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Future models - Audi - A8

Audi A8 debuts autonomous tech, but not for Aus

Foot spa: The new A8 is larger than the outgoing model and features a foot massage function for rear-seat passengers.

Tech-fest A8 throws gauntlet down to rivals as glimpse of Audi future

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Audi logo12 Jul 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

AUDI’s fourth-generation A8 has debuted world-first autonomous technology that can replace the driver in moderate freeway traffic, however it will not be available when the two-diesel-engine range arrives in Australia mid-next year.

In a bid to push along government authorities worldwide, and further trump upper-large sedan rivals, Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot has been spruiked as capable of allowing a driver to watch a video behind the wheel in a freeway traffic, so long as speed remains below 60km/h and the multi-lane road is straight and divided.

While the technology is not yet road-legal anywhere in the world, Audi said it expected Germany to become first in the roll-out of ‘level 3’ technology – which incorporates a new zFAS electrical architecture with a backup computer – from mid-2018. Until such time the hardware, including a world-first laser scanner, would not be installed in any vehicle.

A console-mounted button used to engage the driverless technology is labelled Audi AI – for Autonomous Intelligence – and in all markets including Australia, however, the A8 will offer Parking Pilot technology that can activate parallel or perpendicular parking using a smartphone when standing outside the vehicle.

Audi AI active suspension can also independently raise or lower each corner of the vehicle with damper force of 1100Nm. Using a forward camera, it can read the road and adjust parameters to cancel bodyroll or pitching when braking, and can also raise the vehicle if a side collision is imminent to avoid a full impact.

Audi chairman of the board of management Rupert Stadler and Audi member of the board of technology development Dr Peter Mertens both listed the technology behind the Audi AI button as the greatest step forward for the A8.

“It (A8) is our so-called signature car,” Mr Stadler announced at the international reveal of the Audi A8 in Barcelona, Spain.

“It carries the signature of our brand, of our designers and of our engineers, and this flagship has progressive and highly emotive feel. The A8 makes makes clear a brand is always a promise, and our promise is ‘vorsprung’, meaning ‘extra eye’.

“Wherever you plan to go, whatever you plan to do, Audi AI will be there. (It is) a technology promise, Audi plus intelligence plus forward thinking. The world is ready for this next level of mobility (and) we will continuously increase the power of this Audi AI button.” Dr Mertens added that, “The future of driving will surely be autonomous, no doubt about this.

“This is going to be a game changer. Self-driving cars need artificial intelligence as one of the key technologies allowing them to really cope with the complexity of traffic. With the new Audi A8, we are the first car-maker prepared for the introduction of level three pilot driving.

“What level three means, you take your hands off the steering wheel, and the car does the rest. This in turn, will pave the way for the next step, level four – high automation and specific automation, such as highway at all speeds. We will raise the bar for our competition today … and of course in the future.” The headline technology acts for the new A8 are complemented by the announcement of an entirely micro-hybrid-powered range using a more advanced derivation of the electrical system that debuted in the SQ7.

The 48-volt system now becomes the main unit, with the 12-volt system taking a back seat, whereas it was the other way around with Audi’s large sports SUV.

Although electric-compressor technology has not been used, four-wheel steering is available. Every A8 can also shut-off its engine below 22km/h, and between 55km/h and 160km/h when the throttle is lifted, the latter for up to 40 seconds at a time without impacting electrical or safety and chassis systems.

Both a 3.0-litre V6 and 4.0-litre V8 turbo-diesel have been confirmed for Australia, with the former boasting 250kW of power and 600Nm of torque, and the latter scoring 320kW and unspecified torque, with an eight-speed automatic.

Speaking with GoAuto at the international media reveal, Audi Australia corporate communications general manager Anna Burgdorf said that a lack of local interest in petrol engines ruled out the petrol-powered 3.0-litre V6 and 4.0-litre V8 turbos for our market.

“We will expect the A8 around the middle of next year and at this stage we will have two 3.0 TDI models, short-wheelbase and long-wheelbase, and a 4.0 TDI,” Ms Burgdorf confirmed.

Asked if petrol versions would be offered, however, she said: “Not at this stage (as) the majority of A8 sales are diesel.” Audi confirmed that two other long-wheelbase models – called A8 L – will be offered next year, including an A8 E-tron with a 3.0-litre turbo-petrol V6 plug-in hybrid and 6.0-litre twin-turbo A8 W12 flagship, and Ms Burgdorf confirmed both would be considered for the local market.

“If the market is there for a W12, we will bring a W12, if the market is there for a plug-in hybrid, then that is something we would consider,” she said.

“We certainly sold W12 A8 in the past in Australia, but in small numbers. (Plug-in hybrid) potentially too. Generally, our strategy is to bring in models that sell in the greatest demand but be open to new alternatives.” The A8 W12 produces 430kW and 800Nm, while the A8 E-tron delivers 330kW and 700Nm with a 4.9-second 0-100km/h claim, boosted by a 14.1kWh battery pack beneath the rear floor to help deliver up to 50km electric-only driving.

It will also be the first vehicle in the world to debut wireless charging that permits the driver to park the vehicle in a garage that has a 3.6kW contactless transmitter installed on its floor and charge the vehicle automatically.

The 5172mm-long A8 and 5302mm A8 L both stretch 37mm further than their predecessors, although respective wheelbases of 2998mm and 3128mm have been extended by only 6mm compared with before.

Body width of 1945mm is down 4mm, but height of between 1473mm (A8) and 1488mm (A8 L) is up 13mm and 17mm respectively.

Carbon-fibre rear construction, magnesium front strut tower bar, and remaining steel and aluminium combination also deliver a 24 per cent increase in body rigidity compared with the previous-generation A8.

Audi has talked up the wider and lower spaceframe grille of the new A8 between the Matrix LED headlights with laser-light adaptive automatic high-beam technology, along with a lower side character crease.

Wrap-around rear styling now uses OLED sequential tail-lights that sweep from the centre of the vehicle outwards when braking or when the A8 is unlocked by the driver on approach.

The cabin incorporated Audi’s Virtual Cockpit technology, but a traditional MMI rotary controller and shortcut buttons has given way to a new 10.1-inch touchscreen and secondary lower screen complete with haptic feedback similar to that seen in Volkswagen Group sibling, the Porsche Panamera.

A new ‘one shot’ voice control system can also now draw upon 4G LTE cloud-based feedback for more instantly adaptive and accurate results.

Touch-sensitive air vent controls electrically guide open the flush woodgrain fascia to reveal vents that draw-out from within the vehicle, rather than tumble open as previously seen in a Jaguar XF, while the door handles are likewise electrically actuated following a small tug of each lever.

Behind the front seats, a high-resolution tablet is also available to control seating, lighting and audio functions, among others including a world-first foot-massaging function, activated when rear riders press their feet against the front-seat backrests.

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GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.