Think Tesla is the only carmaker that dabbles with near-autonomous driving? Think again.
Audi has an upcoming luxury sedan, the A8, which will come with Level 3 autonomy, meaning the car can drive itself… up to a certain speed. Audi claims it’s the first production vehicle to come with this level of autonomy.
The new A8 — which has the top spot in Audi’s lineup of luxury sedans — is so full of technology that merely listing it all is a daunting task. The most impressive of these is the traffic jam pilot that “takes charge of driving” in slow-moving traffic, which Audi defines as driving up to 37.3 miles per hour (60 km/h).
This means that in crowded traffic situations — the typical stop-and-go traffic you’d encounter on a freeway at rush hour — you can press the button and the system will manage starting, accelerating, steering, and braking. And yes, you can take your hands off the wheel, at least until the car decides it can no longer drive itself, in which case you’ll be asked to take control again.
To do all this, Audi employs radar, ultrasonic sensors, a front camera, and a laser scanner. All those systems add up to a lot of redundancy, and it’s a notch above what Tesla is doing, at least in terms of the variety of sensors used. That’s a big reason Tesla Autopilot is considered only Level 2 autonomy, while Audi’s goes to Level 3.
You may remember Elon Musk saying that all Teslas now pack the hardware to be fully self-driving (with Level 5 autonomy possibly coming by 2019). However, only some of the self-driving tech is actually enabled in production vehicles. Tesla drivers should never fully remove their hands from the wheel, and its Autopilot system works only in certain situations, such as driving on a freeway.
The new A8 definitely sounds more advanced, but it’s not clear which of that car’s self-driving features will be available at launch. Even if the self-driving system is enabled, the system will likely not be street-legal in every jurisdiction, so the full range of options available to you will depend on where you bought the car, and where you’re driving it. Audi says it will introduce the various traffic jam pilot features gradually, so even buyers self-driving-friendly states like Nevada may not be able to fully enjoy all that self-driving goodness right away.
Other autonomous features of the new A8 include the ability for the car to park itself into a parking spot on the street or a garage, without the need for the driver to actually sit in the car — just tap a button on your smartphone and you’re good to go.
Besides these self-driving features, the A8 also comes with tons of other tech, including a 10.1-inch touchscreen display, voice control, self-learning navigation, and an active suspension that can quickly adapt to road conditions. Luxury abounds: The passenger in the rear right seat — also known as The Boss — gets stuff like a foot massager, and that’s on top of the regular seat massage, private phone and a huge, smartphone-like remote to control all this.
All variants of the A8 will be MHEVs or mild hybrids, meaning they have a 48-volt electrical system that enables the car to turn itself off (and back on when needed) while coasting. This brings down the fuel consumption by as much as 0.2 gallons per 62.1 miles, according to Audi.
In the German market, the A8 will come in two V6 turbo variants: a 3.0 TDI and a 3.0 TFSI, with the diesel developing 286 hp and the gas variant being considerably more powerful at 340 hp. Two V8 versions — a 4.0TDI with 435 hp and a 4.0 TFSI with 460 hp — will follow “slightly later” according to Audi. On the very top there will be a W12 version with a 6.0-liter displacement and 585 hp. And finally, Audi plans to launch a plug-in hybrid version at a later date, the A8 L e-tron quattro.
The Audio A8 will start at 90,600 EUR ($103,243), while the A8 L will start at 94,100 EUR ($107,288), and will arrive on the German market in “late fall” 2017. The car will arrive in the U.S. mid-2018.