The creamy-smooth 2019 Audi A8 full-size luxury sedan goes on sale in November in the U.S., but several slices of its very elaborate technical pie will arrive later. Some of the features may not hit U.S. shores at all, but that die is not yet cast.
Chock full of tech or shorn of the leading-edge stuff, the new A8’s content level doesn’t change our initial impression that the all-new A8 is a heavy-hitter in the dreadnaught luxe class. Here are four features in its toolkit that won’t come to the U.S. initially, and may not arrive at all.
Level 3 autonomous driving assistance
U.S. market A8s will have lane departure warning, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a stop as part of its Traffic Jam Assist package of Level 2 active driving assistance features. European A8s receive a Level 3 suite of capabilities, one of which is termed Traffic Jam Pilot. A so-equipped A8 can drive autonomously at speeds up to 37 mph and below, as long as the car reads a hard barrier to the left and a car ahead, and the driver can take over the reigns within 10 seconds when those criteria change. Those barriers can be a line of cars (hence Traffic Jam Pilot) or a Jersey wall on a freeway.
It is not Audi’s decision to leave this feature out of the American car’s package. With the growth of self-driving-car technology, regulations have thus far been handled state by state. One state may deem self-driving systems legal while an adjoining state says they are not. To create a national standard, the House passed the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act in 2017 and passed it to the Senate, but the bill has thus far stalled. A car company cannot put non-compliant vehicles on the road, so Audi’s Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot may indeed arrive on U.S shores, but the proper national regulations will have to be put in place first. It’s impossible to predict when that will happen.
Active suspension and side impact conditioning
Audi’s new predictive active suspension in the A8 can virtually negate sizable bumps in the road proactively by using cameras that read road conditions ahead. Enabled by a 48-volt electrical system, the suspension’s network of controls and air springs will vary ride height, and prevent dive under braking, squat under acceleration, and body roll in corners. But these chassis gymnastics won’t be available immediately upon the A8’s launch in November. Supplier ramp-up for components and final tuning by Audi will delay full production until next summer.
One of the features delayed as a result is side impact conditioning. Audi uses the 360-degree environment cameras in the side mirrors to detect if the car is going to be hit from the side. If it is, the predictive active suspension raises that side of the car so that the impact is more fully absorbed by the lower platform of the car at rocker panel height, rather than mid-door. This helps dissipate energy more directly into the car’s major structure and also minimizes intrusion into the passenger area, thus making occupants safer.
LED high-definition matrix lighting
The new A8 will offer high-definition LED matrix headlights that use 16 total lighting elements, or nodes, per side. Sensors detect exactly where oncoming vehicles are and, with extreme precision, block the illumination just in the part of the total lighting array that will shine directly at those vehicles. Regular matrix lighting on Audis have eight nodes per side, to the HD’s 16. This HD system provides other benefits compared to xenon or halogen headlights, including lower weight, fewer parts to break, and lower electrical consumption.
While regulations set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also affect this feature, that is likely to change soon. Current regulations do not allow headlights that can change their lighting signature or pattern beyond the allowable low and high beams. The Audi HD matrix lights change the signature or shape of the beam pattern as it would appear to oncoming traffic in multiple ways, not just in a binary low/high beam manner. However, the NHTSA announced last week that it is moving to allow adaptive driving beams on new cars. The regulation is in the public comment stage and final action can be taken after that. The A8 has the hardware in place with the available lighting package. Audi will just turn it on when the regulation goes into effect.
Possible V-8 version
The initial A8 will feature a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 that makes 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. It launches the A8 from 0-60 mph in a conservatively estimated 5.6 seconds. Starting next year, EU customers will also be able to get a new twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 in the A8 60 TFSI that puts out 460 hp. The most recent iteration of this V-8 in the U.S. market made 450 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque in the previous-generation A8. Audi will also sell a plug-in hybrid turbocharged V-6, which will offer roughly the same total power as the V-8. Both models will be separate from a sportier S8 sedan from Audi Sport. Audi hasn’t announced if either engine is coming to the U.S. but the outgoing generation A8 offered a V-8 and the plug-in hybrid only makes sense. Another higher output version of the V-8 will likely power the S8, which we expect to debut late this year or early next year.