A8 launches in UK with two three  litre V6s. More powertrains, inlcuding a PHEV, and additional options will follow

A8 launches in UK with two three litre V6s. More powertrains, inlcuding a PHEV, and additional options will follow

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It may only be third in the UK premium segment but Audi UK is happy with its growing market share ahead of another barrage of new product about to be lobbed at German rivals BMW and Mercedes.

Communications chief Jon Zammett talks about the market's "flight to premium" and points to the year on year rise between 2016 and 2017. In 2016, premium cars accounted for 789,685 sales and a 29.3% market share of a 2,692,786 unit market while the 2017 tally was 793,522 and 31.2% of 2,540,617 new car sales down 5.65%  across all segments. None of Audi's models made the top 10 model list but rival Mercedes' C-class and A-class were ninth and 10th respectively.

Last year, Audi UK shifted 174,982 cars for a 6.89% market share, down 1.3% from 2016's 177,565, but not far behind BMW's 175,101 (also a 6.89% slice) and Mercedes' three pointed star-winning 180,970 (7.12%). Audi likes to show a chart dating back to 1991 (when you were lucky to get the steering wheel standard; even a radio was extra) with a tally of just 14,344 cars and 0.6% market share. The graph then charts an almost continuous rise till the credit crunch years of 2010 and 2011 and the bars lengthen again each year from 2012.

Also on the rise has been the number of models offered - 17 in 2001 compared with 53 in 2018. Average age of "the portfolio" is 3.5 years at the moment, compared with five at BMW and four at Mercedes, by Audi calculations, and this falls to 3.3 years in 2019 and climbs back up to 3.5 in 2020. You'd think there'd be little room for more between A1 and A8 and Q2 to Q7 bar, perhaps, entering the golf cart segment, but we are promised 21 launches over 24 months of both new and improved products.

As well as Audi's first battery electric vehicle, the e-tron, there will also be a flagship Q8 SUV and more PHEV models like the current A3 and Q7 e-tron variants.

New A8

Just launching now, the A8 sedan, in standard and long wheelbase forms, is claimed to be the first production car developed for "highly automated driving" although its Level 3 SAE autonomous capability initially will be switched off although individual items such as parking and garage pilots (self parking, even by remote control) and traffic jam pilot will become available throughout 2018. The traffic jam feature can drive the car in slow traffic up to 37mph where there is a physical barrier between opposing carriageways. An AI button on the centre console will activate it. Radar and ultrasonic sensors, a front camera and a laser scanner will send data to a central controller which will manage starting, acceleration, steering and braking. 'Hands off' driving will be possible.

This redesign also introduces a 48V mild hybrid system. The car starts out with two new petrol and diesel V6s now badged 50 for the 286PS 3.0TDI diesel and 55 for the 340PS 3.0TFSI petrol. A four litre V8 diesel TDI (no petrol, sadly) developing 435PS follows later as does a six-litre W12. All four get a belt alternator starter as the basis of the 48V system which allows the car to coast with the engine switched off and restart smoothly. It also has 'extended' start-stop and energy recovery output of up to 12kW. It operates seamlessly and rather better than the standard starter motor operated start-stop in lesser Audi models which has an annoying delay that discourages taking advantage of that gap on the roundabout you are not 100% sure the car will make while the engine restarts. 'Course it's all about lower CO2s and fuel economy and Audi claims fuel consumption is reduced by up to 0.7litres/100km.

Entering and starting the A8, offered in standard or L(ong) wheelbase sizes, is a treat. Fit and finish and choice of materials is superb (and the buyer has a huge list of options and trim, paint and finish items to choose from, mostly at extra cost) and, though it's not an original idea, vents that ooze open electrically and dashboard end tweeters whose reflectors rise to greet you are a great novelty and bragging point. Most of the switchgear and customisable, all-digital instrument panel (Google Earth standard satnav views with speedo and other dials reduced in scale and tucked in alongside is always a treat) are Audi's current standard with one major change - the MMI (Man Machine Interface) is gone to be replaced by two digital screens. The one below looks after HVAC and posterior heat and cooling; the main one is for everything else. Haptic feedback is all very well but the old MMI could be worked by feel, once you learned what each of four switches and a rotate-and-push dial did in each mode such as audio, radio, satnav, phone, etc. I'd need more time to be convinced the all-digital approach is an improvement but it sure looks impressive.

Each A8 will doubtless be built to order and the options list is long and expensive - a GBP74,000 car we tried had over GBP30,000 of extra items added.

Notable kit included electronic control selection of dash vent flow rates, single or twin all-glass sunroofs that open, trick LED ambience lighting, a removable remote control for rear compartment seat and HVAC settings and even a rear passenger footrest that can heat and massage the tootsies. Just tick the box and they'll install it.

In keeping with the electrification promise, an A8 L e-tron quattro version PHEV is coming, too. That, badged 60, will combine the petrol 3.0 TFSI V6 with an electric motor to give 449PS of system power and neck-snapping 700Nm of torque. The li-ion battery pack promises about 31 miles of all-lecky driving. Audi will offer Wireless Charging using a pad in the garage floor to transfer power inductively to a receiver coil in the car. Brilliant.

Also coming is a predictive active suspension system, optional of course, which can raise or lower each wheel using electric actuators depending on driver command and driving conditions. Audi says this will give better ride and handling compromise, blending classic luxury sedan and driver-oriented performance car. Also, in connection with collision sensing, this system can quickly raise the car in case of a lateral collision, reducing the chances of serious injury.

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