Car reviews - Audi - A8 - 4.2 TDI sedan
Design, quality, cabin presentation, effortless performance, relative economy, high-tech features, practicality
Room for improvement
Government tax slug, A4-esque styling, expensive desirable options, steering a tad dull
24 Jun 2011
THIS car isn’t worth the money, you know.
Nor are the Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Porsche and Maserati equivalents. Blame the Australian federal government’s tax grab that effectively doubles the price of the A8, 7 Series, LS, Panamera and Quattroporte compared to some other markets abroad.
Yet if you can see past the political bushranging, the A8 is a fabulous luxury car, and one that takes the fight right up to its long-established and widely admired compatriots. Perhaps even beyond in some ways …
So why would you even contemplate the Audi over the Benz or Bimmer then?
Design is an obvious answer. The A8 does have quite stunning lines and painstaking detailing (case in point – the low bonnet), but only if you take the time to build a bridge and get over the fact that it is rather A4-esque. That’s no bad thing to be really. Imagine getting cross for looking George Clooney-esque.
Switching from big and bulky to lean and lithesome to reflect the advanced lightweight structure lurking within – while still appearing premium and spacious – spurred the stylists on. And this should be another reason to consider this vehicle.
Sure, A8s have been aluminium since the series debuted in 1993 – it was to be 1988 until Audi got cold feet – but this time around there is a variety of new alloy and other composite materials, for a significantly stiffer yet lighter body. Similar materials now form a much larger part of the suspension and axle designs too.
Relatively speaking, what we have here, then, is a svelte and stylish limo. You can’t say the same about the others – sexy supermodel Quattroporte excepted. Throw in extraordinary aerodynamics – 0.26Cd – and this Audi certainly lives up to its Vorsprung durch Technik.
The question is, does the A8 feel better than before?
Previously it was a little leaden behind the wheel despite the obvious benefits of aluminium compared to the 7-Series, and too firm against an S-class.
However, with the world (including Mercedes) seemingly obsessed with matching BMW in terms of dynamics it is surprising to learn that achieving superior comfort was Audi’s goal. Chief engineer Michael Dick said so.
The latest A8 adopts a variation of Audi’s MLB (Modulare Längsbaukasten obviously!) modular platform, which sees the major drivetrain components moved further back from over the front axle for improved steering and handling capabilities. More balance, if you like – the upshot of the 40/60 front/rear torque split.
Switching from the old D3 model’s four-link front suspension design to a five-link set-up and standardising air suspension are other departures for this new D4 series.
So, this combined with the lighter yet stiffer (by 25 per cent) body and a considerable wheelbase means that the A8 probably the most accomplished Audi sedan of the modern era – particularly the V8 models (as tested here) with the ‘sports’ differential. But only if one dives deep into the complicated sub menus of the MMI interface system.
Here’s the deal. You can change the steering and suspension from ‘Comfort’ (soft in a Lexus manner) to ‘Dynamic’ (firm – BMW style) or ‘Auto’ (A8 decides depending on driving conditions etc).
We found the steering needs to be in Dynamic (accessible in the ‘Individual’ personal taste folder) for it not to feel like there’s a bolt loose somewhere – great for parking but not much else. Sporting up the ride setting equals some noisiness and jiggliness but the compromise really is not too dire yet we – our collective posteriors – prefer the cocooning numbness of Comfort.
Speaking of numbness, even in Dynamic, the steering – though weighty and direct for some agile lane changes – feels remote. Thankfully this is not an R8 so never mind, particularly as no car we have driven in years feels as planted at high speed (and in heavy rain). There’s all-wheel drive quattro goodness going on underneath, you know.
Anyway, this is a classic case of the big car shrinking around you the harder you drive it. Before you know it, corners are carved like a Thanksgiving turkey, with little body roll (in Auto as well as Dynamic) in spite of the air suspension.
To recap then, the latest A8 can be tuned by the driver to ride like a limo yet handle with real alacrity despite its feedback-free steering, or alternatively feel as light and easy as listening to Bert and Patty Newton’s Family Hour album.
Tick the V8 TDI grenade option (upping the price to a rip-off $235K plus on-roads – thanks again, Feds), and there is nothing middle-of-the-road or queasy about this 258kW diesel’s majestic magnificence, coating it all in a curiously addictive form of easy listening.
