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New Audi A8 autonomous ride review

We’re driving the new Audi A8 soon, but before we get behind the wheel we let the level 3 autonomous car drive us itself

There are no surprises with how it looks, but Audi’s focus has been on the interior design and the technology that has been crammed into it. From the passenger seat the autonomous tech works as efficiently as you’d expect from a flagship Audi, but that aside the A8 impresses, with fine refinement, a comfortable ride and a sharply designed, easy to operate and luxurious interior.

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There are miles of stop-start traffic ahead, the roads around Dusseldorf are among the very busiest in Europe. We’re sat in the passenger seat of the new Audi A8, but we could just as well be in the driving seat as the car’s doing all of the work. The A8, says Audi will be the first series production car to offer genuine Level 3 autonomous driving to customers.

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Level 3 autonomy doesn’t quite allow you to climb in the back and read the paper, instead allowing the driver to remove their hands from the steering wheel and let the car take over the monotony of stop-start motorway driving. 

There are provisos of course, after 37.3mph (60km/h) you’ll need to take over. However, if the traffic remains below that you can sit and relax, enjoy a film, or at least you’ll be able to once the legislators allow you to. The technology here is racing ahead of the law.

Enabling all of the sophisticated self-driving is a suite of sensors, masses of computing power and the tireless work of Audi’s cleverest minds. The result is undeniably impressive, the A8 gliding through the traffic the steering wheel moving slightly as it does so, allowing easy conversation in the A8’s luxurious new cabin. 

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Inside it’s different, radically so if you’re use to the outgoing A8. Digital screens now dominate the A8’s interior, where a 10.1-inch upper and 8.6-inch lower display feature on the centre console. Operating the dual screen set-up is simple, the larger display, featuring haptic response, takes the care of most of the info and entertainment functions, while the one below it is dedicated to climate, ventilation and seat controls. It doubles as a touchpad input device, too.

The fit and finish in the hugely accommodating cabin, as we’ve come to expect from Audi, is impeccable - the touchscreens simplifying the operation and simplifying the design. There’s a trade off visually in the greasy fingerprints those screens attract, but ignore that, and the form over function, upside-down door handles, and the A8’s interior is a classy environment to sit in.

It’s hushed on the move even at speeds above the autonomous technology’s reach; the A8 will hustle along at autobahn speeds with barely a whisper of wind, road or engine noise. The 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 TFSI petrol, which like all A8’s comes with a 48V electrical system, doesn’t appear to have any issue shifting it’s predominantly aluminium structure. The automatic transmission swaps its eight ratios imperceptibly, too. The suspension, with its air springs and four mode choices delivers cosseting comfort on the admittedly smooth tarmac of the autobahns as we’re searching for traffic jams to allow the car to take over the driving.

Little fazes the A8 in such circumstances, the big Audi saloon a consummate luxury car. It delivers the fine refinement, beautiful surroundings and rich technology we’d expect from a car in this prestigious class, wrapped in a predictably conservative body. Only some proper time behind the wheel ourselves will allow us to decide if it’s got the measure of the new BMW 7 Series and Mercedes’ significantly overhauled S-Class, though. 

There’s serious promise here, but like that self-driving technology it’s a waiting game to find out just how good the A8 really is behind the wheel. It won’t be too long until we know for sure. As a technology flagship though it’s certainly not lacking, even if to exploit its full autonomous potential we’ll need to wait for the law to catch up to what it’s technically capable of.

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