2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

After what seems like the longest teaser campaign in history, the new 2018 Audi A8 has finally been revealed. Ingolstadt’s latest luxury sedan has been packed to the brim with technology inside and out, many of which are making their world debuts here.

Measuring 5,172 mm long, 1,945 mm wide and 1,473 mm tall, the fourth-gen D5 model is 37 mm longer and 13 mm wider than the previous D4; the car is also 6 mm longer in its wheelbase (2,998 mm), but slightly lower. As usual, there is the A8 L that throws in a 130 mm longer wheelbase (3,128 mm), as well as an additional 12 mm in height (1,485 mm).

The first production model styled under the direction of design boss Marc Lichte, the new A8 takes plenty of cues from 2014’s prologue concept. At the front sits a very wide hexagonal version of Audi’s singleframe grille, flanked by flat trapezoidal headlights, while the chrome-framed side air intakes are joined together by a small inlet under the main grille.

Along the sides, prominent haunches over the wheels highlight the car’s standard-fit quattro all-wheel drive system, and there’s also a shoulder line that links the head- and tail lights. Another character line starts off at the headlights, carries the bonnet shut line and goes under the window line before wrapping around the rear of the car, emphasising the A8’s considerable length.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

Moving to the rear of the car, the broad tail lights are joined together by a strip of light that runs the entire width of the car, above an embedded chrome strip. More chrome can be found on the rear bumper, where they link the faux exhaust exits on either side.

Matrix HD LED headlights are offered as an option – identifiable by blue-tinged highlights, these feature 32 high beam diodes on either side which block out other road users to avoid dazzling them. There are also laser-powered lights that operate above 70 km/h and double the range of the high beams.

There are also dynamic cornering lights, junction lights and a segmented turning light that comes on in three stages up to 90 degrees, and they all use navigation data to activate before the steering wheel is turned, or before a junction is reached. Together with the sequential turn signals, these features operate a total of 138 LEDs and one high-performance laser diode on each headlight.

The high-tech headlights come in conjunction with OLED tail lights, with four ultra-flat panels and an LED light strip underneath that adjusts to ambient lighting when the brakes are applied, as do the sequential indicators. As with the headlights, the tail lights are also diode-laden, with no less than 135 LEDs on either side.

If the outside is square-jawed but conservative, the interior is positively future-forward, with barely any switches or buttons in sight. There are plenty of clear horizontal lines, as well as a wraparound panel finished in either wood veneer or piano black – this carries the air vents which are shuttered when not in use.

The larger body has resulted in the longest interior in its class, Audi claims, with the A8 and A8 L both 37 mm longer than before; in the latter, there’s also more headroom, shoulder room and leg room. The boot measures 505 litres on both models.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

The seats have been redesigned, with the front pews now available in a comfort customised contour variant with adjustable side bolsters, three-stage heating and ventilation and a massage function with seven programmes and three intensity levels.

At the rear, buyers of the A8 L can swap the three-seat rear bench for two individual seats, with a centre console featuring an armrest and large storage compartments. There’s also an optional passenger-side relaxation seat that offers a foot rest that folds out electrically from the front seat, providing foot heating and massage – the latter has three power levels, two programs and three foot sizes.

Dominating proceedings on the infotainment front is a flush-fitting 10.1-inch centre display, while the centre tunnel console carries a second 8.6-inch screen. The upper display features haptic and acoustic feedback, and controls the usual navigation, media and vehicle functions.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

The lower touchscreen is arguably even more important – in addition to controlling climate and comfort features, users can also use it to store favourites such as navigation destinations, radio stations, phone numbers or vehicle functions, as well as to enter text using either an on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition. Keyword search and voice control draws from user preferences as well as the cloud, Siri-style.

A larger 12.3-inch display forms the Audi virtual cockpit, while the optional head-up display showing information such as speed, navigation and certain driver assists now measures 8.5 inches by 3.3 inches. Buyers can specify the MMI navigation plus system, an NVIDIA unit that throws in a quad-core processor and a 192-core graphics processor for quicker operation.

The system also features access to Audi’s connect services and a phone module, the latter providing near-field communication (NFC) wireless connectivity and Qi wireless smartphone charging. A connect data transmission module is also available – adding a WiFi hotspot and world-first LTE Advanced connectivity – as is a 1920 watt, 23-speaker 3D Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System and a separate rear phone module.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

Speaking of which, there’s a new removable rear remote that is similar to the one you’ll find on the G12 BMW 7 Series, with a 5.7-inch touchscreen which can be used to manipulate climate control, seat, lighting, adjustment and media functions. It can also be used to control the optional Rear Seat Entertainment system, which comprises of two 10.1-inch Android tablets which can also be removed to be used outside the car.

Two engines will be available from launch, both of them being reengineered 3.0 litre V6 engines in 340 hp/500 Nm TFSI turbo petrol and 286 hp/600 Nm TDI turbodiesel forms. From next year, the A8 will also be offered with more powerful 4.0 litre twin-turbo V8 mills, with the diesel version producing 435 hp and the petrol mill with cylinder deactivation churning out 460 hp.

