Car reviews - Audi - A8
Cabin quietness, ride, silky-smooth powertrains and transmission, available tech features, high quality interior
Room for improvement
Some gear in options packages should be standard at this price, some tech features not available until next year
Audi goes tech heavy with new generation A8 luxury sedan
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20 Jul 2018
THERE’S no better way to show off your wealth than with a very large, feature-packed luxury sedan – the longer the wheelbase the better.
Big premium limos, such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, might not have the same cache they did in the 1990s, but they act as each brand’s respective flagship model and are often used to introduce new tech and high-end features to their model ranges.
Audi’s A8 has played third fiddle in the sales race to its two key German rivals for a while now, but the all-new version ushers in the latest on-board and powertrain tech, and combined with a more reasonable opening price, it is the company’s best chance yet to prove its mettle in the low-volume segment.
AS IS standard practice for a big German premium car-maker, Audi has used the new-generation version of its flagship model – in its case, the A8 – to show off its latest advancements in automotive technology.
Unfortunately for Audi, the Ingolstadt-based brand’s latest driverless technology is more than a few steps ahead of the world’s governments, which are yet to lay down any solid regulations to deal with the coming rollout of autonomous vehicles.
That means its fancy new Traffic Jam Pilot system, which can take control of the vehicle on divided freeways at speeds below 60km/h and was detailed at the fourth-generation sedan’s reveal in Spain last July, will not be available on any A8 from launch – at least until the EU and other government regulators around the world work out how this is going to work.
The cool AI active suspension and the remote parking function will also not be available on A8 until next year for some reason.
Rather than seeing this as a negative, Audi is still happy to talk about the tech regardless. It is also keen to talk up all of the other tech that is available from launch in the new A8. And there is a lot of it.
Audi is sharing the love, too. Not all of the new-fangled goodies are for the driver. There are some very cool new features that are specifically designed to pamper rear-seat occupants. But more on that later.
The A8’s design is inspired by that of the sleek Prologue concept from the 2014 Los Angeles motor show, which was the first effort from the then new Audi design chief, Marc Lichte.
The inspiration is clear, but the A8 has been toned down for production, with more conventional front-end styling and an overall shape that is similar to the model it replaces.
It has a striking silhouette and an appealing shoulder line running the length of the car, while the tail-lights that run across the length of the boot have an interesting, modern signature. The A8 has road presence in spades.
While external beauty helps, it is in the cabin where Audi and its cohorts start to show off.
Each new generation of these limos raises the bar for comfort, infotainment and safety tech, and the A8 is no exception.
From the driver’s seat, the dash design is unmistakably modern Audi, and it matches the layout of the recently revealed Q8 SUV, with which it shares many of its mechanicals, including the MLBEvo VW Group platform.
Unsurprisingly for this price point, the A8 is fitted with the most premium of materials, with everything from the dash and door panels to the various woodgrain and other inserts feeling expensive.
A unfortunate looking gap in the join of the passenger side speaker and the top of the arm rest was probably the most noticeable flaw.
The gorgeous horizontal four-spoke steering wheel looks like a throwback to a luxury car from the 1990s – in a really good way – and it feels high-end, while the front seats are plush and incredibly supportive. You don’t sink into them in the way you do in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but that’s ok with us.
The capacitive dual touchscreens that showcase the tech packed into the A8 take some adjusting to. Pressing a flat touchscreen but then getting feedback is a bit weird at first.
Like most touchscreen-based systems, fingerprints and smudges are just going to happen, so expect to do some screen cleaning every now and then. Better still, if you own an A8 you can probably afford to pay someone to clean it for you.
Also, note to Infiniti – this is how you successfully design a dual-screen set-up, not that unfortunate looking situation in the Q50 and Q60.
Audi says that new A8 buyers will require a decent amount of time with a specialist at the dealership when they pick the car up just to explain the latest gadgets. It’s not surprising. There’s a lot to get your head around.
Everything from seat adjustment, Audi’s drive mode select, sat-nav, climate control and a lot more are all controlled through the screens.
More time than what we got on a launch drive is required to fully familiarise yourself with the various menus, but earlier versions of the system in some of Audi’s other models is logically ordered, clear and user friendly.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is by far one of the best in the business and the version in the A8 is excellent.
Looking down at the cluster and the two screens reveals just how much information is available immediately to the driver. It can be a bit overwhelming, so best to just focus on the info that you need at any given time.
