'relaxation seat' with four different adjustment settings and a heated footrest-cum-foot-massager.
Control is via the panel in the back of the front headrest, with rear passengers also able to manage ambient lighting, the new HD Matrix reading lights and seat massage, with phone calls via a separate operating unit.
The rear seat remote in the centre armrest has an OLED display 'as large as a smartphone'.
The A8 has a 'resemblance to a lavish, spacious lounge,' Audi says, adding, 'The range of equipment and materials is extensive, with every detail radiating superlative bespoke quality – from the perforation in the seat upholstery to the electrically opened and closed shutters on the air vents.'
Having hopped in for a few minutes in Barcelona I can confirm that it is indeed nice.
2. The front is pretty tasty too
Yes, your chauffeur is also well catered for in the Audi A8.
A masterpiece of spendthrift minimalism, this luxury sedan’s interior has 'a strictly horizontal orientation' and everything just drips with quality.
This kind of luxury car interior and infotainment system finally feels modern, where for years it lagged behind what we've all grown used to from flagship smartphones.
Gone are knobs and dials, crappy capacitive touchscreens and tone-deaf voice recognition. In come touch panels for everything, gestures, swipes and, allegedly, voice control that actually works (I didn't see the latter in operation).
The centrepiece is a 10.1-inch 'black-panel' touchscreen that's all but invisible when deactivated, but pings into life as you open the A8's door. This controls the radio, navigation and other infotainament, with easy gesture control and a satisfying mix of haptic and sonic feedback – this also applies to the touch 'buttons' that control the other dash functions.
A second touchscreen on the centre tunnel handles air con, seat adjustments and text input. At last, the car feels like an extension of your phone, instead of a poor relative. 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity come as standard, natürlich.
Navigation is 'self-learning', providing you with intelligent search suggestions based on traffic and other hazard information crowd-sourced from other Audis and, presumably, the web.
Best feature of all? Air vents close seamlessly with a brush of your hand. That's not very useful, but it is very cool.
3. It's got Level 3 self driving
Traffic Jam Pilot appears for the first time in the new A8. Subject to local laws, this is able to drive in traffic at up to 60 kph (just over 37 mph, so really, anywhere in town)
The only caveat, and it is a fairly major one, is that it can only do this 'on freeways and highways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways.'
Once deployed, Traffic Jam Pilot handles starting, accelerating, steering and braking, while you 'focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV.'
The system alerts you once the correct parameters for self-driving no longer apply, and you resume driving the old fashioned way.
Described as 'Level 3 Autonomy', this is really just one or two one steps away from full self-driving. It relies on a central driver assistance controller that is constantly 'looking' at the car's surroundings via an arsenal of sensors including radar, a front camera, ultrasonic and a laser scanner.
Needless to say, this is totally illegal in the UK, and most of the world, or as Audi puts it, 'the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market.' As a result, Traffic Jam Pilot will lie dormant in production models until awoken via a firmware update.
Also on board are app-controlled Remote Parking Pilot and Remote Garage Pilot, so the A8 can park itself, while you watch on your phone via the car’s 360 degree cameras.
4. The signature lights are oh-so hench
Up front: HD Matrix LED headlights with 'laser lighting'. 'Round the back: a never-ending LED light strip and OLED rear lights that do a little animated dance as you approach and leave the car. Yes, really.
6. They've sorted out the steering
It's long been a bone of contention for some that Audis iron out the road so comprehensively that they end up being no fun to drive. So Audi has had a good old look at the steering and suspension.
A new Sport Differential 'distributes the drive torque between the rear wheels,' for a more dynamic ride. Audi AI fully active suspension can raise or lower each wheel separately, 'ranging from the smooth ride comfort of a classic luxury sedan to the dynamism of a sports car.'
It also raises at 'lighting speed' if the onboard sensors detect an impending collision. Thus, in Audi's phrase, 'reducing the potential consequences of the accident for all occupants.'
There's also dynamic all-wheel steering so it can turn on a penny, with the rear wheels turning in or against the direction of steering to a degree dependent on the speed you're driving.
The overall effect is described as nothing less than 'an utterly new driving experience.' We'll see about that…
7. There's a choice of enormous engines
Options will include a 3.0 TDI and a 3.0 TFSI V6 turbo engines. The diesel develops 210 kW (286 hp), and the gasoline version 250 kW (340 hp).
Also on offer are a brace of V8s: a 4.0 TDI with 320 kW (435 hp) and a 4.0 TFSI with 338 kW (460 hp).
And finally, there's a W12 with a displacement of 6.0 litres.
This is all subject to approval and will vary by market, of course. Despite quite literally having an actual hill with a real tree on it at the (indoor) launch, I'm realy not sure about the eco-credentials of any of these. But still.
'All five engines operate in conjunction with a belt alternator starter (BAS), which is the nerve center of the new 48-volt electrical system. This mild hybrid technology (MHEV, mild hybrid electric vehicle) enables the car to coast with the engine switched off, and to restart smoothly.
'It also has an extended start/stop function and an energy recovery output of up to 12 kW. The combined effect of these measures is to bring down the fuel consumption of the already efficient engines even further – by as much as 0.7 liters (0.2 US gal) per 100 kilometers (62.1 mi) in real driving conditions.'
Eco- and money-conscious heads may well prefer the A8 L e-tron quattro which will mash up a 3.0 TFSI and 'powerful electric motor' to give '330 kW/449 hp of system power and 700 Nm of torque.'
The lithium-ion battery will be good for 'about 50 kilometers (31.1 mi)' of all electric driving and can optionally be charged by a 3.6 kW wireless inductive charging pad in your garage floor.
5. It's based on a car from the future
Well, so Audi says. At the launch, it wheeled out the RSQ which you may remember from the so-so Will Smith sci-fi blockbuster I, Robot.
Come on, that car was the best thing in that damn movie!
8. It's super affordable!
Haha, no, I'm kidding of course. The starting price for the A8 is €90,600, with the A8 L starting at €94,100. That's about £80,000 and £83,000 respectively but expect that to have headed even further north by the time the new A8s are actually on sale in, say… late 2018?
9. …Oh and there was a simulator of Level 4 autonomy at the A8 launch too
Suggesting a self-driving future where you kick back and 'enjoy' location-based advertising as you cruise through a neon-lit future metropolis, this demonstration of what Audi is calling 'the 25th Hour' was also at the A8 launch.
The name refers to the fact that on average, a person currently spends one hour driving. By letting the car do all the work, this returns that hour to you.
Aptly, Audi has made this video, where what appears to be a robot, or perhaps a satnav, talks you through the concept.