Audi's new limousine is a veritable luxe barge brimming with tech and personality
Alluring A8: Audi's new limousine Exquisitely furnished and finished, the Audi A8 also has black mirror touchscreens on the fascia and a fully digital instrument panel behind the wheel. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG

There is only one small dial in Audi's new flagship A8 limousine. The rest of the cockpit is lined with black mirrors - touchscreens from which you can access the car's infotainment system, as well as its long list of conveniences.

As unnerving as that may be for the technophobe, it is a taste of things to come.

Besides allowing you to swipe, drag, and resize on screens with haptic feedback, the A8 talks to you. Like Siri or Alexa, but more.

For instance, you could say you are feeling warm and the car will ask - in a most natural conversational voice - what temperature you would like to set the air-conditioner to.

Say you feel like talking to someone on your phone list and it will connect you.

Too lazy to key in a destination on the satnav? Just ask the car to take you to wherever you want to go.

Wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow? Done.

The artificial intelligence functionality extends to driving. If you so choose, the car will auto-cruise, keeping a safe distance and staying in lane by itself. Using radar, laser and cameras, it keeps to the centre of the lane (most of the time).

Because legislation does not allow hands-free driving, the car will remind you to resume steering control after a few seconds of "auto-pilot". The reminder goes off as long as you touch the upper half of the steering wheel. The car is clearly still in control.

A removable tablet allows the chauffeured to access all the cabin functions, including moving the front passenger seat forward to free up more stretching room.

There is no need for this, though. With a wheelbase in excess of 3.1m, the A8L (extended version) offers more legroom than you know what to do with.

It is a huge car - 5. 3m long, some 2m wide and weighing 2 tonnes despite a high aluminium content.

A suite of cameras - including one with a 360-degree view - makes parking the behemoth with its oversized wheels less daunting.

Rear-view steering helps too, allowing the luxe barge to complete U-turns where you would not expect it to.

On the go, the A8's 3-litre turbo V6 acquits itself very well. Producing 340hp and 500Nm of torque, it moves the car with surprisingly little effort and oodles of refinement. Squeeze the throttle gently and the heft of the car melts away.

The engine is well mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox last seen in the ballistic Audi RS4 Avant. In the A8, it shows no trace of high jinks. Instead, it transmits the V6's output to the wheels in a creamy fashion.

The car rides on an adaptive air suspension that smooths over the nastiest road imperfections. On this score, the A8 gives no quarter to its rivals from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar and Lexus.

It is as brisk as it is smooth. It clocks the century sprint in 5.7 seconds, which is amazing for a car its size and weight. Whether in stop-start city traffic or open highways, the Audi puts on a spectacular show of finesse.

The powertrain has a 48-volt mild hybrid assist, which allows it to coast with the engine completely off under light load conditions. During this test-drive, it was able to do so only once.

The device is supposed to improve fuel consumption by up to 0.7 litres/100km. The A8 is supposed to consume 7.8 litres of fuel per 100km, but the test-car's figure was more than double that.

The A8 is exquisitely furnished and finished. Open-pore wood veneer and lush leather set a stark contrast against the slabs of black mirror touchscreens on the fascia and the fully digital instrument panel behind the wheel.

On the outside, it is a handsome beast, even if the LED strip linking its tail-lights - so in vogue now - detracts from its design DNA.

The latest A8 is, at last, a serious limousine contender, with qualities that might even threaten the Mercedes-Benz S-class. It would be a sure thing if it had massage seats as a standard issue feature.

And that singular dial? It controls the hi-fi volume.