In a packed convention hall in Barcelona, Audi unveiled its flagship luxury sedan, the fourth-generation 2019 A8. The company proudly proclaimed it will feature a Level 3 automated driving system as it marches toward the goal of a fully autonomous vehicle. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, Level 3 automation is "the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene." That means with a touch of a button, the new A8 will be capable of driving itself when certain conditions are met. If those conditions change, the driver will receive alerts that intervention will be needed. We have it on good authority that the driver will have 10 seconds to respond, which is a generous amount of time.
Dubbed "Audi Piloted Driving," this system will theoretically be effective at speeds up to 60 km/h, or 37.3 mph. We say theoretically because the legality of these systems are still being hashed out worldwide. In the U.S., individual states will be responsible for setting guidelines for automated and autonomous vehicles, so Piloted Driving availability will depend on location. If approved, the A8 will be one of the leaders in what most experts refer to as the next great automotive frontier.
Besides Piloted Driving, the 2019 A8 is all-new from nose to tail. The design adopts Audi's current design language, featuring a bold trapezoidal grille up front and a sharply creased character line all the way down the side. In the back will be a striking band of OLED taillights that will perform a mini light show as the driver approaches. Audi's reputation for simple sophistication is on display inside the A8, with a wide horizontal dash and only the most basic of switches and knobs present. The majority of functions will be controlled via two large touchscreens in the center stack.
The loss of Audi's MMI controller knob is somewhat concerning since it is one of the better systems on the market, but we'll hold final judgment until we get to drive the A8. Though we currently prefer the knob-based controllers, this new touchscreen system shows promise with large configurable buttons and a simulated click to confirm each touch. You have to be very deliberate with touch commands, pushing fairly hard in order to trigger a function. This will hopefully eliminate inadvertent commands caused by accidentally brushing the screens.
Mechanically, the new A8 builds on existing technologies. An advanced active suspension will function much like Mercedes-Benz's Magic Body Control, using a laser scanner on the road ahead and adjusting each individual wheel to react to imperfections. In theory, potholes and bumps will no longer be felt as the car glides unaffected over them. A four-wheel steering system will also be available, enhancing maneuverability at all speeds and contributing to the Audi AI Remote Parking Pilot system. Once activated, the driver can direct the A8 to park itself in a spot without ever having to be in the car, and command it to exit the spot as well.
As far as engines go, the A8 will debut with a turbocharged V6 gasoline engine in a mild hybrid system. A V8 model will follow, as will a plug-in hybrid and a range-topping W12. Expect to see the 2019 Audi A8 in U.S. showrooms in mid- to late 2018 with prices starting around the $100,000 mark.