BARCELONA -- The retooled A8 will become Audi's first production vehicle capable of Level 3 autonomous driving, the company said at the sedan's launch on Tuesday.
Audi becomes the first car company to claim to offer Level 3 capability on a production vehicle, which allows hands-off capability but requires the driver to take back control at any time.
The car can drive autonomously at speeds up to 37 mph (60 kph) in a setting Audi calls Traffic Jam Pilot.
"This will completely change our mobility," Audi sales boss Dietmar Voggenreiter said at the A8's unveiling.
Level 3 autonomous driving is not allowed in Germany, but Audi's CEO, Rupert Stadler, expects that to change next year.
The Traffic Jam Pilot will only be allowed on highways where oncoming traffic is separated. The car's sensors and satellite navigation will confirm that conditions are right, after which the driver will activate the function.
A series of audio and visual alerts will tell the driver when to retake control, said Mirko Reuter, Audi's head of automated driving. If the driver doesn't respond the alerts within the vehicle "will become increasingly annoying," he said.
Audi will embed the technology when the customer orders the car with the optional automated driving pack, but the technology will not be activated until legal and homologation framework has been approved. Once that has happened, drivers will likely have to return to the dealer to activate the technology, Reuter said.
The A8, which goes on sale in Europe before year-end and in the U.S. in late spring or early summer 2018, also is the first car equipped with a laser scanner (lidar) to help feed information on surroundings to a central driving assistance controller, called zFAS.
Cars fitted with the autonomous driving feature will also be able to park themselves in garages without the need for the driver to be sitting in the car. That function will also need to be activated by the dealer after the system has been given approval.
Other technology on the redesigned A8 includes an active suspension system powered by a 48-volt electrical network. An electric motor on each wheel adapts the suspension on that corner of the car based on road conditions, which are monitored for bumps by a camera scanning the road.
The 48-volt network also powers a mild-hybrid system that is fitted to all five of the A8's engine options, meaning all versions are partially electrically driven. The belt-driven alternator-starter motor helps reduce fuel consumption by delivering enough energy to power the car briefly from rest before the combustion engine takes over.
A plug-in hybrid version of the A8 mated to a 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline engine will provide 31 miles (50 km) of pure electric driving, Audi said. The plug-in hybrid will arrive at a later date, Audi said without providing more details.
The launch engines will be a 3.0-liter diesel and a 3.0-liter gasoline, both V-6, with an eight-cylinder diesel and a 12-cylinder gasoline following later.
There are no plans to offer the diesel engine in the U.S., Audi says.
The A8 will come with the option of four-wheel steering that reduces the turning circle below that of the smaller A4, Audi said. The system also ensures a "high level of handling stability" Audi said.
The profile of the new car is more like a four-door coupe than a sedan, Audi head of design Marc Lichte said at the unveiling. The slope of the rear screen gives a more cab-forward design that looks like the rear is pushing the car forward "like a classic motor yacht," he said. Despite the sloping roof toward the back the car has 20mm more headroom in the rear, he said.
The dashboard has been simplified to reduce the number of buttons. The rotary dial from the current car has now gone and replacement with a large 10.1-inch touchscreen that Audi says blends almost invisibly into the dash. A second touchscreen below controls the heating and cooling functions. Audi says its touchscreens are made safer by using haptic feedback.
The A8 will be available in standard and long-wheelbase versions and will be built at Audi's plant in Neckarsulm, Germany.