Big luxury cars don’t make much of a mark on the Canadian automotive scene as far as numbers go. Take, for example, the Audi A8. The company sells about 230 each month. To put that in perspective, Honda sells more than 5,000 Civics in the same time frame.
But these cars play a major role as halo vehicles for their respective manufacturers, showing what can be accomplished when cost is further down the priority list. Technologies and engineering introduced on these vehicles usually filter down to less expensive models over time.
The 2015 Audi A8 is a great example. This rolling portfolio of high-end technologies, assistance systems and luxury, combined with Audi’s acknowledged design skills, shows what the well-heeled can look forward to in a year or so and the rest of us years later.
The A8 is Audi’s flagship, and while it trails entries from BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche in this class in terms of sales, it has a loyal following among Canadians with Quattro in their blood and plenty in their bank account.
Visually, the 2015 A8 gets new front and rear clips. The hood, grill, lights and bumper have more pronounced contours than the current model. The rear is similarly updated with a new bumper cladding and lights. And trunk space has been improved. You have to be an Audi aficionado or see the new and old parked alongside each other to tell the difference.
The interior receives a similarly understated update, but there is a wide array of choice in colours and trim materials. The 2015 A8 will be available with a choice of eight different inlays on the instrument panel and 10 different choices for seat coverings including an exclusive new leather Audi is calling Unicom – a super-supple and breathable vegetable-tanned hide. How about individually powered rear seats, separated by a full-length, leather-covered console with a cooler built into the space behind the rear centre armrest? There is also a rear seat entertainment package and a 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Continuing down the road to individuality, the A8 will be available with a wide variety of engine choices and with two wheelbases.
Audi focused heavily on an array of technologies, enhancements to the engine lineup and a new optional headlight system. There are 15 monitoring and driver assistance programs, but thankfully – unlike some competitors – no mention of autonomous driving.
There will be four, six, eight and 12-cylinder engines in gasoline, diesel and hybrid configurations. The four-cylinder is paired with an electric motor in a parallel hybrid configuration. The V-6 diesel, V-6, V-8 and W-12 gasoline engines are all carried over but with updates that result in more power and lower emissions.
All will be mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels through Audi’s Quattro system. A new sport differential is standard on the S8, altering power between the rear wheels as necessary. A new electric power steering unit lobs 0.3 litres/100 km off every powertrain choice. Active noise cancellation is used on the W-12, 4.0 TFSi and hybrid versions to hide unwanted sounds.
The big news here, though, is a remarkable development in lighting that allows for brilliant vision while preventing the blinding of approaching vehicles or those ahead.
Audi calls it as Matrix Lighting. Each high beam is comprised of 25 individually controllable Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) that can be switched on and off independently in combination with information from an on-board camera. This allows the headlights to react more quickly to oncoming vehicles.
Each LED can be switched on or off individually, cutting off the light that would shine in other vehicles. There are no mechanical elements. Imagine – no need to change to low beams and no glare into the rear window and mirrors of the vehicle in front.
But not for us. The Matrix system will not be available in North America due to outdated American regulations and a stubborn refusal to update them.
And while it goes on sale in Europe this month, we won’t see the new A8 on this side of the pond until next spring.
2015 Audi A8
Type: full-size luxury sedan
Base price: TBA
Engines: supercharged 3.0-litre V-6, twin-turbo 4.0-litre V-8 (2), turbocharged 3.0-litre V-6 diesel, 2.0-litre four and electric motor (hybrid), W12.
Horsepower/torque: 3.0 V-6, 310 hp/325-lb-ft; 4.0 TFSI V-8, 435-hp/443-lb-ft; S8, 520-hp/479 lb-ft; hybrid, 245-hp/354-lb-ft; 3.0 TDI – 258-hp, 428-lb.ft.; W-12, 500 hp/461-lb-ft.
Transmission: eight-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
Alternatives: BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S-Class, Porsche Panamera
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