Pro Sense Side 00:00
Dynamic All-Wheel Steering 00:35
Rim Protection 01:05
Remote Garage Pilot 01:59
Remote Parking Pilot 03:03
Manoeuvre Assist 04:15
Cross Traffic Assist 05:42
Active Suspension Activated 06:06
Active Suspension Deactivated 06:29
Elevated Entry and Exit 06:39
All-Wheel Steering Activated 07:16
All-Wheel Steering Deactivated 07:35
Although the A8’s new chassis is good—there’s ample body control and isolation with the car’s standard air springs and adjustable dampers—the active-suspension models we drove weren’t yet fully baked. The optional Audi Intelligence (AI) active suspension, one component of a suite of intelligent features, includes an electric motor at each corner capable of raising or lowering that wheel via a torsion bar linked to the suspension. In effect, there are two springs on each wheel of A8s equipped with the active suspension: an air spring and a torsion bar coupling the wheel carrier to the electric motor. The motors and torsion bars eliminate the need for traditional anti-roll bars by enabling roll control as well as managing pitch and dive.
The active setup’s most promising feature, however, is the ability to float the A8’s body over road irregularities. The AI system scans the road ahead with a forward-looking camera (Audi calls the function Preview) and turns that data into wheel motions that follow the road’s shape. Before the front wheels encounter an elevated bump, the body is raised to provide the additional suspension travel needed to absorb the imperfection. Then, as the car passes over, the suspension is extended to trace the road’s topography. Dips and single-wheel events are handled similarly, with the wheels following the terrain while the body remains isolated. The system provides 2.0 inches of lift and 2.4 inches of drop at each wheel, enough to make speed bumps and manhole covers virtually irrelevant. Closed-course demonstrations of the Preview technology were convincing, but we didn’t get to experience it on the open road. Even though the active suspension was fitted to two test cars and performed as promised to limit roll, pitch, and dive, the Preview function wasn’t enabled on those cars. Audi’s Drive Select system is standard and offers three driving modes (Auto, Comfort, and Dynamic) and also integrates control of the AI suspension on cars so equipped.
The standard suspension is no slouch itself when it comes to comfort and control. Wheel sizes will start at 19 inches, with options up to 21 inches available. We didn’t sample the optional torque-vectoring Sport rear differential, which no doubt would have improved the handling. Still, we weaved the A8 up a road more appropriate for a Mazda Miata and were impressed with the big Audi’s grip and manners, although no one is pretending a car this large has any business attacking roads that tight. Steering feel, despite efforts to improve its feedback, remains as it is in most other Audis: laser-sight precise, but mostly numb. If Audi could elevate its steering system’s feedback to match its accuracy, it would possess the magic bullet sought by energetic pilots of every executive sedan.
The company has figured out that a sedan this long benefits from a tighter turning radius and so offers dynamic all-wheel steering as an option. The system operates over a wide latitude depending on vehicle speed and other factors, behaving as if the steering ratio varies between 9.5:1 and 17.0:1. It’s the inclusion of the rear wheels in the business of turning that makes the real difference. Below 37 mph, the rear wheels turn out of phase with the fronts at an angle of up to 5 degrees, making the A8’s wheelbase feel shorter and shrinking its turning circle by 3.3 feet relative to cars without the system. Above that speed, rear-wheel steering angle is in phase with the fronts and reduced to a maximum of 2 degrees. A cone-smashing parking-lot demonstration proved that you’ll either opt for the four-wheel steering or you’ll do a lot more sawing at the wheel in tight spaces.
Hit the Lot
Mercifully, the A8 is as well suited to parking-lot duty as Kylie Jenner is to Instagram. The remainder of its AI features are designed to enable low-speed maneuvers in tight spots as well as parking in lots, on the street, or in a garage. Parking Pilot and Remote Parking Pilot enable autonomous parallel or perpendicular parking, although this system, too, wasn’t quite ready for prime time during our demos. During one parallel-parking attempt, we stopped the car manually before it executed autonomous removal of its driver’s-side mirror on a concrete abutment. It was then unable (or unwilling) to extract itself from the parking spot into which it had wedged itself—the automotive equivalent of a toddler’s sit-down protest.