It is hard to describe a car that brings together technology, performance, and luxury the way the Audi A8-Long wheelbase does. I have always loved the smooth, confident power of Audi’s flagship and driven every generation of this cruiser. From luxury-focused Volkswagen styling (shared with the fated VW Phaeton still sold in Europe) to this year’s model, there has always been something special about this sedan that draws the attention of the big car enthusiasts.
The A8 and the sportier S8 has never been a volume seller but its development has given previews of the interior and options on the A6, A4, and now the A7.
The newest A8 is even more elegant with special Valetta leather and suede all around. Audi designs the most beautiful interiors with the warmest colors and nicest materials available. A little plastic still shows here and there but this keeps the car under $100K. The seats are not just hand-stitched with attractive pleated styling, the folds of leather are actually designed for greater comfort and breathability so passengers don’t sweat the small or large stuff in the heat.
The doors are shaped to one’s arm for proper resting points to lessen fatigue on long drives. The driver’s seat has over 20 adjustments to perfectly align the driver with the controls and pedals for more alert operation of the vehicle so the A8 goes where it should.
Many premium luxury sedans use real wood, real leather, and LED lighting. What makes the A8-L special is the way all these materials come together and how the passengers feel during their stay in the car. A long trip to Las Vegas revealed a great front seat experience with rear seat passengers getting a little restless without any seat adjustments in our test A8-L. The optional reclining seat with goodies like massage, heat, etc. is worth the extra cash for this much limo-legroom. Climate control can be separated for all four seating positions, and even for the middle seat Audi calls the “2+1” rear bench.
As for the complexity of the sedan’s performance and “infotainment” options, one will need a weekend in the library to learn it all. My 25 year old son and his gear-head friend took 4 hours to comprehend the personalized settings. They did not find many of the performance optional settings to make a lot of difference in the way this large Audi handled. Through Audi’s MMI® dial and button devise, drivers can set suspension levels and firmness, engine and transmission responsiveness, steering assistance, etc… all with only minor differences. Leaving the settings in “Auto” seemed to work the best for my week in the mountains, the desert, and on the LA freeways.
Audi’s multi-function, next-generation MMI 3G+ now includes lets preset radio stations to be selected but also recognizes handwriting for navigation destinations and is backlit to allow alternate uses as a pointer for map functions. The new 3G+ navigation includes Google Earth™ and lets the motorist access faster and more accurate directions, weather and destination information. What Audi has done to simplify all this technology is create a “zone” in front of the driver with digital readouts that pertain to driving the car and another “zone” on the center console for everything else.
Even the display screen can be recessed into the dash when the driver is tired of reading more information. The screen magically appears again when the backup camera is needed or when there is a malfunction in the car somewhere. It would be nice if it magically stowed itself when you put the car (electronically) into drive again.
One has to watch the instrument display to see what gear the car is in and if you are in Drive, Sport Drive, or Sport Drive Manual mode. All this takes some getting used to and is not really necessary for a simple shift. Even so, this shift selector is more ergonomic and familiar then BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedan’s joysticks.
Power is almost seamless through Audi’s magnificent 8- speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and their proven Quattro® all-wheel drive. It is not how much power a vehicle gets from the engine alone, that makes for an exhilarating drive. So much of acceleration, handling under power, and traction is determined by the drivetrain after it leaves the engine.
No one transmits the horsepower to the tire patches more confidently than Audi; from their blistering R8 all the way up to this huge A8-L.
This horsepower (hp) comes from their carryover 4.2-liter FSI direct injection V8 engine. Relative to other large V8 car dynamiter ratings, 372 hp does not seem like a lot of juice. Yet, the 328 lb-ft of torque is almost instant and this heavy A8-L gets down the road up to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. I loved the engine’s willingness to increase the pull all the way to redline. Rarely do I feel so in control when sailing down the highway at any speed.
Also, with the huge 23.8 gallon fuel tank and 17/27 mpg (city/hwy) mileage ratings, the A8-L has a range of over 640 miles.
To list the new technologies in this car would a whole website, however, Audi has developed the first full LED front headlight for both the high and low beams, daytime running lights, cornering lights, and turn signals.
There is also a series of sensors that are computed to “prepare” the sedan for an imminent crash using the car’s position with the air suspension and the passenger’s position with the power seats. Seat belts tighten, windows quickly shut, sunroof closes and the brakes are set to emergency mode- all within the blink of an eye.
There are structural protections all around the passengers with an aluminum superstructure and more welds than can be counted. There are airbags under the dash for the front passenger knees, side airbags for the rear passengers and all the usual places like along the roofline. Let us pray that no one ever have to use these all but they are there to protect loved ones just in case.
Options include such wizardry as a thermal-imaging camera to see pedestrian traffic at night. There is a great standard BOSE® Surround Sound system or a Bang & Olufsen audio system with 19 speakers, 19 channels and more than 1400 watts of B&O® -patented ICE-Power output.
I also liked the tasteful mood lights in the ceiling for an opulent glow that can be adjusted and changed to different colors. Nice touch! Oh, don’t forget the optional refrigerator in the rear seat fixed console and integrated foot rests.
Prices are what one would expect for an aluminum AWD luxury limo-like sedan. The 2012 A8-L with the 8-speed Tiptronic Quattro drivetrain starts at $84,700 (up $700 from 2011). The 2012 A8-L with the new W-12 engine starts at $133.500.
The W12 FSI direct injection engine produces 500 hp and 460 lb-ft. My test 2011 Audi 4.2-liter A8-L came to $88,375 with the Audi Drivers-Select package ($2,300) and 20” wheels and summer tires ($1,200).
If one can buy a car this expensive, the Audi A8-L offers a lot of car. When compared to the Mercedes S-series and the BMW 7-series and the Lexus LS, the Audi is not the fastest or most complicated car in the mix. But for my money, it is the most beautiful execution of automotive craftsmanship and a joy to drive long distances.