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Audi limousine lights up tech stage

Changes to the new A8 range, labelled just a face lift, include some quite radical drivetrain improvements.

Fewer than 100 Australians will buy an Audi A8 this year, so why bother reading about the new model I have just test-driven in NSW?

Six deaths on WA roads over Easter - most at night - is one reason.

Though priced well out of reach for most of us at $195,000 and up, Audi's limousine model is the brand's oft-used platform to debut groundbreaking technology.

This time, it's the amazing Matrix headlights, which would make night driving on WA's very difficult country roads much less perilous.

Though the intelligence of these beams seems as sci-fi as the movie of the same name, they will no doubt pop up soon in cheaper Audi models and in cheaper sister brands, Volkswagen and Skoda, which is an exciting prospect or country drivers.

The A8 launch also provided a reminder of how difficult it has been for Australian-based car makers to stay up with the technological game.

Audi announced it would spend a whopping $22 billion globally in the next four years on developing new models, innovative technologies and production facilities.

Such investment clout enables the new A8 and S8 range, labelled just a face lift, to include some quite radical drivetrain improvements.

Otherwise, subtle cosmetic changes and a swag of high-tech driver-assistance systems moving from the options list to standard specification are the main adjustments to a car that provides a supremely comfortable, quiet and ambient driving experience.

The entry model is the 3.0TDI 3.0-litre V6 diesel, which sells for $195,000, with the long-wheelbase version an extra $11,900.

Ten years ago, if you had a limo that could reach 100km/h in 5.9sec, it would be a V8 petrol model that slurped 15.0L/100km or more.

But this car, which adds 6kW and 30Nm of torque over the previous model, sips just 5.9L/100km.

As a rule, A8s are used sedately as comfy cruisers but, for complex psychological reasons to do with buyers, they are offered with acceleration capacities far beyond what anyone would ever need.

So, there's an even more powerful diesel model, the $249,900 4.2TDI long wheelbase, which is the only V8 diesel among luxury sedans.

This one adds 25kW and 50Nm and, like a sportscar, can dart to 100km/h in 4.7sec.

Then, there's the ultimate, the $289,900 S8 long wheelbase, a 382kW V8 petrol model with dramatic performance advances.

Power is up 51kW and torque 110kW while the 0-100km/h time is cut 20 per cent to 4.1sec and fuel use is reduced 25 per cent to 9.6L/100km.

The frugality comes partly from the ability of the engine to automatically shut down four cylinders when cruising.

Now to those fabulous Matrix lights, which are driven entirely by software.

Truly smart, the Matrix lights can be left on high beam when driving at night in the country.

An ultra-light-sensitive camera constantly monitors other traffic to work out lighting patterns that deliver optimal road illumination yet mask out up to eight other cars from blinding beams.

The Matrix system also uses the car's navigation system to automatically engage high beam when the car leaves suburbia.

The sat-nav system also knows when a bend is coming, enabling beams to be directed into corners.

The night-safe lighting system also uses infrared cameras to detect, and a spotlight to highlight, animals or people.

Price: $195,000-$289,900
Engines: 3.0L V6 diesel, 4.2L V8 diesel, 4.0L V8 turbo-petrol
Outputs: 190-382kW/580- 850Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Thirst: 5.9-9.6L/100km
0-100km/h: 4.1-5.9 seconds