Audi has made a big and much-needed step forward with its new A8, even if the new styling direction is subjectively less dramatic than perhaps anticipated.
IHS Markit perspective
- Significance: Audi has launched the fourth generation of its flagship A8 sedan.
- Implications: The car is an important one for Audi as it previews a new design for the brand and it will be the world's first production car to feature Level 3 autonomous driving, the first level that allows drivers to undertake other tasks
- Outlook: Although the new A8 appears to be a major step change and the Level 3 autonomous driving is particularly impressive, it is still set to lag behind the BMW 7-Series and perennial segment leader, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, according to IHS Markit's latest forecast.
Audi has launched its fourth-generation A8, which is the flagship model in the company's passenger car range. The new A8 is much anticipated for a number of reasons as it previews a new design direction for the brand, and is also the first to offer level 3 autonomous driving. According to a company statement, the base-level car will have a 3.0-litre TFSI gasoline (petrol) powertrain developing 335bhp, while there will also be a 3.0 litre-TDI diesel developing 264bhp. Early next year, these engines will be joined by the Volkswagen (VW) Group's 4.0-litre V-8 diesel that is also available in the latest generation Porsche Panamera, which develops 429bhp, while the range-topping powertrain in the luxury variants of the model will be the long-standing 6.0-litre W12 which has a slightly reduced capacity of 300cc but which is an 85bhp increase on the old unit to 585bhp. There will also be a sporting version under the usual S8 nameplate, which will be fitted with a 4.0-litre V-8 gasoline version. All models will come equipped with the ZF eight-speed transmission and the company's Quattro four-wheel drive system, and the car's systems and electronics architecture are all underpinned by a new standard 48V electrical system that offers a range of mild hybrid functions such as engine-off coasting, extended start/stop operation and kinetic energy recuperation under braking. The more powerful electrical system also means that fewer systems and ancillaries are run directly off the engine, which helps to improve overall efficiency and lowers emissions and fuel consumption, with the combined improvement in fuel economy being as much as 0.7 litres per 100 km in real driving conditions according to Audi. There will also be an "e-tron" variant at some point, which according to Autocar, will combine a 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery with the 3.0-litre turbo gasoline V-6 powertrain, which will offer a combined output of 443bhp and an electric-only range of 31 miles. The model can also be specified with a form of active suspension that uses cameras to scan the road surface and which alters the damping accordingly.
One of the main step changes with the new A8 is that Audi claims that it is the first production vehicle built to have Level 3 autonomous driving capability as a result of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot. This means that the vehicle has the ability to drive fully autonomously, allowing the driver to complete other tasks, up to speeds of 37mph on roads with a central reservation or similar physical barrier. However, as Audi itself fully acknowledges, most markets in which the A8 will be sold currently do not have the regulatory structures in place to allow such functions to take place, and there will be some mechanism to switch on the function as and when the legislation allows it. When the autonomous driving capability is being deployed, a central driver assistance controller (zFAS) now permanently computes an image of the surroundings by merging various sensor data. As well as the radar sensors, a front camera and the ultrasonic sensors, Audi claims the new A8 is the first car manufacturer also to use a laser scanner. The new A8 will also have Audi AI remote parking pilot and the Audi AI remote garage pilot, the latter of which was demonstrated in a teaser film before the A8 was officially launched. This means the car can be parked in a garage or in the street without the driver actually sitting in the car. The interior of the new A8 is dominated by digital instrument graphics and a revised MMI (Multi-Media Interface) system with two separate screens, one which is 10.1 inches while the second is an 8.6-inch curved unit. There is also a second-generation MIB system that uses a quad-core processor from Nvidia, which offers the latest in infotainment technology.
Outlook and implications
Audi is making a big play of the advances made with the new A8 and there does appear to be some interesting and advanced technology on the car, not least the Level 3 autonomous driving capability. However, as highlighted above, having the technical ability and legal authority to do so are two separate things, as Audi fully acknowledges. The system which allows Level 3 autonomous driving, Audi AI traffic jam pilot, means "the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system" and that "Audi will therefore be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models." This will presumably mean the system will be in the architecture of the vehicles sold but will require a dealer visit at some point in the relevant markets to activate the system. Either way it is an impressive technological first for Audi with the new A8. The car is also supposed to hint at a new styling direction for the wider Audi range, although in this respect the step change is arguably less significant than may have been anticipated. The most distinct feature of the new A8 is an extreme version of the Audi grille in a trapezoidal form, which gives the car an almost cartoonishly aggressive appearance from the front-end. It also has heavy styling hints from the Audi Prologue concept car, with tauter bodyline and unbroken rear light strip which is one of the new designs more successful elements. However, despite a host of improvements, and despite the car being an obviously massive step forward in comparison to the somewhat underwhelming previous generation model, IHS Markit still forecasts the A8 will lag behind the class-leading S-Class and BMW 7-Series in terms of sales. We see the new A8 generating global sales of 36,000 units in 2018, the new model's first full year on sale. This is exactly half of what we forecast of the S-Class despite the Mercedes being far further into its current model cycle, while the 7-Series will sell 61,000 units.
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The above article is from AutoIntelligence Daily by IHS Markit. AutoIntelligence Daily provides same-day analysis of automotive news, events and trends. Get a free trial.