The high tech sedan becomes the first production car

After months of teasers and information trickles, the all-new, fourth-generation Audi A8 has officially arrived. The high-tech sedan becomes the first production car to include Level 3 autonomous capabilities, and it also has an intelligent active suspension, heavily digitized cockpit with new MMI infotainment engine, and all-wheel steering. Buyers in this segment who weren’t thinking Audi before might just want to wait a few months and schedule an A8 test drive.

Audi revealed the all-new A8 at the Audi Summit in Barcelona on Tuesday, focusing in on the German version, which will launch in late 2017.

 

Autonomy reaches Level 3

There’s a lot of technology going on under the gently massaged skin of the new A8, the most newsworthy being the advanced piloted driving functions. Audi has been one of the world leaders in testing and demonstrating autonomous tech, and it’s now cashing in by making the A8 the first production car with Level 3 capabilities.

That means the driver will be able to take hands off the wheel completely, for extended periods of time, under specific conditions. It provides a “flipping through a magazine or reading email” level of disengagement, though naps are out since Level 3 requires that the driver be prepared to take over when conditions begin to exceed autonomous system capabilities.

Level 3 autonomous driving is achieved under the push-button Audi AI traffic jam pilot system, which operates in slow moving traffic up to 37 mph (60 km/h) on freeways with a barrier separating the two directions of traffic. Once the button is pushed, the car takes over all starting, accelerating, braking and steering functions, freeing the driver to do something else entirely.

“They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the onboard TV,” Audi explains.

It might be tempting to catch some shut-eye, particularly if things are deep bumper-to-bumper with no signs of free-up, but the driver monitoring system is there to keep the driver awake. A camera does the monitoring, and the system issues alerts should it sense the driver becoming drowsy or sleeping, because the driver will have to take over when things start moving back up toward highway speed. When that time comes, the A8 will inform the driver with a multistage alert, and should he or she not get the memo, the car will brake itself to standstill.