New Audi A8 to be the world's first truly autonomous production car

14 Jul, 2016 11:00am Steve Fowler

New spy images reported to be of A8 saloon, while mild hybrid engine tech will be used for 2017 debut

Audi's upcoming replacement for its flagship luxury saloon, the A8, is set to be one of the most high-tech cars ever put on the road. As it occupies top spot in Audi's current range, it's no surprise that the company puts its most advanced technology into the A8 first - and that's why it's set to be the first production car ever built with full 'Level 3' autonomous driving tech. That means the A8 will be able to completely take over control, allowing the driver to relax and take their eyes off the road.

We scooped spy shots of the A8 earlier this year, but while the test mule looks similar to the current A6, we can reveal it's actually going to debut a new design language for Audi. With less of a 'Russian Doll' approach, each line of cars will be given its own distinct identity.

The A8 is the first model using inspiration from the Prologue concept, penned by recently appointed design head Marc Lichte. Despite the more subtle exterior shown here, clues like the more exaggerated front grille and intricate rear lights can be seen through the body disguise.

Audi’s new technical development boss Stefan Knirsch told Auto Express that the new car will also feature a 48v electrical system, similar to the one debuted on the new Audi SQ7. And like the SQ7 it will also feature an electrically-powered compressor to boost low down response. This new ‘electric turbo’ technology would work in both hybrid and non-hybrid models.

• Audi A7 drives itself on public roads

A plug-in version of the new A8 is also expected, but the non-plug-in mild hybrid tech is much cheaper and likely to be used for a lower point of entry to the new luxury car range. We're unlikely to see a full electric version, however, as that will be saved for Audi's forthcoming Tesla rival.

With technology such as electromechanical Active Roll Control set to feature, the new A8 will also get Audi’s 48v electrical system. However, the hybrid tech would be used to replenish the electrical system as well as boosting engine performance and efficiency, according to Knirsch. 

Although the electric compressor would be used to improve low-rev responsiveness of turbo engines, Knirsch told us that they can also be used to boost efficiency by allowing engineers to choose more efficient gear ratios for models. He also confirmed that the application could be used across the entire Audi range, including small capacity petrol turbos.

• Audi Q8 to join all-new range of Audi luxury flagships in 2018

With such a wide array of engines and chassis setups to choose, Audi's CEO Rupert Stadler has promised a solution to make choosing a model easier.


Audi Prologue Allroad concept interior

Everything from Audi's piloted driving autonomous car tech to gesture control, and organic LED lighting will also find its way into Audi’s flagship saloon, ensuring it becomes the technological showcase it needs to be to tackle the Mercedes S-Class. The new A8 will also be the first model from Audi to feature the brand’s new design language as showcased by the Audi Prologue concept at the LA Motor Show last year.

New A8 to drive itself with Audi Piloted Driving tech 

Revolutionary piloted driving tech has been confirmed for the A8. Long-range radar sensors, 12 ultrasonic sensors, laser scanners and hi-resolution video cameras will constantly monitor the car’s surroundings, with the system also able to guide a car safely through traffic jams at up to speeds of 37mph. It's set to be the first car with 'Level 3' autonomous tech, allowing the driver to safely take their eyes off the road.

Audi believes up to 90 per cent of all innovation in the automotive sector will come from electronics, with lighting playing a significant part. Matrix LED technology is still relatively new but Audi is already working to move the game on further. “We are working on the integration of organic LEDs,” said Ricky Hudi, Head of Electronics at Audi. He claims the advancement will enable “new forms of expression and differentiation”, with their main use expected to be in a car's digital displays.

Audi Prologue Driverless Concept rear side

Those displays will also be operated by gesture control, a feature also confirmed for the facelifted VW Golf due next year. “We are already working on a new gesture control system as an advanced development,” said Hudi. In-car operations such as adjusting the temperate, answering incoming calls and switching between radio stations will move from button operation to gesture control.

“The A8 is a good car to introduce some of these technologies because it is always good to start with a premium offering,” added Hackenberg.

Audi A8 new design language

All of this technology will be wrapped up in a whole new look for the A8, too. It will be the first model from Audi to feature the new design language from the Prologue concept penned by new design chief Marc Licht. Expect bolder styling, exaggerated proportions and a new take on the trademark wide-mouthed grille. 

Now watch the Audi A7 Piloted Driving Concept in action on video...