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Tech-Filled 2018 Audi A8 Debuts With Robust Self-Driving Suite

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Audi is ushering in a new era of autonomy with the latest version of its A8 flagship sedan, promising an advanced suite that will steer the future of self-driving cars.

The 2018 Audi A8 introduces the brand’s new Audi AI functionality that allows the car to drive itself at speeds as fast as 37 mph (60 km/h), while also parking itself without driver intervention. The system makes the A8 the first production car to include the coveted Level 3 autonomy — one step below completely self-driving cars.

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Activated using a button, the Audi AI traffic jam pilot allows the car to take control of all aspects of the drive, including accelerating, braking, and steering, in slow-moving traffic. Audi says the system will only work on highways where a physical barrier separating opposite-moving lanes of traffic is present, and only at speeds as fast as 37 mph (60 km/h). When the system reaches its limits, it will alert the driver to take control of the vehicle. In the interim, however, the driver will be able to completely relinquish control of the steering wheel.

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The system uses a combination of radar and ultrasonic sensors, as well as a front-facing camera and a laser scanner to monitor the car’s surroundings during piloted driving. It does, however, come with one major caveat: Regulatory framework around the world still needs to be put in place to allow Audi to implement its autonomous driving plans. As a result, it looks like the full AI suite won’t actually be equipped in the A8 at launch.

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Beyond its self-driving system, the new A8 is packed with plenty of other futuristic technology, including an interior that relies heavily on touch-sensitive panels in place of traditional physical buttons. Executing on the brand’s so-called “black panel architecture,” the interior skips the rotary knob and touchpad of old in favor of a pair of touch-sensitive panels to control everything from the infotainment system to the climate control functions. The main 10.1-inch touchscreen display is a robust one, and houses all the features expected of a premium brand’s flagship sedan, but, when off, blends almost seamlessly into its gloss black surround.

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Underpinning the car is a pair of tech-packed features, including a new active suspension and all-wheel steering. As expected, the all-wheel steering system’s aim is to shrink the perception of the car’s size by using the rear wheels to turn with or against the front wheels depending on the speed of travel.

The Audi AI suspension, meanwhile, is a fully active system that can raise or lower each wheel independently. The system uses its own 48-volt electrical system to power actuators that can improve the car’s comfort or sportiness depending on setting and road condition.

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The car also features a remote parking pilot system that allows it to autonomously maneuver into and out of a parking space or garage. The system doesn’t need the driver to be seated behind the wheel to work, and can be operated through the myAudi smartphone app.

While the new technology rolled out in the new A8 is the big story, the flagship sedan also ushers in a new design language for the brand. Known for playing it safe with its sedans’ designs, Audi is adding a splash of character to the new A8, and in turn its entire lineup moving forward. While still slightly reserved it’s equally as imposing as any of the other three versions of the A8 before it and includes a wide-mouth grille that plays on the one featured on other models in the automaker’s lineup, including the new A5.

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Under the hood in North American versions is a 3.0-liter gas-powered V6 that will make somewhere in the neighborhood of 330 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque, while a 4.0-liter V8 version that makes close to 450 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque will follow. Audi also said mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions will follow, though it did not specify whether they would make their way to North America.

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