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Audi A8 reviewed; can’t we just keep it?

It would be hard to talk about luxury vehicles without bringing up Audi. It’s an accomplished brand that made a major comeback after struggling in the 80s and 90s after false accusations of unintended acceleration. Although the company was cleared of any wrongdoing (drivers were confusing the pedals), Audi sales dwindled. It tried renaming its models, but that didn’t help.

Today, the German company is known largely for high-end all-wheel drive vehicles with some of the best-designed interiors. It goes toe-to-toe with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But whereas the competition does great work with sporty real-wheel drive designs, Audi’s emphasis on Quattro gives it a leg up in rally racing. Audi still actively participates in motorsports. But our focus today is on the firm’s flagship 2014 A8, an extended wheelbase sedan with more technology inside than we know what to do with.

With a premium RRP of R1,545,500 the A8 isn’t for everyone. But it is a rolling technological marvel and an exercise in decadence, with options like massaging driver and rear passenger seats, a night vision camera, and panoramic sunroof. Not that we’re surprised to see so many niceties on the A8. Flagships are typically where manufacturers roll out their very latest capabilities. Oftentimes this turns out great, and we get advanced capabilities that end up propagating down into more mainstream models.

I still remember watching Jeremy Clarkson review the W220 Mercedes S-Class in the first season of Top Gear, fascinated by the car’s technology. Adaptive cruise control was brand new and only available in the S-Class line-up at the time. Clarkson mentioned that examining a flagship luxury vehicle is like peeking into the future of more mainstream cars. Ten years later, lo and behold, Ford, Honda, Subaru, and more all offer adaptive cruise control on their mid-size sedans, while compacts feature optional integrated navigation systems.

Back to Audi’s A8L, with so much technology that it’s overwhelming. No doubt, some of the car’s features will show up in the automaker’s more affordable offerings, while others remain lavishly exclusive. We’ll do our best in today’s story to cover each feature and predict what might appear in cars outside of the A8 family.

Our test mule is an A8 4.2TDI LWB Quattro tiptronic with the Executive Rear Seat Comfort Package, Bang & Olufsen Advanced Audio System, Driver Assistance package, Night vision assistant, Comfort package, Panorama sunroof, and Camera Assistance package, all of which take the car’s

price tag to more than the stated R1,545,500. (Audi did not supply pricing at the time of publish)

Right off the bat, we were introduced to Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) touch with handwriting recognition technology. This requires a bit of explanation, so sit tight.

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Tucked beneath a wood trim flap is a seven-inch LCD display that pops up every time the vehicle starts. It sports a resolution of 800×480, which is fairly typical in the cars we’ve reviewed. Of course, that’s not a high-definition output, but it gets the job done for traversing Audi’s user interface. That screen itself is not what responds to touch. Many of Audi’s competitors do use touchscreen displays. But we’ve noticed that more luxury-oriented offerings are the product of extra investment into user control. So, we tend to find physical control interfaces with more satisfying tactile feedback. Not surprisingly, then, the company so well known for its smart interiors exposes a number of buttons corresponding to the infotainment system.

A main rotary knob cycles through content displayed on-screen, while the silver buttons around it are associated with functions displayed on each of the user interface’s four corners. There are even dedicated buttons that take you straight to infotainment features like navigation, telephone, and car settings. Audio control over media, the radio, track navigation, and tone settings are right next to the control knob, easily accessible. Audi also adds a dedicated volume control knob in the same little cluster.

Audi’s MMI touch with handwriting recognition is by far the best infotainment platform we’ve tested. Yes, we liked Chrysler’s Uconnect Access, Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch, Hyundai’s solution, and Kia’s as well, but Audi’s technology package is in a league of its own. The experience starts with sitting down in the A8’s driver’s seat and realizing that you’re surrounded by an expertly-designed interior that’s comfortable, classy, and ergonomic.

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The process goes a little something like this: you melt into the driver’s seat and start the A8 using its push-button ignition. The chair remembers your memory setting and gets itself into position. Then, you rest your arm above the center console; all of the infotainment features are at your fingertips. Audi’s well-positioned control knob provides quick access to the system’s functions. It’s surrounded by those four buttons associated with operations on the display’s four corners. When you want to write-out your search, the touchpad reads writing from your finger, and that’s located to the left of the control knob. If you want to adjust the volume, you move your arm to the right and the control is right there. You can do all these things without taking your arm off the rest.

As you put the car in gear and start your drive, the analog gauges fluidly react to the motor; there is no pure LED gauge cluster for the simple sake of looking edgy, and we appreciate that. The LCD between Audi’s analog gauges ties in with the MMI touch system fantastically. Access to your phone book, music folders, and favorite radio stations is made easier with steering wheel controls that convey great tactile feedback and response.

