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Beauty more than skin deep in new Audi A8

Inside job: Audi has had to dig deep to improve on the previous A8's interior for the new third-generation model.

The real highlights of the new-generation Audi A8 are to be found inside the cabin

Audi logo3 Dec 2009

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

REVOLUTION is not a term bandied around the third-generation A8’s styling, with even Audi saying it is an evolutionary design language despite appearing lighter and lower.

However, the Ingolstadt-based car-maker is making big noises about the progression of its latest luxury car’s interior.

A significantly lower cowl, combined with the application of the Multi Media Interface (MMI) touch pad that has handwriting recognition for the satellite navigation and telephone applications, are just two of the new features to be found in the D4-generation Audi flagship.

The former, according to Audi chief engineer Michael Dick, was executed so the A8’s occupants would get a sense of all the weight-saving technology permeating the car.

This includes the aluminium space-frame body structure as well as the proliferation of alloys and other lightweight materials in the drivetrain.

The latter, meanwhile, attempts to instil more confidence in the driver by improving forward vision significantly, with less obstruction afforded by the deeper windscreen area.

According to Audi, it is part of a ‘letting in of more light into the cabin’ philosophy that is also a reflection of this generation models’ signature LED light treatment – which in turn use a lot less energy to run, providing a tangible link to the A8’s eco attributes that the buyer can appreciate every time he/she switches the headlights on.

7 center imageThe eco steps the A8 has taken in this incarnation include class-leading economy and low emissions from the brace of TDI diesel and FSI petrol engines on offer, as well as the expected A8 Hybrid to be unveiled within the next few months.

Extensive use of adjustable ambient lighting within the interior is another novel feature for the Audi, further underlining its creators’ desire for A8 occupants to feel – even subconsciously – that they are in a light and efficient vehicle.

Meanwhile, there is a lightness of effort to be garnered from using the MMI, since it is controlled by the ball of the driver’s palm in what Audi claims is a far more natural movement.

Nevertheless, senior interior designer Jens Sieber revealed that Audi wanted to retain some of the previous, D3 A8’s look and feel, since it had gained an enviable reputation for quality of design and execution.

These include the same but different look of the redesigned climate control system, the support buttons for the new MMI, the design of the steering wheel, and the use of expensive textures and textiles.

“There are a few items we wanted to keep from the D3 … and if you close your eyes for a moment you can still sense a feeling of the old car’s timeless quality,” he told GoAuto.

“So it was a very, very big challenge to improve from the old car because it still is a benchmark in design.

“But we wanted more of a feeling of luxury … and we wanted more dynamic aspects in the interior, so we worked on the lines connecting the dash and the doors for example, and the depth of volume needed.

“We really concentrated on the richness of materials too, but in a way that it still says quality but without it looking heavy. That is what we mean by evolution and revolution in the interior, as well as character and volume “We also wanted an impression of space in (the A8) – both in a sense of inner space as well from the outside (looking in) … so we looked at how we use the volume (of the depth of the dash) and how we could make it (better as a use of space).

“In the end we wanted the impression of keeping the interior open.” Owners of more recent Audis will notice the application of an analogue clock in the centre of the dash, Maserati (or Mitsubishi TR/TS Magna) style.

“Actually, there was not much debate about this, because it’s a very nice combination of tradition and modernism,” Mr Sieber said.

“And it’s the same confluence in the instrument panel – with a huge computerised display combined with traditional dials with aluminium surrounds.

“We played a lot with mixing tradition with revolutionary aspects for the A8’s interior.” Pointing to the new-shape gear lever, Mr Sieber explained that it has been shaped to give the feeling of power and performance from the moment it falls into the palm of the driver’s hand.

“It is unique to Audi … it is different to the levers found in a BMW or Mercedes. It is the centre of power in a way, where the driver can gain a grip on the car.” Pressed on areas that needed most attention in the old car, Mr Sieber nominated the rear quarters, admitting that it lagged behind some of its competition in the areas of entertainment and luxury.

The inclusion of 10.2-inch screens as an option, as well as the availability of airline-style heated and ventilated reclining individual seats in certain models, go a long way to address the old D3 drawbacks.

“In the end we wanted to make a luxury car where no wish would go unfulfilled,” Mr Sieber said.

Calling it the most revolutionary aspect of the D4 A8, Mr Dick summed up the A8’s cabin design and presentation as a breath of fresh air for the brand.

“We wanted to visualise the lightness of the car,” he said. “And I think you will see that we have really succeeded in doing this.”

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Audi models

All future models

A8 pricing

Motor industry news

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.