Lap of luxury A8 adopts plug-in electrification as Audi’s top model
Having committed to a major electrification programme, the latest model to make the conversion is Audi’s senior league, super luxury contender, the A8, which Iain Robertson describes as the ideal rival to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in all respects.
When the first-generation Audi A8 appeared in 1994, it was a total revolution, not least due to its Aluminium Space Frame construction, which had already stirred up the market with the smaller A2 model similarly produced. Creating a sub-structure of extruded aluminium, onto which light alloy body panels would be suspended, was a primary means of reducing vehicle weight, thereby enhancing its performance envelope and increasing fuel economy, with an important recycling message incorporated.
Had it not been for the A8, Jaguar Cars would never have submitted to a similar construction strategy for its XJ model. All of the lightness, without sacrificing body strength and integrity, means that the full-size A8 is marginally lighter than the smaller A6 model, which ensures that its ‘performance per pound (weight)’ is exceptional but also exceeds the potential of most of the car’s rivals in the executive class.
Sharing elements of its construction with the VW Phaeton (which is no longer sold in the UK but was the basis for the Bentley Continental) helped to reduce early production on-costs. It was also a vital proving ground for the 4-Zone climate control that was tested in a wide range of extreme climatic conditions and could freeze the face and feet of a front passenger, while frying those of a rear passenger simultaneously. It is a system that remains uncontested for its capabilities.
In the period when it was possible to drive at near unrestricted speeds across France (now impossible thanks to masses of speed detection devices and cameras being deployed), I can recall driving to and from the Le Mans 24-Hours race, where Audi claimed its first major victories of the modern sportscar era, in a V8 petrol-engined S8 model that was not merely powerful and long-leggedly engaging to drive but also remarkably frugal (over 30mpg).
Now into its fourth generation, the A8 has kept ahead of the crowd by way of consistent innovation. Yet, its most vital statistic is its place at the head of Audi’s model list. With Audi’s perceived role as a technical showpiece for the brand and its VW parent, with total electrification coming in the not too distant future, the A8 exercises its hybrid (petrol-electric) capabilities to very good effect in the latest model.
Audi goes as far as to promote its A8 as ‘the art of serenity’ and, to be frank, I would not disagree. If the expression used by motoring writers around the world, ‘Audi quality’, has any merit, it lies in a range of models, from A1 to A8, that is the envy of each of its rivals. Naturally, the A8 is the grandest expression of its exceptionally well-ordered and logical line-up.
For the first time in its history, the Audi A8 is now equipped with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which makes it capable of driving distances of up to 28.6 miles (measured in accordance with WLTP practices) in pure electric mode, thus turning a large portion of daily journeys into a locally emissions-free and near-silent driving experience (it also features a synthetic ‘e-sound’ to alert pedestrians to the car’s presence). Its total power output of 445bhp (torque of 516lbs ft) ensures impressive performance characteristics conducted in complete comfort, while intelligent drive management delivers maximum efficiency (up to 113mpg) accurately through innovations such as freewheeling, brake energy recuperation and predictive navigational data. It can dip into its vast vat of torque from as low as 1,250rpm, which results in stately progress, allied to prodigious grunt.
The A8 L 60TFSIe quattro (long wheelbase) measures 5.30m in length and possesses a boot-lid wide enough to carry the model nomenclature. It will be available to order in the UK very soon, with standard wheelbase models joining the range a few weeks later. First deliveries commence in early 2020. For what it is worth, the A8s are not dissimilar mechanically to the Audi A7 Sportback 55 TFSIe quattro, Q5 50 TFSIe quattro and Q5 55 TFSIe quattro SUVs, all of which have been available since September, at which time they signified the start of the brand’s commitment to its electrification programme.
A 3.0 TFSI engine provides the core power, accompanied by a ‘permanently excited synchronous machine (PSM)’ (the electric motor), with a peak output of 100kW and a peak torque of 258lbs ft, as the electric drive. It is integrated with the clutch in the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox, which transmits the power to the quattro all-wheel drivetrain, which is one of the most advanced 4×4 systems applied to any production car. Its battery is positioned underneath the luggage compartment floor and consists of 104 pouch cells that are allocated to eight modules. The HV battery stores 14.1kWh of energy and delivers a total of 385V. The four-zone automatic air-con (mentioned earlier) works with the heat pump, which uses the waste heat generated by the high-voltage components. It is very clever stuff.
Riding on forged aluminium suspension arms and using air as a springing and damping medium, the usual Four-Mode and reconfigurable chassis settings can be dialled-in by the driver to suit his demands. Crisp steering and luxurious ride quality combine to provide outstanding agility, which comes as a surprise to the press-on driver.
In ‘boost’ mode, the A8 hybrid accelerates from 0-60mph in 4.6s, before topping out at an electronically governed maximum of 155mph. The car can drive on electric power, up to a speed of 83mph, for up to 28.6 miles. Three digital and configurable display screens can display all aspects of the car’s power distribution. As to the rest of its super-luxury interior, the seat behind the front passenger can be configured to provide a legs-stretched ‘massage parlour’ for the rear occupant. No corners have been cut to provide the ultimate comfort and total driving pleasure.
Conclusion: Boasting a technical specification that is at the pinnacle of current automotive capabilities, the Audi A8 hybrid provides punch aplenty, with excellent fuel economy and abundant luxurious accoutrements. Little wonder it is the choice of ‘red carpet functions’ worldwide.