You’re driving in the city and there’s traffic you don’t want to deal with. So, you turn on cruise control. The adaptive system takes over throttle control and braking to speed up, slow down, and even stop the car in traffic. If you’re only stopped a couple of seconds, it’ll hold onto the reins. When you’re stopped longer, tapping the resume button or pressing the gas pedal gets you back on your way. Say you need to change lanes. You hit your turn signal and the Audi side assist technology flashes its bright cluster of LEDs, letting you know there’s a little Geo Metro in your blind spot.

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Or maybe you’re on a rural road as it gets dark. The headlights turn on automatically and illuminate the road with 20 bright white focused LEDs. But, just to be safe, you turn on the night vision assistant technology. A deer might run across the road as you’re driving along, windows down, stereo up loud. You slam on the brakes, but Audi pre sense plus detects that you won’t stop in time. So it rolls the windows up, closes the sunroof, flashes your hazard lights, and forces maximum brake pressure to mitigate the damage.

You’re driving in the city and there’s traffic you don’t want to deal with. So, you turn on cruise control. The adaptive system takes over throttle control and braking to speed up, slow down, and even stop the car in traffic. If you’re only stopped a couple of seconds, it’ll hold onto the reins. When you’re stopped longer, tapping the resume button or pressing the gas pedal gets you back on your way. Say you need to change lanes. You hit your turn signal and the Audi side assist technology flashes its bright cluster of LEDs, letting you know there’s a little Geo Metro in your blind spot.

Or maybe you’re on a rural road as it gets dark. The headlights turn on automatically and illuminate the road with 20 bright white focused LEDs. But, just to be safe, you turn on the night vision assistant technology. A deer might run across the road as you’re driving along, windows down, stereo up loud. You slam on the brakes, but Audi pre sense plus detects that you won’t stop in time. So it rolls the windows up, closes the sunroof, flashes your hazard lights, and forces maximum brake pressure to mitigate the damage.
Alright, that’s a little dark. Hopefully you’re driving along your favorite windy road and want to have some good clean fun, so you switch over the vehicle settings for a sportier stance. Audi’s MMI touch system lets you do this with the turn of a knob. The steering and throttle become more responsive, and the suspension stiffens a bit. You put the transmission in sport mode and assume control with the paddle shifters. The A8, as massive as it is, provides plenty of entertainment. It offers immense power and you marvel at how well the car handles. The ZF eight-speed transmission shifts so smoothly and responds so quickly that you forget there is no third pedal.

It might seem like I’m gushing about Audi’s A8, but it truly is a technological marvel. Everything is integrated so well. The vehicle systems work together, and not just for the infotainment system. Audi connect with Google Earth overlays take already-good navigation and make it perfect. After driving this car and using its MMI, every other mapping solution seems underdeveloped. As a cherry on top, you even get Google Maps Street View to identify destinations easier. Here’s hoping more automakers follow Audi’s lead on this. The car and its accompanying technology are virtually perfect for our tastes. My only complaint on that front is the lack of USB connectivity for data access and charging.

If you’re in the market for a luxury sedan with smartly-integrated technology and sporty driving dynamics, you simply can’t go wrong with Audi’s A8. Yes, it’s expensive. But we’ve been in more expensive cars that we didn’t like as much. This truly is the best marriage of technology, comfort, and driving dynamics I’ve encountered. Audi understands the purpose of technology in a car, and its A8 is a manifestation of that.

In fact, I like the D4-based Audi A8L so much that I’m giving it the Tom’s Hardware Elite award. This is the first time our highest honor has ever gone to a vehicle. The company did a great job with its MMI touch with handwriting recognition system. The interior ergonomics are fantastic, as we’d expect from an Audi. The Google Earth map overlays really take the cake for infotainment systems, too. If I had the money to drop more than R1m on a luxury sedan, this is the one I’d want. Of course, if the A8’s 4.2 L engine doesn’t have enough muscle, there’s always the 500 hp W12 engine available as an option..

Review vehicle made possible with help from Lindsay Saker Bloemfontein

Willie van Zyl

Sales Manager

Lindsay Saker Bloemfontein

 

 

Papi Mabele
Tech enthusiast at heart. Lover of all things digital. Papi is the founder of SA Vibe and has been sharing his love for gadgetry since 2010. Papi sees no need for wearable tech in his busy schedule and considers the Xbox One as non existant. He may come across as bias at times, and still holds a grudge at BlackBerry for creating the 8520.
http://www.savibeza.co.za
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