We imagine that the Audi engineers’ biggest problem was containing this 800Nm force of nature within the slick and responsive eight-speed automatic’s confines.
They’ve done an immense job, for take-off acceleration is ultra smooth if you want it like that, or determinedly hasty should a fast getaway be more appropriate. Hunkering down as it launches forth (0-100km/h: 5.5s), the A8 turns quite supersonic picking up speed – and with an ultra-sonic soundtrack to boot. Delicious.
Massive anchors (with Audi’s Brake Energy Regeneration technology that puts some of that spent force back into the car’s systems) keep it all from going belly up when a sudden stop is crucial.
On the open road our stylish trip computer readout revealed just 8.1 litres per 100km with three on board and a plenty of bouts of acceleration just for kicks. At the opposite spectrum (big city peak hour crawling and some “performance testing” traffic light grand prix scenarios) that fuel figure soared towards 14.5L/100km. Expect about 11 across everyday conditions.
We drove new and old 4.2 TDI quattro within a short time of each other and the differences are manifold: no vibration through the steering of the newcomer significantly more punch yet almost no detectable diesel noise incredibly hushed progress on some surfaces and a much more pliant ride in Comfort combined with a Dynamic-set chassis that could jig when the mood took us.
Audi’s revolution continues on the inside of the A8 too.
Lush describes the feeling that comes the moment the aluminium doors shut tight automatically after you. This is a sensory smorgasbord of luxury, quality and detail. We fear it has ruined every other car for us.
Of particular pleasure is the suede-effect door inserts, stitched leather dash and door cappings, brushed aluminium dash spears, rich chrome detailing and extraordinary use of lighting throughout the A8 that can make it seem like the set for Tron. A1, we say.
The instrument is first class. A brilliant 3D presentation featuring a large LED screen area of superb clarity, gorgeous analogue dials that match the overall effect perfectly flank it.
That binnacle screen has beautiful pictograms for the navigation system, but also carries your usual trip-computer information, mobile phone listings, speed and audio displays. Colour coded and clearer than Gina Reinhardt’s intentions, it should serve as a model for others to slavishly follow.
The raised centre console, too, helps up the ambience to new levels, with lovely graphics backed up by tactile and logical (if at first a little bewildering) control layout.
Dive into the MMI sub menus – that look after Navigation, Phone and Vehicle Info as well as the suspension options – and it does become a little confusing, but the level of adjustability and personalisation in the A8 is astounding. You do become used to it with time though, for it to soon become second nature.
It’s too bad our test car wasn’t fitted with the optional world-first handwriting recognition system: it recognises a finger spelling out words on a touch pad – and in many languages – to find GPS destinations, songs, and other items without the driver (or passenger) needing to look down at what they are doing. Genius.
Nobody will be left wanting with the amount of seat adjustability available, but some people will be surprised by how un-limo the rear quarters are. It’s not actually tight, with more than sufficient room for two (or three if the optional centre control console panel is lifted) but the sheer length of the A8 suggests sprawling space back there when really a Caprice easily eclipses it.
Still, you will be pampered by the myriad of features available, including complete console control – if the driver allows it of course – for separate audio and climate (you can dial up your own environment depending on which outboard seat you are sat in).
Audi has left little to chance. The A8’s interior is a rattle-free, squeak-free sanctuary reeking of quality and craftsmanship.
Beyond the cabin, of course, is a 510L boot that is about the same size as the Seven’s but a bit shy of the S-class. Fully lined and electrically operated on our car, it is as thoughtfully decked out as the rest of the car. There’s no cabin access though.
The more we drove around in our 4.2 TDI quattro, the more we realised that people were actually noticing the big A8 in the street in a way we never expected. Maybe it’s the crazy/glitzy LEDs (optional in Oz but included in our loaded $250K example).
What it proves is the techno/cool Audi has real presence and probably more street cred than the taxi-limo BMWs and default-choice Benzes plying the roads alongside it.
And no rival offers the stonking V8-powered diesel performance to match the A8’s, or AWD, and these things really are two unique lashings of icing on quite the luxury car cake.
Yep, the Feds are determined to make you pay way above the odds for it, but at least the latest Audi flagship sedan goes a long way to take the sting out of the governmental gouge. Try before you buy a more obvious luxury limo.
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