2019 Audi Q8 SUV's trick headlamps are upgradable

These optional HD Matrix LED headlights are so futuristic they've got illegal tech -- but a free update could fix that if Washington sees the light.

Chris Paukert Former executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015. Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Chris Paukert
2 min read

The 2019 Audi Q8 comes standard with LED headlights, but the range-topping SUV will be optionally available with HD Matrix LED technology. The latter employs active high beams, making for some of the most advanced illumination ever seen on a production car.

Unfortunately, if you're a US Audi customer, those headlamps will be dumbed down upon arrival. Don't blame the German automaker, direct your ire at US legislators, who haven't caught up and approved the technology, despite the company's lobbying. 

When fully enabled, Audi's HD Matrix headlamps use a tiny mirror to actively adjust the light projection through a matrix of diodes. Their high beams can track and block light output from the path of oncoming cars to avoid dazzling approaching drivers. Same-lane cars benefit as well: The headlights can block out potentially blinding light from vehicles that are directly ahead, a technique Audi calls "predictive masking."

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Even though these advanced lighting functions likely won't be available at launch this fall, there's still ample reason to opt for the high-end headlamps on the Q8 (as well as Audi's latest A8, A7 and A6 models).

If and when Washington gets onboard with the technology, owners of Matrix LED models will be able to upgrade their vehicles' high beams to the above capabilities for free. A simple dealer visit for a software upgrade (sorry, no over-the-air update) will activate the headlamps' additional functions. All of the necessary hardware, including the control unit and light module with LED spot, are already onboard. 

2019 Audi Q8 SUV
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2019 Audi Q8 SUV

Optional HD Matrix LED headlamps feature advanced tech that federal regulators still must approve.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Even without an upgrade, Q8 HD Matrix units still include active cornering illumination that directs light based on steering angle. Additionally, they feature dynamic sequential front indicators, including daytime running lamps and taillights that display a special light show sequence when locking or unlocking the vehicle. This bit of start-up and shut-down theater is a nice luxury touch, but the main benefit of the Matrix hardware is that their high beams can illuminate much further down the road than conventional headlights.

While American consumers will still have to wait on lawmakers to experience the best lighting Audi has to offer, the company is already working on additional functions. In the 2017 Q8 Concept that presaged the production model seen here, the headlamps could also project words and graphics directly onto the street as messages for other motorists and pedestrians. This capability is being seen as a key future technology to better communicate a vehicle's intended path -- something that will be increasingly important as cars and trucks move further along the continuum toward fully driving automation. 

Update, July 2, 5:52 p.m. PT: This story has been updated to clarify the technology employed in the Q8's active high beams.