Sitting at the top of the range is the 6.0 litre biturbo petrol W12 on the A8 L, which also has cylinder deactivation and produces 585 hp and a stout 800 Nm of torque. All engines will come as standard with a mild hybrid system that features a new 48 volt main electrical system. This uses a belt alternator starter (BAS) linked to the crankshaft, which captures kinetic energy and sends it to a lithium-ion battery.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

The system allows the new A8 to coast with the engine off at speeds between 55 and 160 km/h for up to 40 seconds, before the BAS revs the engine up to produce a swift but smooth restart; the engine stop/start system also kicks in below 22 km/h. Overall, the mild hybrid system cuts fuel consumption by as much as 0.7 litres per 100 km. Petrol engines will also be fitted with particulate filters from next year.

Later on, Audi will offer the A8 L as an e-tron quattro plug-in hybrid, utilising a 3.0 litre TFSI V6 and an electric motor integrated in the transmission to produce a total system output of 449 hp and 700 Nm, propelling the massive four-door from zero to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds. A 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery provides an all-electric range of 50 km. A 3.6 kW wireless inductive charging system will be available as an option.

All engines are mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, with a rev-adaptive torsional damper and a centrifugal force pendulum to reduce engine vibrations, as well as an electric oil pump that is active when the car is coasting with the engine off. It also recognises stop and go situations, and optimises driving comfort by avoiding unnecessary shifts or starting in second gear, for example.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

The aforementioned quattro all-wheel drive system is rear-biased, sending 60% of torque to the back wheels in normal driving; if it senses slip, it is capable of pushing up to 70% to the front or 85% to the rear. There’s also brake-activated torque vectoring, as well as an optional sport differential that is lighter than before and divides torque between the rear wheels in a quicker, more precise manner.

Under the skin, the A8 features a mixed-material Audi Space Frame (ASF), increasing torsional rigidity by 24%. Audi is a pioneer in using aluminium – the first A8 was the first volume production vehicle with an aluminium monocoque, after all – and the lightweight metal accounts for 58% of the car, including cast nodes, extruded sections and panels that are considerably stiffer than before.

Meanwhile, the cabin is made from hot-pressed steel, while the rear panel is made from carbon fibre; a magnesium strut bar completes the cocktail of materials used on the new A8. Five-link suspension is fitted all around, with adaptive air suspension coming as standard; dynamic all-wheel steering is also available, as are carbon ceramic discs on the V8 and W12 models.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

As an option, there’s the Audi AI active suspension (standard on the W12) that uses an electric motor at each corner to adjust the load on each wheel, actively controlling body movements in every driving conditions. It will even raise one side of the body by as much as 80 mm in the event of a side collision, using stronger sections of the body such as the side sills and floor to absorb the brunt of the impact.

By far the biggest highlight on the new A8 is the Audi AI traffic jam pilot, which provides world-first Level 3 autonomous driving. As such, the car will literally drive itself on highways at speeds below 60 km/h in traffic, allowing drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel completely and, if the law permits, focus on a different activity supported by the car, such as watching TV onboard.

The system will warn the driver if they fall asleep, or if the situation goes beyond the system’s capabilities, such as if speeds exceed 60 km/h or if the line of traffic breaks – the car will come to a standstill if the warnings are ignored. This feature will be rolled out in stages starting in 2018, depending on regulations for autonomous driving in each country.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

Also available is the remote parking pilot and remote garage pilot, which will enable the car to drive in and out of parallel or perpendicular spaces entirely autonomously, without the need for the driver to be in the vehicle – all the latter needs to do is press and hold the Audi AI button in the myAudi app on their smartphone.

These features have been made possible thanks to the swathe of sensors fitted to the A8, which include 12 ultrasonic sensors around the car, four 360-degree cameras, a front camera, four mid-range radars, one long-range front radar, an infrared camera for night vision and the segment’s first laser scanner. A central driver assistance controller (zFAS) forms an image of the surroundings using information from these sensors.

Driver assists are grouped into Park, City and Tour packages, with the Audi AI assist package throwing in all three. Park, as the name suggests, includes parking pilot and the 360-degree camera, while City adds crossing traffic warning, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic warning, pre sense 360º safety and an exit warning to alert drivers of impending dangers when opening the door.

2018 Audi A8 unveiled – new tech, standard mild hybrid system, world-first Level 3 autonomous driving

Tour features the adaptive driving assistant with lane assist and traffic jam assist to support acceleration, braking and steering at speeds of up to 250 km/h. It also comes with Audi pre sense front safety system that provides autonomous emergency braking – also up to 250 km/h – as well as turn assist and collision avoidance assistance that can brake each wheel individually and steer for more precise avoidance.

There are plenty of other features, including the Audi connect key that uses an NFC-enabled smartphone as a digital key, a highly-detailed self-learning navigation system that provides suggestions based on previous routes, and car-to-X communication that warns of speed limits, accidents, broken-down vehicles, slippery road surfaces or reduced visibility.

Built at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant, the A8 goes on sale in Germany in late autumn, with prices starting at €90,600 (RM446,500) for the standard model and €94,100 (RM463,750) for the A8 L.