2019 Audi A8 first drive: The flagship goes even higher tech

Audi debuted its new, 2019 A8 flagship more than a year ago at its Audi Summit in Barcelona. The car arrives in U.S. showrooms in the next couple weeks, with several new technologies debuting. More about those shortly.

Audi’s Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series-fighter is a wee bit longer and taller than the outgoing A8, and we only get the long-wheelbase version. Our versions also have a little more chrome. The new car has more pronounced wheel arches and body creases and the new headlamps and tail lamps look like they came straight from the 2014 Prologue concept. Still, I think it’s fair to call the exterior styling evolutionary — the A8 definitely looks like a big Audi.

The interior is Prologue-ish, too, and details were seriously sweated. The cockpit is clean and good-looking, with a new, faster-processing and higher-def MMI interface. It has two screens now, 10.3 inches on top for infotainment, 8.6 underneath that for cabin comfort. You pinch and swipe them like your smartphone (some 35 buttons are now eliminated, Audi says) or use voice commands. It’s quite intuitive — after just a five-minute tutorial I feel like I know my way around the basics. Meanwhile, Audi’s second-generation virtual cockpit has a larger display and sharper graphics. Build quality and materials are top-notch throughout as you’d guess — the piano black surfaces and brushed aluminum trim look terrific.

There’s oodles of standard equipment, including heated 18-way power front seats, power tilt and telescopic steering column with memory, and lovely nappa leather throughout. Interior options include a right-rear reclining seat, a smartphone-size remote for customizing rear seating and infotainment preferences, 22-way power front buckets with massage and ventilation, a Bang & Olufsen stereo and dual-pane acoustic glass.

We first get Audi’s 3.0-liter aluminum turbo V6, producing 335 hp and 369 lb-ft. Other engines are coming, including V8s sometime next year. EV and plug-In hybrids (the latter with 31 miles of electric-only driving) are coming too, and word on the street is a 550-hp S8 is also under development.

Whatever the engine, all U.S.-bound A8s are mild hybrids using a 48-volt electric system to not just improve gas mileage but also help power all the tech.

Speaking of: Predictive active suspension arrives as an option next summer (active suspension is standard now). It’s always watching the road 15 to 65 feet ahead and adjusting the suspension according to what’s coming up. Audi claims it’s the quickest reacting suspension in the car business. The suspension also has 360-degree sensors; if the A8 thinks you’re about to get hit from the side, the car rises up to 3.1 inches so that, according to Audi, the impact happens at the stiffest part of the car. Four-wheel steering is also optional next year, as is active lane assist.

Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, of course, splitting torque 40:60 front/rear in normal driving but able to send 70 percent to the front or 85 percent to the rear when needed.

A 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 is the only engine for the new A8, at least for the moment.

The Execution

Our drive took place on Highway 1 in Big Sur, California. Twisting and turning along the Pacific Ocean, there’s one lane going north, one going south. Here I learn the new A8 is great at … following motor homes and cement mixers going 27 mph. I’m kidding, but only partially — there are many, many vacationers and some construction. Makes for a tough place to get the most from the A8.

Still, people pull off a lot to take in the view and I can’t blame them, so every once in a while I can create my own traffic gaps and play a little.

For starters, the driving position is excellent, and the front buckets are superb. Acceleration is fairly rapid, with 60 mph arriving in 5.6 seconds. Throttle response is a wee bit pokey until I dial up dynamic mode, and then the V6 is eager to rev and sounds good doing it — quite an improvement over the previous A8’s supercharged V6. Dynamic mode also makes for quicker gear changes.

The elegant march of technology inside the 2019 Audi A8

It goes down the road silently and effortlessly pretty much no matter the mode, always with a plush, composed ride and light but accurate steering. When I do get a chance to leg it some, there’s a little body roll in comfort mode, but not much. Overall the ride/handling mix is quite good for a car this big.

The cars equipped with four-wheel steering feel especially agile. The system turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction as the fronts (better in parking lots) and in the same direction above about 35 mph. High-speed handling is helped a lot: Lane changes are quicker, while Hwy 1’s sweepers are dispatched with ease, quick going in and quick on exit. Frankly, the car’s drama-free agility surprises me.


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