The 2017 Audi A8.
The 2017 Audi A8.

2018 Audi A8 is step closer to self-driving capability

TOMORROW, it turns out, can look much like yesterday. Audi's new A8 is the company's first car designed from the beginning to have proper self-driving capability - but its exterior style recycles the luxury-limousine look of the model it will soon replace.

The new A8's automated driving tech will take a step beyond anything on the market today but it won't be in the first cars off Audi's Neckarsulm production line in the southwest of Germany later this year.

One day, Audi says, the new A8 will be able to drive itself in slow-moving traffic at up to 60km/h with technology it calls Traffic Jam Pilot but executives can't say exactly when the feature will be commercially available.

Photo of the 2017 Audi A8
Photo of the 2017 Audi A8

Automated driving development boss Alejandro Vukotich believes customers in Germany will be the first to get Traffic Jam Pilot. Self-driving cars are already legal there.

Audi says, however, that homologation rules - regulations to define precisely the technical requirements for such tech - are also needed.

Additionally, the brand says it must do validation work - at least six months of real-world test programs - to ensure its technology functions perfectly in each market where it's introduced. This means a self-driving A8 won't appear in showrooms here any time soon.

Spokeswoman Anna Burgdorf says Audi Australia is eager to fit Traffic Jam Assist as soon as feasible. When that will be is impossible to predict, she says.

2018 Audi A8 European image.
2018 Audi A8 European image.

Still, when the new A8 arrives in Australia in 12 months it won't be short of innovative tech. It will have 48-volt electrics instead of the usual 12V, for example.

In the 3.0-litre V6 and 4.0-litre V8 turbo diesel versions to be sold here, there will be a 48V belt-driven starter-generator. This turns the all-wheel drive Audis into mild hybrids.

Among the major benefits of the higher voltage starter-generator is that it can capture substantial charge via regenerative braking, to be stashed in a sizeable battery.

This free energy will power the A8's fully active suspension, among other things. It can move each wheel up or down independently, killing nose-dip when braking and body-roll when cornering. Most amazing of all, it can keep the body level over bumps and potholes.

Audi also believes hi-tech modern cars are getting too complicated to use easily.

The interior of the new A8 is stunning for its luxurious simplicity. Audi's designers have jumped from old-school desktop computer thinking to the latest generation smartphone-inspired interface. Instead of the company's mouse-like turn-and press knob in the centre console, the new A8 uses a pair of glossy screens with audio and tactile feedback to control many of the cars functions.

Outside, there are only detail changes such as the bigger front grille and tailpipes disappearing from sight. The outline and proportions of Audi's latest flagship are as familiar as much of its technology is not.



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