• U.S.-spec A8 is long-wheelbase only
  • New MMI infotainment system replaces knob with intuitive screen setup
  • Initially sold with a mild-hybrid V6, with V8 and plug-in hybrid choices to follow
  • Fully active suspension dramatically smooths ride and adds innovative safety features
  • Pricing will start at $84,795, including destination charges

 

The A8, Audi’s flagship sedan, separates itself from the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class with its combination of modern tech, comfort and performance. For 2019, Audi expands on all three of these elements, introducing new technology, new levels of interior refinement, and innovative power and agility. And the tech features that Audi added aren’t bright, flashy ways to turn heads: These features make the A8 easier to customize for each driver, to improve and enhance connectivity, to make the A8 more intuitive, and to ensure more advanced safety systems. And with the 2019 A8, Audi adds another layer, using tech to create a calm, soothing environment. While the A8’s exterior styling is an evolution, with elements derived from the Prologue concept, there are dramatic changes to the vehicle underneath.

Interior Comfort

Our first exposure to the new A8 was as a passenger. A driver shuttled us to the location where the drive would begin, providing an excellent opportunity to focus entirely on what the cabin offered. All A8s sold in America will be long-wheelbase models, and the biggest beneficiaries of that are rear-seat passengers, who get to stretch their legs, settle into the elegant leather seats, and relax. The A8 that whisked us from the airport to Big Sur, California came with the Executive Rear Seat Comfort Package, which includes power heated seats with lumbar support, footrests, and folding tables that stow away in a long leather center console. The best seat in the house, though, is for the right-rear passenger, who can recline even more than the left-rear passenger, and benefits from an available heated foot massage. Finishing off the second row were crisp, clear 10.1-inch removable touch-screen tablets (part of the Rear Seat Connectivity Package) mounted to the front seatbacks, which could display a topographical map, videos and more. We used the smartphone-sized touch-screen controller mounted between the rear seats – our car was a 4-passenger model, but most A8s seat five – to select the type of back massage each passenger wanted and the level of heat (also part of the Rear Seat Comfort Package). This was a wonderfully pleasant contrast to dealing with the stresses of airline travel, and it didn’t take long to relax and feel refreshed.

When it was time to switch roles from coddled passenger to that of coddled driver, we got into a 5-passenger A8. This model had the same level of interior elegance and beauty, but without the ultra-lux right rear seat. The dark leather was nicely accented by warm brown wood along the doors and dash, and piano black touches finished off the cabin. The materials were top-notch, and the design well-tailored and welcoming. The air is ionized to keep the interior smelling clean and fresh, and you can also have a fragrance of choice piped in.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

Audi emphasized reducing the amount of hard-button-based controls, a move that made us skeptical at first, but the system is surprisingly intuitive. The A8 uses a new version of the company’s MMI system, which has dual stacked screens, both within easy reach, and is no longer operated through a main knob. The upper screen is where you can control navigation, music, and more, and uses color-coded tiles that you can sort based on what you use most often. The 2019 Audi A8 allows for up to seven different driver profiles, and each profile also includes your specific MMI preferences. Each time you select an option on the screen, the haptic feedback creates a noticeable click feel, as if you’re pushing an actual button. We used the bottom screen most often for adjusting temperature, but it also serves as a handy spot where the passenger can write a location for the navigation to search for. It took very little time to learn the infotainment controls, and Audi retained a physical volume knob as part of the system. The only noticeable downside to having two screens instead of a series of dials and controls is that fingerprints stand out more. You may want to stow a microfiber cloth in the center console to keep things looking clean.

Exploring Northern California

When the 2019 Audi A8 goes on sale later this fall, the sole powertrain available will be a new 335-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that uses a 48-volt mild hybrid system. The hybrid system serves as an additional power source for some of the car’s systems and accessories, smooths out power with initial acceleration, and adds torque assist when necessary. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, and the engine comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. A V8 engine, as well as a plug-in hybrid are on the slate for the future.

Already having a taste of the sumptuous interior, we got behind the wheel, used the new MMI system to set the temperature and get the seat heater going (we also used the seat massager but oddly, that control is a hard button on the side of the seat, centered within the power lumbar controls), and set out to see what Northern California had to offer. We followed a preset route programmed into the new sedan’s navigation system. The virtual cockpit, Audi’s configurable digital gauge cluster set within a high-resolution 12.3-inch display, had gauges on each side and a clear, easy-to-see layout of the Google Earth map. Everything about the A8 is smooth and accommodating, and power delivery is no exception. The V6 has plenty of power for this 4,700-pound car, but those who crave more oomph will have to wait for one of the other engine choices to arrive at dealerships. Ride quality is pleasant, and miles easily tick by. High-quality materials, pleasing aesthetics, and a quiet interior reinforced the sedan’s theme of serene luxury.

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Agile and Safe

The A8 is available with all-wheel steering, which uses a rear-steering module than can turn the rear wheels up to five degrees and a front-steering module that reduces steering effort. This combination makes the A8 more agile when cornering, and also greatly improves the turning circle, bringing it from 42.2 feet down to 38.7 feet -- comparable to that of an Audi A4. We observed this turning dexterity in a hands-on demonstration through a tight go kart course: Without all-wheel steering, there were turns the A8 couldn’t finish without doing a 3-point turn that we got through in one try with all-wheel steering, and it took fewer turns of the wheel as we drove through the course.

2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

We also tried out a technology that won’t be on the A8 when it initially goes on sale but is worth waiting for. Predictive Active Suspension uses the sedan's standard adaptive air suspension plus an active electromechanical system at each wheel to lift or push down the wheel when going over irregularities in the road. This process makes the A8’s ride noticeably flatter over large bumps. Those same systems can detect a side impact before it happens. We sat in an A8 on a closed course as a large object came toward the side of the car at under 20 mph. Audi’s Pre Sense Side system sensed the pending collision, and the active suspension raised that side of the car by 3.1 inches, which aligns the body’s strongest structure with the approaching object. And it all happens within less than 500 milliseconds. Pre Sense 360 puts up the windows, closes the sunroof and tightens seatbelts in anticipation of the crash. Other new safety features in the A8 include Adaptive Cruise Assist, which uses adaptive cruise control plus steering guidance to keep the car a safe distance from the car ahead and centered in the lane; front cross-traffic detection; exit assist that can keep you from opening the car door if another vehicle is approaching; emergency assist, which will bring the car to a stop if the driver is unresponsive; and loose-wheel detection.

Bottom Line

Audi continues to do an excellent job of infusing cutting-edge technology into an elegant, finely crafted cabin, while keeping the tech intuitive and controls logical and well-placed. The A8 is like a well-designed smartphone: If all you want to do is use it for its original purpose, such as a [make a call or] drive up the coast, you’ll enjoy the ride in Audi’s flagship sedan. However, if you take the time to set up your profile, get to know all of the car’s features, and make the A8 truly your own, there is a lot to learn and explore. The car will get even better, too, as the new suspension and engine choices become available.

The Audi A8L goes on sale this fall for a starting price of $84,795, including destination charges. It comes with the turbocharged V6, all-wheel drive, 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, and a Bang & Olufsen 3D premium sound system (as well as an extensive list of other standard features). There are no other trim levels. Buyers can add packages to create the A8 they want. Standalone upgrades include 20-inch wheels with summer tires, night-vision assistant, all-wheel steering, and an upgraded 23-speaker, 1,920-watt B&O audio system.

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