Audi’s new A8, official pictures of which were released today, may well share its drivelines and platform with Volkswagen’s Phaeton, currently accounting for whole forests as motoring magazines world-wide analyse VW’s first attempt at taking on BMW’s 7 and Mercedes’ S-class.

Nothing owners will see or touch in the new A8 has much in common with the Phaeton, and Audi dealers, miffed that the new upstart was launched months ahead of their stablemate, know that they have a trump card coming in the form of the Avant version, previewed at last year’s Frankfurt motor show.

That means that Audi dealers, well used to having their product shopped against the more numerous BMW and Mercedes sedan rivals, will soon have something unique – a luxury station wagon with as many as 12 cylinders.

For the moment, though, Audi is coy about such excitement. So would we all please concentrate on the present advance announcement.

Just as its predecessor was a bigger version of then current curvy smaller Audis, the new A8 clearly reflects the latest A4 styling with a high shoulder line, multi-lens headlamps, short front and rear overhangs and a distinct sharp-edged swage line that starts alongside the front Iights, runs just below the side windows and finally fades away into the rear wings. Huge spoked alloys fill large circular wheel arches and the corner tail lamps, first seen on the A6, extend into the boot lid. The car has presence and is unmistakeably an Audi.

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Initially, just two petrol V8 engines will be offered at the European launch this autumn; a 246 kW (335 bhp) 4.2 litre a 206 kW (280 bhp) 3.7 litre, both with a new six-speed automatic transmission with tiptronic function and optional steering wheel-mounted manual shift paddles.

The 4.2 develops 430Nm of torque at 3,500 rpm, accelerates the car to 100km/h (62mph) in 6.3 seconds and is electronically reigned in at 250 km/h. Likewise the 360Nm/3750 rpm 3.7 which does the 100km/h sprint in 7.3 seconds.

On the way next year is a new line of diesel V6 and V8 engines including a three-litre version aimed squarely at the Benz S320, which now accounts (are you listening, Americans?) for almost a stunning 70% of European S-class sales.
Also due is a 550bhp W12 petrol engine.

The new A8 again has an aluminium body built using the Audi Space Frame (ASF) principle, and quattro permanent four-wheel drive. All wheel drive was an option on lesser A8s in the old range but Audi makes no mention of 2WD models in its initial release details.

As before, aluminium running gear features four-link front geometry with a trapezoidal-link rear.

Of greater interest is new adaptive air suspension standard on all models and offering continuously variable damper settings.

The driver can choose between three predefined settings to alter the ride and handling characteristics from sporty to comfortable. There’s also an additional lift mode that lets the big limo hitch up its skirt for improved ground clearance on uneven terrain. A system with firmer ‘sport’ settings overall is optional.

Having no doubt nervously watched the backlash against BMW’s ingenious but overly complex I-Drive, Audi is introducing its own take called the Multi Media Interface (MMI) to operate audio and air conditioning with relatively simple switches.

Interior photos show a relatively simple rotary dial with four pushbuttons, not unlike the marque’s current audio systems, as well as an electronic handbrake. How it works remains to be seen – if just-auto is ever allowed near a new Audi.

Safety equipment includes an automatic tyre pressure monitoring system, two-stage airbag activation for the driver and front passenger and head-level airbag system – as standard plus active front head restraints.

Also new to Audi are cornering lights, and radar-assisted adaptive cruise control which keeps the car a safe distance from traffic in front.