Designing the 2019 Audi A8

Forget fine-grain leather and seamless connectivity—although the latest iteration of Audi’s A8 executive sedan certainly has that, too. But the next frontier in luxury, according to the German automaker, is mental clarity. The 2019 Audi A8, the brand’s fourth-generation flagship sedan, is fitted with a “brain-supportive” environment, an exercise in how design can impact calmness.

The interior lighting, textures and configuration conspire to “take off any kind of brain burn,” Kyra Bobinet (author of Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science & Design Thinking for a Mindful, Healthy & Purposeful Life) says at the vehicle’s launch in Big Sur, California, this month. “It’s brain-sparing, so that you can use your brain power on other things that matter to you.” Bobinet’s book describes a tale of two brains: the “fast” one that makes snap decisions and the “slow” one capable of deeper thinking. A well-executed interior like the A8’s should help shift passengers’ blood flow to achieve a clearer and more capable state of mind, she believes.

As car design becomes increasingly shaped by software and semi-autonomous driving features, Audi maintains that the new definition of luxury considers the car a “wellbeing platform,” an optimal place to rest and relax. Think soothing sounds, ionized air, and heated foot-massagers for backseat passengers. The goal is to design features that anthropomorphize the car to provide the comforts of a human with the capabilities of high technology. “When you come up to the A8, it greets you like a warm, kind person would do,” Bobinet says.

Based on the Prologue Concept Audi showed in 2014, the fourth-generation A8 bears the first iteration of Audi’s latest design language, starting with a wider, flatter look for the automaker’s Singleframe grille.

The exterior features LED matrix headlights, a wide body, and continuous lines. “You can start walking around and you find yourself at the same place at some point,” explains Daniel de Jong, Audi designer. The principle of continuity extends to the interior, where the eye can follow a single line emanating from the instrument panel to the dashboard, doors, and seats. “We take great care to make this connection as seamless as possible,” de Jong adds.   

Inside, Audi wanted to create a sense of ceremony, starting with a welcome chime, soft lighting, and an elaborate orchestration that sees the dashboard’s wooden panel recede as the air vents open to face the driver. A8 connoisseurs will notice that the curved dashboard features fewer buttons but more functionality than the previous generation. A pair of touchscreens integrated into the dashboard provide pleasing haptic feedback, responding to each tap of the tile with a satisfying click. Audi says the car’s handwriting and voice recognition systems have been improved to foster a sense that the driver is interacting with a person and not a machine.

But much of the car’s appeal lies in what’s designed not to be noticed. The handcrafted perforated pattern on the leather upholstery captures the A8’s specific curves and design of its seats. “This wasn’t just rolled off a generic perforated leather spool,” says spokeswoman Amelia Fine-Morrison.

Also notable is the emergency brake lever that measures the exact width of the shifter base beside it. The bezel that flows from the gearshift to the brake lever was “similarly designed to measure the precise length and width of the cup-holder to its right. 

“The symmetry in this is key,” Fine-Morrison adds. “Every piece should flow together, without this, the eye is distracted.”

Audi’s aim is to ease the mind through the subtleties of design. Concludes de Jong, “It is not by coincidence that something like this happens.”

Starting at $83,300 the 2019 A8 has a 335-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 engine and standard quattro all-wheel drive. A V8-powered and an e-tron plug-in hybrid version will complete the flagship’s line-up next year.

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