BEAR MOUNTAIN—My grandfather taught at West Point, so it's fun to be rocketing around these wooded environs in an Audi S8, which is just about the pinnacle of $110,000 sophistication, both in its fuel-sipping V-8 engine (well, 19 mpg combined, which is fuel-sipping for a 520-horsepower car) and its Google-enabled navigation system.
The name of the game today is preserving performance while racheting up fuel economy. The earlier S8 used a V-10 engine that offered 70 horsepower less, weighed more, and returned only 15 mpg combined. The engine produces torque nearly that of a 5.2-liter power plant.
One of the coolest fuel-saving things about this car is cylinder deactivation. On moderate demand, the V-8 becomes a V-4, and a 12 percent fuel economy advantage kicks in. The car has to be in third gear or higher for the system to work. "It is not acceptable to us for the driver to feel any engine difference when in four- or eight-cylinder mode," said Audi's Gerald Bonn, technology leader for the new V-8 (variations of which are also in the S6 and S7).
Indeed, driving it hell bent for leather, I didn't notice it kicking in. This is a big luxury vehicle, with every conceivable techie advance, including air suspension and Quattro four-wheel drive, but it can still manage a 3.9-second zero to 60 time.
If going fast isn't your thing, Audi has another trick up its sleeve—this car is totally wired. Not only is there 24/7 wi-fi for you and your passengers, but the navigation system is cued into Google Earth.
Up to eight mobile devices can hook into the car through broadband, which makes it as much a hot spot as the nearest Starbucks. It's the wi-fi that enables Google Earth and also the latest, updated data, explains Audi's Pom Malhotra. The incredible detail in Google Earth requires terabytes of storage (some 50 megs per kilometer) that has to come from the cloud, but it's awesome to be able to see real trees on the screen as you're driving, instead of cartoon ones.
Malhotra zoomed in on the White House for me, and we got as far as the door outside President Obama's library. With Street View, which works when you're stopped, you see the actual intersection you're approaching on the screen. The destination isn't just "ahead on the left," it's clearly marked on the screen.
Using Google Voice, you can say "spicy chicken," and the car interacts with Google's vast databases, selects four likely choices and sends them back for you to look at. It's far more selective than the car by itself, working from a DVD or hard drive, can be. Am I a tech geek for liking this stuff? Dunno, but it's certainly fun.