A week ago I was sitting in the back seat of the first Rolls-Royce Cullinan to ever land on Australian shores. It was luxurious, yes. There was a chilled bottle of Bollinger behind the armrest, that was quite nice. But what I couldn’t wrap my head around was why anyone would spend just shy of a million bucks on what is effectively, from the passenger’s seat, a glorified Range Rover.
Luxury has to have a peak; a point on the graph whereby money simply can’t buy any more luxury. The same can be said for a business class flight pitted against the elusive first class. Are they different? Sure, but would that different experience be worth the difference in price? I’d argue it wouldn’t.
When I sat in the brand new Audi A8 luxury sedan for the first time a few days after the Rolls, I felt like I found that logical point of intersection. It was German, practical, luxurious and all capped at a starting price of $192,000 Aussie dollars. Next question.
I’m glossing over a few other factors at play here – I realise this – and in no way would I genuinely put an Audi up against a Rolls-Royce, but my point is this; Audi must be offering one hell of a compelling package if I couldn’t help but compare its safety, technology and comfort to that of a Rolls.
The old A8, which we became reacquainted with during the chauffeured drive from my home address to Sydney’s Intercontinental hotel in Double Bay, felt quite analogue. It was lovely, but analogue nonetheless. This was before I had even seen the flagship’s brand new fourth-gen incarnation to compare it against. The brief 24 hours that followed at the Sydney launch event was a classic Audi affair as I had come to expect them. Dinner at a waterfront Point Piper mansion, a comprehensive drive program through NSW’s Southern Highlands region and a deluxe, no-expenses-spared lunch at a Bowral estate.
“Progress through technology”
I often get caught up in the little bubble of the Audi brand that is the RS bloodline, so much so that the core pillar of the German automaker – technology – is overshadowed by the 610 horses of the V10 Plus in the R8, for example.
This launch was a sharp reminder, then, that absolutely every design detail of the new A8 is reliant on, or a consequence of, technology. It might just be the most technically advanced car I’d ever seen in the flesh.
More on that in a moment, as it would be rude to neglect the A8’s much sleeker and more chiselled exterior before we press on. The lines are sharp and elegant yet still eject connotations of athleticism and masculinity. The new whale shark grille, a particular favourite of mine, is boxed in by a much slender frame. The full-length light strip across the rear lends the car an immersive, wholesome presence on the road. The A8 is a car that has well and truly got its shit together – if you had to summarise it in a single sentence.
Mild-hybrid tech allows the vehicle to coast at speeds between 55-160kph with the 3.0-litre V6 drivetrain turned off entirely and it’s the first production model car in the world to be built with Level 3 autonomous driving capability. The Audi A8 is pretty much ready to drive itself – and will do so when the government gets its act together.
As you’ve probably realised by now, this car is overwhelmingly advanced. I can’t possibly do all of its achievements justice in a few hundred words, so I’ll pick and choose a few killer standouts that made the 12-year-old nerd in me light up like a Christmas tree.
The safest car in the world?
A 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system is damn right impressive, not to mention the 3D model 360-degree parking camera which is also a fun novelty, but the brains behind Audi’s tech division have excelled in also making this one of the safest cars in the world.
The aforementioned autonomous driving capability allows for some of the sharpest safety features ever to be featured in an automobile. Intersection assist was one I thought was particularly cool – the A8’s hammerhead-like cameras allow the driver to peak around walls or traffic to check for oncoming cars. The car won’t even let you drive off if there is an unseen danger. The A8 is also constantly detecting collisions from the sides of the vehicle (as well as the front and back) and is prepared to raise the suspension on the endangered side of the car to tilt the passengers slightly away from the impact zone. An extra level of protection you could only expect from Audi.
The Telsa Model S and Model X have a huge iPad-like computer screen down the centre console that uses a ‘sketch pad’ to draw stuff or write stuff. As far as I’m aware, it doesn’t have any other purpose beyond that. The Audi A8 has something similar, yet its dual-screen touch system recognises your handwriting so you can scribble your sat nav destination, for example, on the screen without taking your eyes off the road. I proper scribbled on it too and it still, somehow, recognised the messy handwriting. The haptic feedback on the touchscreen which replicates a physical buzz, much like your iPhone’s home button, was a pleasant replacement for the usual analogue buttons.
A new benchmark for luxury
If the Audi A8 wasn’t a big enough car already, the A8 L (long wheelbase) offers an extra 130mm of car for your money, with the primary objective of comfort. The extra room – not that its really necessary over the standard A8 – allows for the left rear passenger to enjoy a “relaxation seat” that boasts massage capability, a footrest (also with a massage function), a tray table for remote working (made handy by the car’s WiFi, and an entertainment screen for when you’re finally exhausted from messing around with every single gadget you can find. The $11,000 premium package awards buyers 20-inch alloy wheels, chrome styling, privacy glass, air filtration, digital television and those aforementioned massage functions. Entertainment and sport packages are priced at $6,650 and $9,950 respectively.
As for the driving experience? Well, the majority of people buying this car aren’t likely to be spending much time behind the wheel. If the objective of this car was to put the passenger’s priorities first, then the A8 has done this wholeheartedly. The Audi A8 is so intuitive, smooth and carefree that on some occasions you feel like you’re not even driving the car at all. If that’s anything to go by, I can’t wait until I can put my feet up and watch Netflix from a massaging chair when the thing one day drives itself.
The “World Luxury Car of The Year 2018” Audi A8 starts at $192,000 and launched in Australia last week. Book a test drive here.