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When Audi launches a new version of the A8, it's fair to say it's a pretty big deal.
Not only is the flagship saloon the firm's most luxurious and high-tech car, it's also the pinnacle for the line-up in terms of interior quality and design, setting standards for the rest of the range to follow.
Now in its fourth generation, the new A8 ushers in the next-generation for Audi in terms of design, tech and autonomous driving, as well as being more powerful, more spacious and more economical than ever before.
Please take your seat
You can choose the A8 in both standard and long wheelbase versions - we're testing the latter here - and there's an enormous amount of space on offer inside, especially in the rear, making it an ideal chauffeur car. Boot volume is 510 litres, on par with rivals, while there are plenty of practical storage features throughout the cabin.
The seats are large and comfortable, with options to recline, heat and ventilate via various packs, and you can also specify an optional foot massager. As you would expect, material quality is exquisite throughout and the whole cabin oozes sophistication and tranquillity.
For the driver there is a new 10.1in infotainment touchscreen system along with a second 8.6in display underneath. In addition to a vast number of different features that you can click, swipe, zoom and scroll through, the two screens offer crisp resolution, and the system is easy to navigate around and control. Plus, behind the wheel is the excellent Audi Virtual Cockpit, now standard across the range.
If that doesn't sound high-tech enough, coming next year is the firm's full range of autonomous driving systems, which will enable the A8 to drive itself in a variety of scenarios including traffic jams, up to speeds of 37mph and parking - without needing any input from the driver. They just have to be capable of taking back control when prompted, with a camera on hand to see if the driver is prepared to resume steering the car.
For now, the A8 comes with a choice of two engines, a 286hp 3.0-litre diesel or a 3.0-litre petrol housing 340hp, although a plug-in hybrid will join the range later in 2018. Both come equipped with a 48V mild hybrid system to help enhance efficiency and create smoother start-ups. Here we're driving the diesel option and official fuel economy is now 50.4mpg, a 1.6% improvement over the outgoing model, while CO2 emissions fall to 146g/km depending on wheel option.
Powerful, smooth and refined, the diesel engine is excellent on the move, the 600Nm of torque providing ample oomph when you need to accelerate quickly, while the exceptional ride quality, courtesy of the adaptive air suspension, is a real joy to behold.
Engine, road and wind noise is virtually non-existent too, while the eight-speed tiptronic gearbox is superbly matched to the engine and the steering is expertly weighted. Opt for the optional dynamic all-wheel steering and you also get an extra dose of sportiness - if needed.
We're probably stating the obvious here, but the A8 is a big car, so it's not the most poised in the handling department; that said, body control is impressive and thanks to the standard quattro all-wheel drive system, there's loads of grip on offer too.
We could literally talk all day about the sheer volume of equipment available on the A8. All cars come fitted as standard with LED lights, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, wireless charging, and the aforementioned adaptive air suspension and stylish virtual cockpit.
Long wheelbase versions also get heated rear seats, four-zone climate control, electric sunblinds and a removable tablet, which enables rear passengers to control various functions and get the full limo-like experience.
Prices start from around £70,000 and options are vast. We sampled the rear seat entertainment package with two tablet screens, upgraded sound system, interior fragrances, massage seats and footrests, and luxury headlining. Excellent as they all are, they can get very pricey and it's easy to see the A8 creeping up to six figures - you have been warned.
When it comes to kerb appeal, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, arguably the four-ringed saloon's greatest foe, beats the A8 hands down. Some will prefer the A8's somewhat understated looks, while others will be more eager for the car that more obviously looks like its price tag. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit, few will be able to argue that the A8 is still an incredibly elegant car.
Technologically brilliant, comfortable and pretty faultless to drive, the new Audi A8 is a triumph, a masterclass in interior luxury and refinement. It's one of the few cars we'd actually prefer to be a passenger in, so we can fully appreciate the full breath of its talents. However, if the new autonomous driving aids are as good as they sound, the driver will soon be able to enjoy the A8 from both perspectives - which we believe is called having your cake and eating it.