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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Road test: 2019 Audi A8

We find that the updated limo is one of the most technologically advanced cars of all-time

The A8 has self-driving features. Courtesy Audi
The A8 has self-driving features. Courtesy Audi

I am developing a slight inferiority complex. This car is smarter than I am. It can park itself in a garage (while you stand outside and watch it all unfold), magically flatten out road-surface imperfections and even drive itself – completely – in traffic jams.

It is head-scratching stuff, so much so that legislation around the world has yet to catch up to the world-first (in a volume production car) "Level 3" autonomous driving capability of the all-new Audi A8. The piece de resistance is the whizz-bang Traffic Jam Pilot system that enables the 5.2-metre-long limo to accelerate, brake and steer itself at speeds of up to 60kph, provided that you are on a freeway with lane markings and a barrier in the centre of the road that separates you from oncoming traffic.

While all this is happening, you can have a snooze, read a book or catch up on some YouTube videos. It would be a blessing for those making the Dubai-to-Sharjah schlep during peak hours, but unfortunately that won’t be the case – at least for the time being – because self-driving cars are yet to be approved by the RTA (or traffic-governing bodies in most other countries, for that matter).

Traffic Jam Pilot is just one of the new A8’s 40 driver-assist systems that rely on an industry-first laser scanner, long-range radar, front camera, four mid-range radars, 360-degree cameras and as many as 12 ultrasound sensors – seemingly a sufficient quota of data-gathering kit to land a Space Shuttle. This avalanche of information is made sense of by a mighty electronic brain catchily dubbed zFAS, which then tells the car what to do.

The A8’s battery of sensors can also detect an impending collision, so if you are about to be T-boned, the suspension automatically raises the vehicle’s body on the exposed side by 80 millimetres in less than a second, which brings stronger areas such as the side sills and floor structure into play. Audi claims this reduces impacts on the driver and the passengers by 50 per cent. Clever stuff.

Directly behind the windscreen sits a camera that scans the road ahead 18 times per second to create a 3-D map of the surface ahead. This information is then used to preset the suspension accordingly – a task that is carried out with ultra-precision by four electromechanical actuators that individually control the vertical movement of each wheel. The result? Silken ride quality, but not at the expense of dynamism, because the big Audi can still lift its skirts and hustle when you ask it to.

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The cabin is a pleasant place to be, especially the rear of the long-wheelbase A8 L, which is offered with an optional “relaxation seat” that adjusts four ways and has a footrest that incorporates warming and massaging functions for aching soles. There are funky elements up front, too, especially the 10.1-inch touchscreen display which, when off, blends almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround. The user interface comes to life as soon as the car is opened, so you almost feel as though you are entering a living organism.

I don’t blame you if you are underwhelmed by the latest A8’s looks. There is no denying it is a tad anonymous-looking – I didn’t get a single second glance in it. Yet the latest Audi flagship is still a technological game-changer and a darn fine limo.

The specs: 2019 Audi A8

Price From Dh390,000

Engine 3.0L V6 turbo

Gearbox Eight-speed automatic

Power 345hp @ 5,000rpm

Torque 500Nm @ 1,370rpm

Fuel economy, combined 7.5L / 100km