Let’s get to the point. If you are in the market for a luxury car, to drive yourself or to be chauffeured in, do you honestly consider anything other than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class?
Of course, if you are truly fortunate, Rolls-Royce and Bentley can throw their hats into the ring. But entirely plausible direct rivals to the Mercedes simply don’t punch their weight in sales terms. The power of the three-pointed star remains immense.
Nonetheless, Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Lexus offer very strong alternatives, at least as technologically advanced as the Mercedes, at least as comfortable, at least as powerful. For 2018, Audi powers into the game with a mighty new A8, a car that should open up more minds to the alternatives.
What the A8 really needs is a magnified presence: a design that doesn’t slip into the background, but stands up and is noticed. You can be the judge of whether Audi has been successful, but I reckon this 2018 model – with its larger grille, upright front end and muscular flanks – is more statesmanlike.
As is usual in this class, the A8 has the option of a long-wheelbase version, with reclining rear seats, body and foot massage, TV and on-board wi-fi. Front or back, the A8 is amazingly comfortable.
Soft closure for the doors means electric motors take over to pull them tight, and there’s a nice touch in the way the air vents on the dashboard silkily power open. It’s all rather classy.
Never for a moment did I think the current A8 lacked interior embellishments, but the new model moves the game along, and then some. Pretty much every traditional button has been superseded by two sophisticated glass screens mounted in the centre of the car. The upper master panel contains the usual satnav, phone and media requirements, the lower dealing largely with the climate control.
They are gloss black, neat and very stylish, and – against the odds for touchscreen devices – easy to use on the move. Audi’s delightful Virtual Cockpit, which allows several configurations of the instrument display behind the wheel, is also standard.
A big deal relates to the in-built preparation for driving by artificial intelligence (AI). Audi says the A8 is “the world’s first volume-built car developed for highly automated driving”. In simplest terms, the ‘Traffic Jam Pilot’ can take over in heavy traffic at speeds of up to 60kph (38mph) on dual carriageways and roads with a central barrier.
You can then relax, answer text messages, watch a video, the possibilities are endless, as long as you are ready to take over when the situation requires. Although not until individual regulatory authorities allow the use of AI cars, which seems some way off at the moment.
Instead, revel in the tech that is allowed: self parking, safe doors that won’t open if a cyclist or car is coming past, and wireless charging for the hybrid A8 from the floor of your driveway. Your phone can even be programmed to open and start the A8 for you.
And to drive? The smooth air suspension adapts to your driving style. There’s an option with the long-wheelbase A8 of rear-wheel steering, which makes tight spaces less daunting. Quattro four-wheel drive is standard. Performance from the V6 diesel and petrol engines ranges from fine to outrageous, and every model gets from 0-62mph in less than six seconds.
I expect Mercedes-Benz already knows it has a deeply impressive rival for its S-Class on its hands with the new Audi A8. Audi must be hoping buyers are less blinkered in future. They should be.