A High-Tech Fortress On Wheels

Audi A8L.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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The latest A8, codenamed “D5,” is Audi’s latest crack at the full-size, luxury sedan market largely dominated by Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and to a lesser extent, Porsche with its Panamera. To say that the A8 faces stiff competition would be an understatement.

Fortunately, there is very little that the new Audi A8L cannot do. It can’t drive itself; the doors don’t open on their own; it also doesn’t fly. Otherwise, the Audi A8L does just about everything else that you would expect from a four-door, full-size, luxury sedan from one of the world’s premier automakers.

Only the larger A8L variant will be available in Singapore - the “L” stands for long wheelbase. It’s a large car measuring just over 5.3 meters long and is 5.5cm shy of 2 meters wide. That makes it very nearly a meter longer than the A3 Sportback. As a result of its prodigious dimensions, the A8L is cavernous. The boot has a capacity of 505 liters and will swallow bags with ease. The rear seats are like business-class cabins with ample legroom and the seats themselves will even move forward and recline. It can’t quite lay flat, but it will get about halfway there.

Plentiful space aside, the A8L is also laden with gizmos. In the rear, the center armrest folds down to reveal a comprehensive console that adjusts the electric rear seats as well as a removable tablet that can control other parameters like the air-conditioning, rear window blinds, and even lighting. The lighting system is particularly clever and rear passengers can use the tablet to emanually adjust and direct the reading lights so that it only shines where they want them to. This is German over-engineering at its best.

Up front, you have even more tech. The center console is dominated by two large high-resolution touchscreen displays that replace your traditional buttons and switches. My preference is for physical buttons and switches because their positions don’t change and there’s a tactility to them that enables drivers to operate them even without looking. That said, Audi’s execution is sufficiently well thought out. The layout is sensible, the buttons and icons are large (thanks in part to the large screens), and there’s haptic feedback so you know your inputs have been registered. Some touchscreen systems can also be slow and unresponsive but that’s not the case with the A8L. The entire system is powered by NVIDIA and so the graphics are wicked and the interface is hyper-responsive and fluid like a modern tablet. And if you don’t want to fiddle around the interface and controls, you can always use your voice. The A8L features voice recognition so you can use natural language to navigate to your destination, call saved contacts, and even adjust the air-conditioning.

The drivetrain is clever too. Although the A8L isn’t actively marketed as a hybrid, it has an electric motor that kicks in and shuts the engine off whenever it detects that the car is cruising to help lower fuel consumption. Unfortunately, given how congested our roads are, I didn’t see this happening too frequently. Performance is adequate. The A8L’s 3-liter turbocharged V6 puts out 340hp and 500nm of torque and delivers its output creamily. Smash the throttle and the A8L surges forward calmly but swiftly as if pushed on by a raging cloud of marshmallows. Audi claims the A8L  can get up from 0 to 100km/h in just under 6 seconds and it certainly feels that way, which is all the more impressive when you consider how much tech the car has and that it weighs two tons. The ride is supreme. The A8L has air suspension as standard and it soaks up bumps, potholes, and undulations only a few other cars in the market can do. It is also well cosseted from road, wind, and tire noise, so it almost feels as if it is floating on a blanket of clouds. To further increase driving comfort, the A8L has a wealth of driving aids that help to keep the driver out of trouble.

Sensors around the car warn drivers of obstructions and dangers. They’re also used to enable features like adaptive cruise control and automatic parking, reducing the stress of driving a car as big as the A8L. And, despite being a large car, the A8L is surprisingly maneuverable. This is mostly because of its rear-wheel steering. It’s an ingenious piece of technology that is becoming common place amongst premium cars. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the front to decrease its turning radius. In practice, this 5-plus meter long luxury sedan turns as easily as any other compact sedan, making U-turns and parking a cinch. And at high speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front to increase stability.

To further increase maneuverability, the A8L also comes with dynamic steering. As its name suggests, this dynamically alters the amount of steering input based on the vehicle speed. So when you are parking or navigating through tight spaces, you need not turn the steering wheel as much. This, coupled with rear wheel steering, makes the A8L more agile than its massive size would suggest.

However, this is a double edged sword. Because if you are driving down a straight road and you want to turn into a corner, you are never quite sure how much you need to turn the steering wheel to get the car into the corner. I never quite got used to the dynamic steering over the weekend I spent with the A8L; owners should eventually be able to over time.

With its wealth of gizmos and technology, the new A8L is, in many ways, more of a gadget than a car, and it is a very impressive one at that, giving its lucky owners a taste of what the very latest cutting-edge automotive technology can do.

The Rolls Royce Phantom is often considered the pinnacle of this class of cars, but if you don’t have one and a half million to spend on a Rolls, I reckon that the Audi A8L delivers 90% of the experience for a fraction of the price. I guess you could call it a bargain, then.

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The 3-liter turbocharged V6 is creamy, refined, and puts out 340hp and 500nm of torque.
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A tablet in the rear armrest lets passengers adjust electronic seats, lighting, and even air-conditioning.
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The cabin is dominated by digital displays. 
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A super plush limo laden with toys to dazzle drivers and passengers.
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The 505-liter boot easily swallows bags.
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