Audi A8L: The future of motoring is here
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I’ve just driven the immediate future of motoring, and it’s this new fourth-generation Audi A8L luxury saloon. There are so many ‘firsts’ displayed by this Audi four-door flagship that I was in need of a cuppa and a lie-down after the technical presentation. Foremost amongst these is the sophisticated laser scanning system tucked into the front grille of the freshest-looking Audi to arrive for yonks.
This enables the new A8 to become the first car to be released here that’s been totally designed and engineered from the ground up with Level 3 driver-less operation in mind, and the $174,900 super-limo should be able to usher human chauffeurs towards the other occupations once both Audi and our government can confirm that the new autonomous driving systems are compatible with the New Zealand roadscape.
“The laser scanner takes driver assistance to a new level and enables future autonomy technology,” says Audi New Zealand product planner, Jarrod Ho.
“It combines with all the radars, ultrasonic scanners, and cameras fitted to the car, and they’re all linked to a mainframe that’s the size of a tablet computer.”
“There are 40 driver assistance features currently fitted to the A8, and they’re all required to enable Level 3 (where a car can safely drive itself without human intervention).”
So how does that scanner work without blinding pedestrians and other road users? It uses two rotating mirrors to safely project and receive laser pulses, which bounce off objects ahead of and to the sides of car so that the scanning computer can safely identify them. Through the collation of this laser pulse data, the scanner records 25 images of the A8’s immediate surroundings every second.
But wait, there’s more, and not just more lasers like the new long-range headlights that can only be fired at open road speeds because of the risk of blinding pedestrians in urban driving. For the new A8 is also the first 48-volt car to arrive on these shores, and is therefore the forerunner of a new breed of ‘mild hybrids’. That’s ‘mild’ in terms of both cost and weight penalties, because a 48-volt battery enables this form of hybrid to dispense with an added electric motor and the more complicated powertrain required to integrate it with a combustion engine. Being a lithium-ion battery, the A8’s 48-volt energy storage unit is no heavier or larger than an ordinary 12-volt lead-acid battery.
In a 48-volt hybrid, an enlarged starter/alternator becomes a secondary 12kW engine for the car at times, driving the car via the tension on the alternator belt, which in turn rotates the crankshaft of the combustion engine and the transmission gears. In the new A8 this can happen for short periods at coasting speeds up to 160kmh, leading to a claimed fuel saving of 0.7litres/100km. This system is key to the extraordinary fuel efficiency of this spacious, 5.3 metre long, all-wheel-drive, super-saloon. Official fuel use over the European combined city/highway driving simulation is a hatchback-mimicking 8.0litres/100km.
Still with me? Lurking behind the rear seat backs of the A8 you’ll find a carbon-fibre bulkhead that raises the torsional rigidity of the car by 24 per cent. This is matched up front by a magnesium brace for the front suspension strut towers, making the mostly-aluminum A8 body highly resistant to flex. The original A8 made its name with an all-aluminum body, but this one adopts even lighter, stronger materials for critical components of the structure. So let’s forget discussing further new technologies of the A8 like the new MMI Touch infotainment and comfort control interface that puts three finger-operated TFT screens up front and a tablet-like counterpart in the centre armrest serving rear passengers; and simply take the new A8 for a drive.
Phew, that’s better, because the ultra-refined driving experience of the car is probably this Audi’s greatest achievement of all. Future model years of the car will adopt a sophisticated electronic suspension system linked to the car’s scanners so that spring and damping rates can better adapt to and absorb oncoming bumps, but it’s hard to imagine them performing any better than this car’s air-sprung suspension. In normal driving modes, the new A8 delivers ride quality that Rolls-Royce would be proud to call its own. Even the stiffer dynamic setting that better controls body movements during cornering doesn’t disrupt the comfort on offer.
It’s not just the increased body rigidity that makes the A8 an agile and responsive steer. The rear wheels can either pivot in the opposite direction to the fronts at parking speeds by up to five degrees, or turn with them up to two degrees at higher speeds. In the former scenario, this reduces the turning circle of the car to the same 11.8-metre diameter as an Audi Q3 compact SUV. In the latter, it makes this van-sized super-limo feel a sporty drive on a winding country road.
The 250kW/500Nm V6 turbo-petrol engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox can also get their sporting shoes on, drop-kicking the car from 0 to 100kmh in 5.7 seconds. If that’s not quick enough, the new electronically-suspended S8 is due to arrive here next year, with a promise to get you from rest to ticketing speed three seconds faster.