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Car reviews - Audi - A8 - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Class-leading interior, sweet-revving engine, awesome optional sound system, wide range of technological features, excellent level of cornering grip
Room for improvement
Suspension struggles on bumpy roads, more bodyroll than expected even with firmest suspension setting, can be mistaken for an A4 at distance

30 Jul 2010

AUDI Australia ticked pretty much every box when it came to select what would be standard or at least optional for its new range-topper.

The new A8 now has a full suite of the latest gear, such as adaptive cruise control and night vision, doors that close with the lightest touch and a hard-drive based satellite-navigation system with music storage.

Apart from a BMW-style heads-up information display, which projects key info onto the windscreen, there isn’t really anything missing.

But the new A8 doesn’t push the envelope far with any important new technology, unless you count the new MMI keypad which allows you to enter letters and numbers by tracing them with your finger.

This may be helpful or it may be dropped for the next model, as was the fingerprint keypad security system of the last A8, which sounded very James Bond but turned out to be little more than a gimmick.

The A8 is an impressive vehicle in many ways. It has a brilliant interior, a sweet-revving and relatively efficient engine and a terrific ZF eight-speed transmission.

Conversely, a short drive on Australian roads reveals the ride and handling is disappointing in some conditions, especially on broken surfaces, and that the tyre noise can be surprisingly loud on some coarse-chip surfaces.

This contrasts with gushing reviews from the European press and GoAuto’s own positive experience at the global launch in Spain earlier this year, but our unique roads do have a history of disagreeing with some European-built models that perform perfectly well on overseas roads.

As for the design, there are some great elements, including striking LED daytime running lights that clearly announce the A8’s arrival in the rear-view mirror of the car in front, some nice subtle design lines on the side and a lightly revised version of the huge trapezoidal family grille.

That said, the A8 doesn’t stand out fromt he luxury limousine crowd and could be mistaken for an A4 at a distance. It isn’t imposing from any angle other than the front.

The interior is fantastic, however. Audi has long been the champion when it comes to luxury interiors, but has been challenged in recent times by the latest BMW models, including the fantastic cabin of the latest 5 Series.

The A8 interior moves the bar further upstream with a clean and crisp design that combines the best leather, woodgrain and metal finishes, the latter looking like stainless steel. It is not warm like the excellent cabin of Jaguar's new XJ, but has a more clinical and modern look.

In our test car, the metal strip across the dashboard is dominant and links up with metal trims on the doors, which is cold to touch. The quality feel of the surfaces, identical component gaps, leather-clad dashboard and soft lighting all indicate that this is an expensive car and has an interior to match.

Our test car was fitted with a pricey $2670 Leather Package, which added cow-hide to the centre console, door armrests and steering wheel centre, but surely that’s loose change to these customers.

Audi has introduced a new gear-shifter which is similar to the throttle controller on a ship (they even call it the ‘yacht thrust lever') and looks a bit odd to us land-lubbers, but has a flat top that allows drivers to rest their hand while entering data into the keypad.

Audi has attended to great detail in the cabin, including fitting a lovely metal clock in the centre of the dash that looks like it belongs (which is not always the case in these cars) and has even added an ashtray with a lovely metal lid embossed with the Audi logo.

It is a little strange then that when you go to change gears using the paddle shifters, you find that they are plain black plastic and could be straight from a DSG-equipped VW Golf. At this price, we reckon they should be metal-coated at least.

So the cabin, whether you are in the front or the back, is a nice place to be, thanks to plenty of head and legroom and the design of the seats. You can order ventilated massaging front seats ($5500, as fitted to our test car), which are a nice touch.

At the heart of the A8 is Audi's revised 4.2-litre V8 and the numbers suggest that it has only been given a mild fettle, chiefly to reduce fuel consumption, which is probably of more concern to Audi and its image than its customers.

Given this car will cost more than a quarter of a million dollars on the road it is unlikely many owners will give two hoots about its consumption. Either way, they'd order the upcoming diesel if they were really worried about the environment.

But any concern the engine has not evolved disappears as the tacho dashes past 5000rpm. The engine seems to spin even faster, building strength as it runs to 7000rpm. The rate of forward propulsion is praise-worthy, but it is the way the engine spins so freely that makes it a delight to drive.

You can pick up on the V8 exhaust note when you are really getting stuck in, but it's subtle and far less obvious than the V8 in Jaguar's latest XJ that GoAuto recently tested.

The ZF eight-speed is a cracker and we can only hope the company is successful in convincing Ford Australia to opt for this transmission for future Falcons.

When left in automatic mode it works covertly, changing gears with no fuss whatsoever. You simply don’t notice the shifts. It changes gears super-fast when you start playing with the paddles, which makes for a great drive given the engine is so strong.

Thanks to those fat tyres, the all-wheel-drive system and the tricky rear differential that shoots more torque to the outer cornering wheel, the A8 has tremendous cornering ability.

It is also remarkable on wet surfaces and has brilliant traction thanks to its all-wheel torque delivery.

But the suspension is less convincing. Even in the sportiest setting, there is still a degree of bodyroll. It could manage a long string of tight and twisty corners on the launch drive route just out of Cairns with ease, but the body movement was far from ideal.

In fact, it was enough to make even the driver car-sick, which is quite an achievement. I was in the passenger seat and felt equally queasym, and two other journalists confessed to feeling ill after punting along the road. Before you ask: no, we hadn't had much to drink the night before.

While the latest Jaguar XJ and BMW 7 Series seem far livelier, sharper and generally more agile, the A8 also struggled over broken surfaces and seemed genuinely unsettled by some sections of road.

It is not as firm as the last model and we think that will be appreciated by most customers, but this set-up certainly struggled on our test drive and didn’t seem well calibrated for Australian roads.

Undoubtedly, the A8 is far happier on smooth roads and we also need to test the new A8 on city roads, where it might be happier given its new softer calibration.

The redesigned A8's steering doesn’t give you a heap of feel and is somewhat detached, but it is not overly light.

The cabin is generally extremely quiet, but there was some louder than expected tyre howl on some of the coarse-chip surfaces that often trip up European vehicles.

However, if you tick the option box for the $14,430 Bang & Olufsen sound system, as fitted to our test car, you are unlikely to give a damn about tyre noise, because you’ll never hear it.

Yes, this is a ridiculous amount to pay for sound system, but wow does it sound amazing. The ear candy is simply incredible and you will hear a whole range of sounds that you never picked up before in your favourite tracks.

The MMI controller has always been quite intuitive and the repositioned system is still very good. The new touch controller will be properly judged in time, but I’m not so sure it is a good idea.

Audi has unlocked the sat-nav system, allowing the driver (or passenger) to enter addresses using the touch pad drawing system while moving - usually it is locked for safety reasons. You still look at the screen to check the ‘V’ you drew went in as a ‘V’ and not an ‘Y’ or ‘W', so your eyes must still leave the road.

The new A8 is a remarkable car in many ways. It certainly represents a massive step forward for the nameplate and could well extract more customers from its rivals.

The new softer set-up is likely to please the rental limo fleet, but our short stint suggests it may not be well suited to Australian country roads.

It certainly now has a full suite of techno-gadgets and an interior that impresses early and often, but has Audi done enough to enable the A8 to compete on a level playing field with the 7 Series and S-class?

That is the $225,904 question and we’ll need some more time in the cabin, with an iPod full of our favourite songs, to answer it.

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