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2018 Audi A8 all-new model revealed at media event

Yanking a silk sheet off a car at ‘grand reveals’ is so old-hat. Audi obviously thinks so, and didn’t resort to this old chestnut for the first public appearance of its Merc S-Class/BMW 7 Series-baiting A8 limo. Instead, the Ingolstadt carmaker spun the debutant around like a Tonka Toy on a giant robotic arm. It was all part of the glitz and glamour of the ‘Audi Summit’ in Barcelona – a four-ringed extravaganza where the brand aimed to put the focus on its plans for future mobility, autonomous driving…and basically anything other than diesel scandals.

The star of the show was obviously the fourth-generation (even though Audi refers to it as the D5) A8, which has been designed largely with the Middle East and Asian markets in mind, given the preoccupation with downsizing in Europe and North America.

Perhaps optimistically, we were expecting the newbie to derive styling inspiration from the suave, muscular Prologue concept revealed at the 2014 Los Angeles motor show, but what Audi has given us instead is a car that stays true to the utterly conservative design template the brand favours for its saloon models.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz pretty much do the same with their four-door models (CLS and 6 Series Gran Coupe excluded), so this is clearly what customers in this segment want.

That said, the new A8 is a techno tour de force, embodying the latest in cutting-edge multi-material construction techniques that Audi has at its disposal. We already provided a sneak preview of the A8’s skeleton and nuts and bolts in April, so you may want to refer back to that story in case you’re interested in all the nitty-gritty.

For what it’s worth, the fourth-gen A8 is billed as a light, rigid limo that sets new standards for ride comfort and refinement (important, given that it will be marketed primarily as a chauffeur-drive car). Contributing to its ‘magic carpet’ ride is a pioneering system that uses actuators (powered by a 48-volt electrical system) to individually raise and lower each wheel to keep the car as flat as possibly over bumpy roads.

As per Mercedes-Benz’s Magic Body Control feature, the Audi system uses a camera that scans the road ahead 18 times per second to basically create a 3D map of the surface ahead. This info is then used to pre-set the suspension accordingly, which means occupants are kept insulated from all the tarmac nasties.

The car’s battery of sensors can also detect an impending collision, so if you’re about to be T-boned (i.e. crashed into from the side), the suspension automatically raises the vehicle’s body on the exposed side by 80mm in under a second, which brings the stronger areas such as the sidesills and floor structure into play. This alone reduces the impact on the driver and the passengers by 50 percent. Pretty cool.

And although Mercedes and Tesla may have something to say on the subject, Audi claims the new A8 is the first production car to offer Level 3 automated driving. This means the car’s electronic wizardry can relieve you of driving duties at speeds of up to 60 kph – but only on freeways/highways where a physical barrier separates you from cars travelling in the opposite direction.

The ‘traffic jam pilot’ manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking and is activated via the ‘AI’ button on the centre console. Once triggered, the driver can take their hands off the wheel and focus on a different activity that’s 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 get back on the job.

The autonomous driving system works through a central driver assistance controller (dubbed ‘zFAS’) that uses info captured by radar sensors, a front camera, ultrasonic sensors and a laser scanner (which Audi is claiming as a first).

The system would be a welcome relief for the peak-hour crawl back to Sharjah, but the rollout of the Audi AI ‘traffic jam pilot’ will vary from country to country as it will need to be tested and evaluated by local regulating bodies before being approved.

The new A8 is appreciably larger than its predecessor (the regular version stretches 5.17m from bumper to bumper, while the long-wheelbase A8 L spans a massive 5.3m). This means there’s more rear-seat space than before and Audi is also offering an optional ‘relaxation seat’ in the A8 L that adjusts four ways and has a footrest that incorporates both warming and massaging functions for aching soles. Other rear-seat mod-cons include matrix reading lights, in-seat massage function and a smartphone-mimicking remote control.

Up front, Audi has more or less done away with buttons and switches via a 10.1-inch touchscreen display which, when off, blends almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround. The user interface comes to life as soon as the car is opened. There’s also a secondary touchscreen display in the centre console to control air-con functions and make text inputs.

The initial powertrain offering for our market will be a 340 hp 3.0 TFSI V6, but a 460 hp 4.0 TFSI V8 will follow later, and there will also be a 6.0-litre W12. European buyers will also have various diesel options (Audi hasn’t quite given up on these yet).

A8 Product Line Manager Peter Fromm told us that other bodystyles will eventually be spawned off the A8’s platform – and among these will be a four-door coupe (i.e. A7 replacement) and possibly even a two-door version to rival the Mercedes S-Class Coupe.

Expect the new model to debut in the UAE, KSA and the rest of the GCC before next summer.

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