Car reviews - Audi - A8 - sedan range
Smooth V6 and powerhouse V8 engines, sound suppression, sharp handling for the class, sublime quality
Room for improvement
Instrument fascia showing its age, price rises over previous model, no USB point, expensive options
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7 May 2014
DESPITE the stereotype, Audi Australia says the majority of those who own upper-large limos such as the A8 prefer to drive themselves than employ a chauffeur.
That might go some way to explaining why the company has re-introduced the S8 badge to its portfolio after offering a diesel-only line-up since this current generation’s inception in 2010, priced at $279,000 plus on-road costs.
The characterful old atmo V10 may be gone, but the new twin-turbo 4.0-litre unit trounces its outputs with 382kW and 650Nm on tap.
And boy does it hammer, and let out an impressive growl while doing so. Doing the 0-100km/h dash in 4.1 seconds in a car this massive seems incongruous. One in three A8 buyers will opt for the S8, says Audi, reflecting Australians' penchant for sporty cars.
Not that the remaining (though re-tuned) diesel options are lacking. Even the entry 190kW/580Nm (available in either regular or long-wheelbase form) feels incredibly strong once you overcome a moment of initial hesitation off the line, abetted by the seamless eight-speed transmission operated via a sublime aircraft-style shifter.
Of course, the mid-range 283kW and 850Nm 4.2-litre V8 diesel is even more muscular and instantaneous. It’s also remarkably refined, so those of you thinking an oil-burner may not suit the needs of a limousine need not worry.
That said, at $249,900, it is also $55k more expensive than the $195k SWB 3.0-litre version, which will be favoured by hire limo operators. Across the range, there are price increases of between $7000 and $11,900 depending on variants.
The extra money gets you the bigger engine plus bigger 20-inch wheels, Matrix Beam LED headlights that can send their beams ‘around’ other cars, a liquid crystal head-up display, digital TV, seat massage function and a quattro sports diff that tweaks the power sent to each rear wheel.
All A8s, notably the S8 on its lower profile tyres and 21-inch wheels, have a firmer ride than the S-Class, but this is countered by a tauter and more nimble road feel and firmer electric steering that loads up at speed. This car shrinks around you like a much smaller car on a winding road.
All variants come with Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel-drive system.
The result is a car that cossets you a fraction less than the S-Class or, say, a Jaguar XJ. Or even a Lexus ES/LS. It’s still superbly comfortable and spacious in the rear, however, and most tyre noise is kept at bay (though some mild wind noise is noticeable).
Audi calls the A8 the largest sedan in its segment at 5140mm long on a 2990mm wheelbase, while width is listed at 1950mm and height is listed as 1460mm.
The A8 L (LWB) gains an additional 130mm in both length and wheelbase, while across the range the 520-litre boot in both variants has been reconfigured to be easier to load.
The cabin has come in for a tweak, albeit the slightly fussy layout of the buttons on the lower part of the fascia and the tacked-on screen atop the dashboard make it feel a little less ‘special’ than the new-from-the-ground-up S-Class.
That said, the quality is sublime, the surfaces are tactile, the heated (and on upper-spec variants, massaging) seats are supple and the electric soft-closing doors are super-novel, almost as novel as the cabin air-ioniser that keep cabin air at top quality.
Furthermore, all the features are easy to use even if they look fussy. The Wi-Fi hotspot is a good addition as well, with fully-integrated web connectivity.
We don’t like the lack of a USB point though, and the fact you have to pay $100 for an iPhone charger. What if you want to charge your Android phone, Audi? Full rear-seat entertainment with a pair of screens is a $9900 (!) option, as well, while the orchestral Bang and Olufsen sound system with 19 speakers costs $14,500 on all variants. Hmmm.
For us, the revised A8 sits at the sharp end of the segment. It looks pleasingly understated as ever, is comfortable and surprisingly fast and aggressive in the bends. The cabin of the Benz feels a little more special for us, but the Audi shines nevertheless – even if the big stereo costs as much as a Fiat 500.
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