First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Audi A8

Exterior changes are limited to the hood, headlights, tail lights and fascias

2015 Audi A8 - front 3/4 view low

DUSSELDORF, GERMANY – Luxury cars that serve as the flagship for a brand, typically introduce new technologies that trickle down into more affordable and common models within the range and elsewhere in the industry.

Let’s hope that proves to be the case with the 2015 Audi A8. Unfortunately, one of the most impressive new technologies in years, available on this new Audi in other markets, will have to wait for American, and thus Canadian, regulatory approval.

Canadians will also have to wait for American consumers to embrace diesel technology before we will be able to benefit from Audi’s engine expertise, also showcased in this new A8.

Taboo technology

For other markets, Audi has directly tackled the problem of headlight glare – both into the windshield of approaching vehicles and the mirrors and rear windows of vehicles ahead – with what it calls Matrix headlights. These lights react to oncoming or leading vehicles, shutting down any light that would strike them.

2015 Audi A8 - W12 front grille.JPGEach high beam unit is composed of 25 individually controllable light emitting diodes (LEDs) which can be turned on or off independently allowing for an astonishing 966,105,422 (that's 966-million!) different combinations of light distribution.

To witness their effectiveness is to make you shake your head as to why such a significant safety feature has to wait for the glacial pace of regulatory bodies like the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Canadian lighting regulations, like most safety, emission and other vehicle standards echo those of the US.

Audi joins BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and Volvo in this battle to have new LED lighting technologies recognized by NHTSA. That group says it is working with SAE International, the auto industry engineering body, in studying these new technologies.

Diesel uberperformer

The other lasting impression I took away from the international reveal of the new A8 here was the awesomeness of a 4.2-litre twin-turbo V-8 diesel engine.

2015 Audi A8.jpgWith 385-horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque, this clean diesel pushes the big luxury car to 100 km/h from rest in 4.7 seconds and yet sips fuel at the rate of 7.1 litres/100 km on the highway! It didn’t take more than a few minutes getting to and on the Autobahn to fall in love.

But the take rate on diesels in the U.S. is still low, so Audi’s marketing decision makers decided the 3.0-litre V-6 diesel would satisfy that meagre demand. And here in Canada, the sheer lack of volume in this price category prevents an exception.

There's still the S8

But enthusiasts need not lose heart or look elsewhere. When it crosses the Atlantic next year, the big Audi will continue to be available in S8 guise with its own version of the company’s 4.0-litre, twin-turbo gasoline-powered V-8.

The more plebian version of this engine, used elsewhere in the A8 and other Audis, produces an impressive 435 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque.

2015 Audi A8 - rear 3/4 view.JPGBut crank up the boost, dial in some more compression and fiddle with a few other parameters and you get 520 horsepower, 479 lb-ft of torque and the ability to reach 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds!

The S8 is differentiated from other A8s visually by some badges, unique interior trim and a quartet of oval exhaust outlets. All other A8s have a pair of trapezoidal pipes.

What you don’t see is a new "sport" differential that allows the Quattro system to apportion power to each rear wheel individually. Or the fact the engine incorporates cylinder deactivation under no- and low-load conditions.

Few other changes

I haven’t mentioned other changes to the 2015 A8 simply because they are not as evident or significant.

Exterior changes are limited to the hood, headlights, tail lights and front and rear bumper caps.

2015 Audi A8 -steering wheel and instrument ;panel.JPGInside there are a raft of new appearance choices – eight for inlays on the instrument panel and 10 for seat coverings, including a new vegetable-tanned, breathable, leather called Unicom.

Various rear seat packages allow the buyer to tailor the A8 to limousine specifications, including individually reclining lounge chairs flanking a cooler and an infotainment package with screens on the backs of the front seat and a 1,400-watt, 19-speaker B&O audio system.

2015 Audi A8 - back seat.JPGThe trunk is 10-cm deeper thanks to a new rear seat design, but there is no provision to fold the rear seat for additional space, only a pass-through for long items like skis.

To these eyes the A8 continues to set the high water mark for the industry when it comes to interior design and execution. The layout, ergonomics, fit/finish and quality of materials is beyond reproach and made even better for 2015 with the addition of so many choices.

2015 Audi A8 - front seats.JPGIt is also a rolling portfolio of 15 high-end technologies and assistance systems including, a night vision assist systems that detects both humans and large animals, an adaptive cruise control that will bring the vehicle to a complete stop if necessary and start it underway as permitted.

The braking system incorporates what Audi calls "Pre-Sense" to prepare for an emergency stop. There is also available side assist, lane assist, park assist and a heads-up display.

The new A8 is entering the European market this fall and will make it way across the Atlantic next year as a 2015 model.

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