What is it like on the inside?
It wasn’t long ago that German manufacturers point-blank refused to put touchscreens in their cars. BMW caved and so has Audi, by giving the new A8 a radically different operating/infotainment system than we’re used to seeing from it. The ‘Virtual Cockpit’ instrument cluster is standard-fit and hasn’t changed much car-to-car, but rather than a single screen, rotary controller and separate, physical climate controls, the A8 gets two touchscreens. Think Velar, only better.
The top one is 10.1 inches and does everything, while the smaller one underneath is reserved for the climate controls (although it doubles as a keyboard/trackpad when you’re entering destinations into the nav). It’s a clearer, more coherent and more responsive setup than JLR’s – easier to navigate your way through and learn your way around. You can set it to respond to a tap and give no haptic/audible feedback, or require a firmer push (think Force Touch on an iPhone) and ‘click’. We like the latter, especially when you’re using it on the move.
Rear-seat passengers get a phone-sized screen in the armrest – standard on LWB and optional on SWB – that does rear-seat climate, opens/closes the blinds and controls the screens mounted on the backs of the front seats. And comfortable as the front (driving position is on point) is, it’s from the back seats that the A8 makes most sense. It’s a limo, after all, so you may as well go the whole nine yards and spec’ the ‘Relaxation Seat’. Among other things it gives a foot rest that massages and heats the soles of your feet. Yes, really.
Material quality is predictably superb, but we suspect the way the A8’s interior has been designed and laid out means it will appeal to a very different set of people than an S-Class. The Mercedes is all baroque curves and contours, whereas the Audi is modernist and straight-edged. For our money the S-Class gives a warmer, more immediately comforting environment than the serious, BUSINESS-ready A8 (foot massager notwithstanding). You might think different.