This MK4 model Audi A8 faces some tough rivals, but there's an argument that it's as good as any of its competitors, even Mercedes' mighty S-Class. It's smarter, larger and more sophisticated and claims to be the first production car in the world to have been developed for highly automated driving.
The array of engines you get in the latest A8 is pretty mouth-watering. While it's true that the oily bits have been tweaked rather than offering anything overwhelmingly novel, they were good to begin with and have just got better. There are two extensively re-engineered V6 turbo engines: a 3.0 TDI and a 3.0 TFSI. The diesel develops 286PS, and the petrol version 340PS. There's also an eight-cylinder TDI - a 4.0-litre with 435PS - and as before, the exclusive top engine version is the W12 with a displacement of 6.0 litres. An e-tron quattro variant has also been developed, this derivative mating a 3.0 TFSI petrol engine with an electric motor to achieve a 449PS output and 700Nm of torque.
This time round, dynamic all-wheel steering complements the standard quattro permanent all-wheel drive system and buyers also get Audi AI active suspension, a fully active suspension set-up. Depending on the driver's wishes and the driving situation, it is capable of raising or lowering each wheel separately with electric actuators. This newfound latitude enables it to deliver the polished ride comfort of a classic luxury saloon and the taut, composed agility of a more driver-oriented performance car in equal measure. It's clever. It's an Audi. What else did you expect?
Audi says that this fourth generation A8 signals the beginning of a new design era for the entire brand. The front end with its wide, upright Singleframe grille and the fluid, muscular body both aim to convey power, elegance, sophistication and modernity. As before, two body styles are available, the 5.17-metre 'standard' version and the A8 L, which has a 13cm-longer wheelbase. Space is often considered to be the ultimate luxury, and compared to its predecessor this MK4 A8 has grown substantially in length in both body styles. Occupants can also now relax in even more sublime surroundings, with every detail radiating superlative bespoke quality - from the perforation in the seat upholstery to the electrically opening and closing shutters on the air vents.
The most sought-after seat in the new Audi flagship model could quite possibly be the rear left - the optional relaxation seat in the A8 L that comes with four different adjustment options and a footrest. In this seat, the passenger can warm and massage the soles of their feet on a unit with multiple settings incorporated into the back of the front-passenger seat. Up-front, the instrument panel is largely free of buttons and switches. At its centre is a 10.1-inch touchscreen display which, when off, blends almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround thanks to its black-panel look.
This fourth generation A8 is an impressive achievement. Every car in this segment is. As it should be, this is a showcase for Audi's best and most advanced engineering, aluminium construction and quattro all-wheel-drive now joined by astonishingly clever industry-leading automated driving technologies. Add in classier design and a range of engines that are pokier yet cleaner and more frugal and you've a formidable luxury saloon.
But is it one that you can bond with, a luxury conveyance you'll love as well as admire? The answer depends upon the owner of course. Some may still see this A8 as being a little remote compared to a wood-panelled Jaguar, a status-conscious Mercedes or a proudly opulent BMW. I'm guessing though, that a significant number of boardroom buyers might now find this Audi a surprisingly complete all-round choice. Hugely capable, innovative and beautifully built, this is the car that rivals always feared Audi would build. And if you're in this market, it's one you need to try.Click here to find out more about our Audi A8 range