Most folks would likely not be able to distinguish the differences between the three generations of Audi A8 (okay, so maybe just all the grille/headlight changes within the third generation). Audi tends to style rather conservatively without making any major revisions to their biggest sedan. But in this fourth-generation version, things get even more serious in the tech department as well as the exterior design.The A8 has always been third fiddle to the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S Class, but Audi wants to do something about that. As a result, they're moving their A8 upmarket with more tech and luxury, as well as new sheetmeal.

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Though the vehicle is still styled conservatively, it's nonetheless very attractive with clean lines, the now classic A8 shape and perhaps the most pronounced version of its grille to date. The taillights are joined by thin chrome bar that extends the full width of the car, giving it a more regal look from behind. The new A8 will usher in a new design language for Audi, but it still keeps the Audi flavor we've become more than familiar with. We just wish they would be a little bit more daring. The new Q5 seems to take the mantle of the most dramatically styled mainstream Audi vehicle, and even that's fairly tame.

a8 front

Under the hood is where the goods are. There are five engines available in Europe, and most will come here. Two 3.0-liter V6 engines, gas and diesel, will be available at the outset and then a gas-powered V8 with 460 horsepower, and a top-tier W12 with 585 horses. Further down the line, there will be an A8 L e-tron Quattro plug-in hybrid with 449 horsepower, 31.1 miles of all-electric range and a state-of-the-art inductive wireless charging system, obviating the need for a plug-in charger.

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The new A8 will boast some serious autonomous tech: at speeds of up to 37.3 mph, the Audi AI traffic Jam Pilot can manage starting, accelerating, steering, and braking without driver input. That makes it the first production car that's Level 3 autonomous driving ready. Also, there's what's known as Audi AI technology that will supposedly learn the driver's habits, as well as regular driving routes. It will also make recommendations based on these preferences. The A8's 48-volt electrical system can raise and lower each of the car's four wheels independently, and will automatically adjust the A8 to increase occupant safety in a crash. The A8's handling and safety are also improved via four-wheel steering.

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Inside the cabin, there are more changes. Gone are the rotary MMI knob and touchpad (waahhh!), replaced with controls via the 10.1-inch touchscreen's voice command. There are also haptic feedback buttons and a smaller LCD display in the center console for gear changes. In the back of the A8 L is a lounge-like experience with an optional "relaxation seat" that comes complete with heating, cooling, and massaging for body and feet. The rear passengers will also have access to a full suite of entertainment tech and controls to make the Audi experience on par with its competitors. No pricing has yet been announced, but expect it to be a notch up from the current car's $82,500 base price.

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a8 rear seats

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