Now to the rear seat. We spent a good freeway run in the rear of the standard-wheelbase 55 TFSI that retails for $195,000 excluding on-road costs, but it was fitted with an $11,000 premium plus package that adds a number of exterior flourishes, as well as privacy glass, more leather, rear “comfort” headrests and electric sunblinds keeping the rear of the cabin cool.
While it is indeed super comfortable back there – the exceptional ride quality helped that too – anyone who wants to be truly pampered will probably pay the extra $15,000 for the long-wheelbase ‘L’ version, which is available in the 55 TFSI and the 50 TDI.
We had a little pampering time in the back of a stationary A8 L that provided us with a glimpse of how the other half live. And it was impressive.
But – and it is a big but – the majority of the features, which make the rear-seat experience of the A8 so incredibly impressive, are part of a rather pricey options package.
The base price for the L is $207,000 for the 50 TDI or $210,000 for the 55 TFSI. The pampering pack, also known as the executive package, includes two individual rear contour seats that are electrically adjustable with four-way lumbar support, folding tables in rear centre console, an extended centre console, front and rear seat ventilation and massage function, a front and rear heat comfort package with heated armrests in the doors and centre armrests, and a heated steering wheel, as well as a relaxation seat function for the passenger side rear seat that includes a footrest with heated foot massage function.
This costs $18,500 and can only be optioned if you choose the $6650 entertainment package that includes a six-disc DVD changer and a rear-seat entertainment system with two Audi tablets.
That’s $25,150 right there. Not to mention the $13,200 HD Matrix LED headlights and OLED tail-lights, $11,000 premium plus package, $4500 all-wheel steering, $5200 night vision assist and $12,100 Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, all of which brought the price of that particular car to $281,150.
Suddenly the rear-seat experience is not so relaxing.
The offering is not light years away from what BMW and Benz offer for their 7 Series and S-Class respectively when it comes to options, and at least Audi packages them up. However, after recently spending a week with the new-generation Lexus LS, we think this is a bit much.
We get that not every buyer wants the same thing, but come on, Audi, surely a long-wheelbase German limo should come with at least some of this stuff as standard.
Lexus essentially has two options for the LS – metallic paint and a $9880 ‘Kiriko’ cut glass ornamentation and hand-pleated trim. Everything else, including a massage function that massages your bum, is standard. It might not match the tech credentials of the A8, but the Lexus has the Audi, and indeed anything in this segment, beat for value.
The Audi has it over the Lexus when it comes to overall space in the rear, in either standard or long-wheelbase guise. There is head, knee and legroom aplenty.
Back to the driver’s seat. The Stop&Go system that functions in traffic jam situations, creeping ahead when the traffic moves and slowing to a stop when the traffic does, worked like a charm for the most part, but it failed to recognise another car merging slowly into our lane.
The very cool (and very expensive) $13,200 HD Matrix LED headlights block out objects in its direct line of vision to see around them – this was successfully tested when the A8 was stationary, using a motoring journalist as an object.
Only the sharpest of road ruts are heard – but barely felt – in the cabin, which is flawlessly protected from outside noise intrusion through double-glazed glass and a number of serious insulation measures.
Chatting to our co-driver from the rear seat proves how quiet the cabin is. No need to yell to be heard, just a normal tone of voice can be clearly heard. Impressive.
The 210kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel in the 50 TDI is silky smooth for an oil-burner, so much so that it was genuinely difficult to tell what powertrain was under the bonnet of the vehicle we were driving.
The 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre turbo-petrol V6 powering the 55 TFSI is another stand-out Audi powertrain, offering up punchy straight-line performance and perfect shifts from the eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission.
The optional four-wheel steering takes some getting used to as it means you don’t need the same sort of steering inputs as with a model without the system. That said, it is effective and, combined with the standard quattro all-wheel-drive system, ensures spirited handling and exceptional road holding.
While the A8 is a two-tonne beast, it feels lighter on the road than it should. Its heft is noticeable when pushed into a tight corner at higher speeds, but its nimble for a big limo.
Overall, the A8 offers a super engaging driving experience, combined with an impressive occupant experience.
Our biggest gripe is the price of those options. It should be on the shopping list of anyone looking in this segment, but value-wise, the Lexus is a standout.
If money is no object, then the new A8 is more than a match for its Benz and BMW counterparts and in some departments – tech, cabin quietness – comfortably beats its compatriots.
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