In its new iteration, the A8 borrows from the
stylebook that has made the A4 and A6 sedans so successful. The body surfaces look billet
solid, with subtle, chiseled edges and a high window line. The roofline arcs rearward in
almost a fastback look, with three windows on a side. The large alloy wheels have thick
spokes. The four-ring logo sparkles at both ends.
The long wheelbase L is the only A8 model we get in America. At 204
inches long and 4,400 pounds, this is a large car by any standard. The five extra inches
gained with the L makes rear seat legroom almost absurdly generous - Shaq would be comfy
back there. It also helps the car compete directly with its fellow countrymen, the BMW
745Li and the Mercedes-Benz S500.
The A8 L is a powerful car, with 330 horsepower and 317 lb.-ft. or
torque coming from the corporate 4.2-liter V8. This is good for a 6.3-second zero to
sixty, which should help get you to work on time. I averaged 15.9 miles per gallon,
although the window sticker proudly proclaims 17 city, 24 highway.
The A8 L gets a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic,
which means it's automatic until you say otherwise. If you want to shift for yourself,
minus a clutch of course, you're welcome to it. I kept forgetting to shift and suddenly
the engine would be whining at 6,000 just tooling around town. On its own the car upshifts
early to try to match the posted 17/24 mileage figures, presumably.
With Audi's Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system, the big
cruiser stays stuck to the road wherever you go. The system's Torsen center differential
instantly sends power to either side or to the front or rear as needed. The A8 L won't
lean, squat or dive no matter how aggressively you drive.
As in the previous generation, the A8 has an aluminum body built on
the aluminum Audi Space Frame (ASF). Audi's engineers simplified and refined the ASF for
the new generation, making it sixty percent more rigid than the previous one. The
structure is 300 pounds lighter than its steel equivalent, and obviously, the whole car is
Inside, there is almost 107 cubic feet of space, all dressed in the
quality Valcona leather, sleek metal accents, subtly patterned vinyl and real wood that
you expect in an Audi. The 12-speaker Bose sound system delivers the kind of concert hall
sound you can only dream about in an ordinary car. The seats have the right blend of
support and comfort, and all the controls offer tactile rewards.
In the A8 L Audi introduces its Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system,
which lets you control many automotive functions from a small group of controls mounted in
the center console just ahead of the armrest. The system uses a central knob that you turn
to make choices and press down to select them. Eight buttons are grouped by function
(phone, radio, navigation system, etc.) and at each corner of the central knob base is a
"soft button" that you use to delve deeper into the workings of each category.
All of this information is displayed on a seven-inch color flat screen monitor that rises
out from under a perfectly blended section of trim in the center dash. A small message
screen in the center of the instrument panel displays other useful information as needed.
I spent some time playing with the radio settings. You should be
parked while you hash out how to store radio stations and change CDs, but once you have it
down, it is almost effortless to control the MMI. Especially useful is the Dynamic Station
Memory, which automatically keeps the stations you use most often at the ready. Unlike
with BMW's iDrive system, the Audi's climate control is separate and uses familiar
buttons. Audi has buried the most complex and infrequent actions deeper in the MMI, but
the basic functions are just a click or two away.
My Light Silver Metallic test unit had a few extras, including the
Launch Convenience Package 1, which for $1,200 added an electric rear sunshade, rear
vanity mirrors, and a tire pressure monitoring system. For added road presence, my test
unit flaunted 18-inch wheels ($1,150). For security and energy efficiency, dual-paned
security glass ($600) keeps the car comfortable in the heat of summer or cold of winter.
The Cold Weather package ($1,100) provided heated front and rear seats, a ski sack, and
even a heated steering wheel.