Aesthetics tend to be an area we steer clear of here at What Car?. Not because we don’t have opinions about what looks good or bad – far from it – but because we prefer to focus on objective truths. How a car rides or handles can be quantified, as can its performance and fuel economy.
And yet, there are some occasions when it can be difficult to remain completely neutral about a car’s design, and so it is with the new Audi A8. This new luxury saloon is, with the best will in the world, a bit dull-looking.
Now, this may not come as much of a surprise – Audi’s flagship has done well previously by trading on its understated Germanic looks – but the new A8 needs to go above and beyond what has gone before if it is going to lead the company’s planned ‘design and tech revolution’.
You see, this is no run-of-the-mill update. Audi claims that the new-from-the-ground-up A8 is the first production car to have been developed expressly for what it describes as 'highly automated driving'.
Available with a laser-guided system called Traffic Jam Pilot assist, the A8 can take control of starting, accelerating, braking and steering at speeds of up to 37mph, allowing the driver to focus on different tasks, such as watching the onboard TV. Groundbreaking stuff.
True, rivals such as BMW, Mercedes, Tesla and Volvo all offer cars that can control themselves to some degree. But the important divider is that none of the aforementioned manufacturers offer Level 3 autonomy – a matter we will explore in more detail later.
The technology doesn’t stop there, either. The new A8 also features active suspension, similar to the Mercedes S-Class’s Magic Body Control system, rear-wheel steering to improve manoeuvrability, and a body that makes use of a wider range of lightweight materials than any previous Audi model.
In theory, the result should be a car that can take on the S-Class on the motorway and the more driver-focused BMW 7 Series in the corners. So, over the next few pages we'll look at whether the reality lives up to this and if Audi’s new flagship deserves to be truly called ‘revolutionary’.