For years, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class represented all the cutting-edge automotive wizardly you could hope to see trickle down into plebeian cars. That honor now belongs to the Audi A8. While Mercedes recently revamped the S-Class to better compete with Audi, the A8 is back with a vengeance — proclaiming itself, once again, to be the future of automobiles.
Now that “luxury car” really means “technology buffet,” Audi has adorned the 2019 A8 with the very best it can offer, hoping to find its way back into the premium vehicle market’s good graces.
Audi is specifically hoping China notices the A8’s new microchip magic. Sales of the sedan have slipped 25 percent in its biggest market between January and May of 2017, according to JATO Dynamics.
But Audi also experienced a cooling effect in North America as the flagship sedan grew long in the tooth, taking a notable sales hit every year since 2014. This year wasn’t shaping up to be any better but, based on the revamped A8’s plethora of technological updates, that’s likely to change by the end of next year.
Completely redesigned for the 2019 model year, Audi’s new A8 remains recognizable without feeling redundant. It’s more angular but the overall appearance doesn’t add much drama. Even its enormous grille, which accounts for the majority of vehicle’s face, somehow avoids becoming comical or aggressive. It’s a bit of a paradox but works in favor of a car that’s supposed to be a serious luxury item. The only exception could be the rear end, where Audi adopted vaguely American-looking taillights that seem slightly out of place on a German-made car (think a slimmed-down Buick Century or modern-day Lincoln Continental).
At 203.6 inches long, 76.6 inches wide and 58.0 inches high, the 2019 A8 is 1.5 inches longer than its predecessor and marginally taller. Audi is also planning a long-wheelbase model, mainly to appease China, which gains another 5 inches.
Gadgets are especially important in the Chinese automotive market, so it’s no wonder that the A8 is absolutely crammed with them — especially in the long-wheelbase model. Touch screens and an MMI infotainment system have replaced just about everything analog. There’s nary a button to be found. While it’s initially off-putting, tech-obsessed car buyers will see that as a perk instead of an opportunity to smudge up a visual interface with greasy fingerprints. If implemented well, there’s no reason to think it won’t be a satisfying experience. It seems to work for Tesla, and Audi probably used that knowledge to decide how to redesign the A8 — especially in regard to its autonomous features.
Audi is claiming the flagship sedan now boasts an impressive list of self-driving functions, more than enough to embarrass the Model S. Its traffic jam pilot system allows for unmonitored movement at speeds below 37 mph, with the brand implying drivers should feel free to completely ignore what the vehicle is doing (it has an on-board TV). However, there is a good chance this will come back to bite them. The automaker recommends only using the feature on straight roads where a “physical barrier separates the two carriageways.”
It isn’t difficult to imagine someone misusing the system, cracking a book, and being surprised when they rear-end another motorist. Still, a system that can manage starting, accelerating, steering and braking so confidently that the manufacturer recommends taking hands off the wheel is impressive. Tesla’s Autopilot is no slouch, but the company no longer allows drivers to go hands-free — which is probably a good practice in general.
The A8 has another autonomous party trick, though. Using an AI remote parking system, the vehicle can guide itself into spots without the driver even needing to be inside the car. While the extent of the system’s capabilities remain unspecified, owners can use a phone app to stream the A8’s camera feed as it maneuvers into a parking space or garage.
It’s needlessly futuristic, but Audi is banking on that being exactly what prospective A8 buyers are looking for. The theme spills over into the new suspension setup. Outboard cameras monitor the road ahead and adjust the suspension within a millisecond or two to better soak up bumps and adapt to changing road conditions. At less blistering speeds, it can also raise the car up to avoid harsh impacts with potholes and bumps. Audi says the system compliments the four-wheel steering and all-wheel-drive setup, is endlessly adjustable for sporty or plush driving experiences, and will even help minimize risk in the event of a crash.
Every version of the sedan will come with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which gives the engine some additional oomph and delivers power to the trick electromechanical suspension. The A8 also comes with an extended stop-start function, regenerative braking, and can coast with the engine off to further increasing efficiency.
There are a bevy of engine options, although the variants slated for North America are unknown. The A8 will enter the German market with two turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engines: one TDI and one TFSI. The diesel develops 286 hp while the gasoline version produces 340 hp. Audi says a 460 hp 4.0-liter V8 will be available shortly after the vehicle’s global launch, along with a slightly less powerful diesel and a 6.0-liter W12.
A long-wheelbase e-tron quattro with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain will follow at a later date. Audi says that model will crank out 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque by combining electric motors with the base 3.0-liter TFSI V6.
The next-generation Audi A8 emerges in Germany this fall, with a US debut slated for the spring or summer of 2018. It looks to start at the Euro equivalent of $103,225. However, genuine U.S. pricing will be made available at a later date.