Where it starts getting interesting is the interface. A lot of real estate—maybe too much—is devoted to knobs and buttons, though many drivers will be happy for the level of redundancy. Directly in front of the driver, in the gauge cluster, is an abbreviated screen based display that's easy to scroll through with the steering-wheel controls, then more extensive screens are on offer through the main multi-media interface (MMI) screen, which still takes a little while to get used to, but it's been completely redesigned and reconceived here compared to the previous model. The eight-inch touch monitor is beautiful and easy to read from a wide range of angles, and a new Google Maps–based navigation system uses its own data connection to get live-updated mapping and routing information.
The A8 will be the first Audi to use a new interface that allows drivers to use their fingertips to direct the Multi-Media Interface—via a touchpad that's a lot like touch-screen controls for a smartphone. It recognizes alphabets from English to Mandarin to Cyrillic, and rests in a convenient location, beside the driver's knee. We weren't able to master, let alone become fluent with in such a short time, but the system is said to make destination and phone number entry much easier.
Audi has made an effort to provide redundant controls for the audio system and climate control; if you don't want to work through the screens, for many primary functions it's just a matter of hitting a button (and unless you're very new to the vehicle, you'll know where it is); the automaker has also included a physical volume knob.
Available as part of a safety-minded driver assistance package ($3,000) is adaptive cruise control, which will now bring you to a complete stop and restart automatically, plus lane assist and side assist. Also available is a night vision system that will help spot and identify pedestrians.
Although a Bose sound system is standard on the A8, both true audiophiles along with everyone else who simply wants to have the best will go for the Band & Olufsen Advanced sound system, which has 19 speakers, including small tweeters at the front of the cabin that emerge at startup, along with more than 1400 watts of power.
While the standard-length version of the A8 is intended more as personal sport sedan, the A8L plays the chauffeur-worthy part well. Also on offer in back is a rear-seat entertainment system with its own 20-gig hard drive and two 10.2-inch screens, or—for the classic executive car need—a folding table.