Driving Audi's Awesome New S8 Made Me Ready For A Self-Driving Car

Photo: Alex Davies

Yesterday, at the invitation of Audi, I spent the day in upstate New York, driving the brand new S6, S7, and S8. With about two hours in each car, I did not have enough time to explore fully all of the myriad functions and technologies, but one really impressed me: adaptive cruise control.My first experience with cruise control was in my 1998 Ford Escort. There were two modes: on and off. Anytime I caught up to a car ahead of me, I had to hit the brake (turning it off), pass the car, then reset it. It was such a pain (and a danger), I rarely used it.

Driving the 2013 S8, I managed to turn off the ‘dynamic’ driving mode long enough to try out adaptive cruise control (ACC). It was a whole new world.

Disclosure: Audi provided travel and meals for us to drive the S6, S7, and S8 models at Monteverde at Oldstone in Cortlandt Manor, New York.

On top of setting the speed, you choose how far behind the next car you want to stay. Using a radar to detect that vehicle, the Audi slows down if it comes too close, and accelerates when necessary to maintain the selected distance, or until it hits the chosen speed.

It’s remarkably responsive: When a car cut me off, the car braked faster than I could move my foot, then sped up again when safe. Engaged while approaching a traffic jam, ACC smoothly brought the S8 to a complete stop.

The S8 is a huge amount of fun to drive.

Photo: Alex Davies

All of which brings me to my headline. Despite seeing a blind man being driven around in Google’s autonomous car, I have always reserved doubts about self-driving cars. They just don’t seem trustworthy.But after a few minutes playing around with Audi’s ACC, I was confidently weaving through tight traffic with my right foot off the pedals.

The A8’s lane-keeping technology makes the wheel vibrate when the car drifts out of its lane, so I had to keep my hands on the wheel. But the Ford Fusion, which I reviewed last month, actually steers the car back (it’s easy to override).

So I have driven cars that, between them, control acceleration, braking, and steering. I was comfortable, not anxious. And I am ready to take the next step, and get into a car that does all of the work itself.

Then again, I spent 90 per cent of my S8 drive in dynamic mode, which lowers the car and makes the throttle and steering more sensitive. It was a blast, especially with 520 horsepower to put to use.

I may be ready to ride in an autonomous car, but I don’t want Google to spoil my driving fun just yet.

SEE MORE: Beautiful Photos Show Custom Cars Racing In Utah’s Salt Lake Desert

The 2013 Audi S8.

Photo: Alex Davies

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