Review: The new Audi A8 50 TDI Quattro
Despite our technological advances, the world in 2018 still holds many mysteries: the construction of Stonehenge, the nature of dark matter, the pricing of cinema popcorn.
In the motoring world, however, the most prescient unknown has been exactly how and when all this talk of driverless cars will actually become a reality so that we can spend even more time in our day deleting emails instead of shouting at other drivers and making a hash of parallel parking.
Except, just when you’d decided it was so far in the future as to be less relevant than a Mars property brochure, a mainstream car stealthily arrives on the scene — right now — which can actually, you know, drive itself about a bit.
When I say mainstream, a AED340,000, five-metre-long limousine is admittedly a bit too “silver-haired-chairman-on-his-way-into-town-for-the-biannual-board-meeting-before-his-cardiac-check-up” for most of us to actually think about buying.
But if there’s one thing we know about industry flagships like the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class it’s that a brand new model is like a giant sharing platter of the very latest auto-tech around, the leftovers of which will eventually be handed out to every other car on the road including, eventually, your little sister’s Citroën Saxo. They’re like a small curtain twitch into the very near future so it pays to take notice.
And the headline story here is that through a combination of lidar, radar, myriad sensors and hi-res cameras, Audi’s AI traffic jam pilot can steer, accelerate and brake on its own at speeds of up to 37mph, while you do pretty much anything you want (this car also has a TV and a foot massager to give you a couple of early suggestions).
Probably best not to have a snooze though because when traffic picks up you’re going to be needed again quite swiftly.
This feature, according to Audi, makes it the first “Level 3” autonomous car on the road (where one is a traditional car and five is fully autonomous). Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler has used the phrase “25th hour” to describe all the extra time we can find when driverless cars hit their potential, particularly handy when you’ve only just started rewatching The Sopranos.
There’s a fairly juicy caveat here of course, that this technology will only be accessible when and if the laws of the land approve it and that debate is very much ongoing.
Here, it may not be until 2019 that Audi can start to consider a roll-out. But that doesn’t lessen the importance of laying down a marker on its German rivals in a race that is fast becoming more competitive than the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars.
There are a few neat AI features available straight away. Parking pilot lets you instruct the car to park itself via your phone app — while you’re standing outside.
It works the other way, too, meaning you can summon it like an overworked valet. Less flashy but equally impressive; if you try to open a door when a cyclist is passing, it’ll physically keep the door closed to prevent a wipe-out. And when the A8 detects another car is close to hitting your side, it can adjust and even strengthen itself to minimise the impact. The word “smart” is overused, but this car deserves it more than most. And perhaps scarily, it could even learn from Audi’s collective fleet intelligence to keep getting even smarter.
In the film I, Robot, our driverless motoring future is already mapped out. We will enjoy a period of semi-autonomous driving with the facility of driver involvement, before being attacked in a tunnel by an army of renegade robots. So we may as well enjoy those foot massages wherever and whenever we can get them.