Lexus plus BMW 7-series equals Audi A8

2004, Audi, A8L

We're sitting in the product briefing when Len Hunt, V.P. Audi, gives us the hard numbers - 330 horsepower and 317 torque. I make a mental note to check the rpm. A few minutes later Ken Davis is telling us that the car can take up to 443 torque. My ears are piqued, I've never heard of this type of discrepancy before. No one else in the room seems moved. I nudge my colleague Bob of Autoweek fame and show him my numbers and ask what he thinks. His left eyebrow cocks up in journalistic fashion. It's not quite Woodward and Bernstein, but there is a story here, and we got it.

The first thing I notice about the Audi A8 is the much balleyhooed shark fin on the back. You know, the same one everyone gave BMW such a hard time over. It must be a late edition to the car because it's not on any of the pictures they gave us. If you read my articles often you will know that I am one of the journalists that loved the BMW 7-series. It's not going to surprise you that I then love the Audi A8. What can I tell you? I love luxury. Maybe it's one of those subconscious thoughts that I might not make it to heaven so I should get some of the benefits while still on earth. Audi is either stroking my subconscious or they have a direct line to the heavens - either way the car is full of all the luxury one expects from a $70,000 sedan.

When I get in a car the first thing I do is open the rear door and throw my purse in. The shock came just opening the door between the B and D pillar. Huge. Spacious. okay, the seats don't tilt like the Q45, but any larger and you'd think you'd bought a Maybach. This and rear heated seats too.

We're all familiar with the standard luxury stuff - the wood, the leather heated front seats. Ergonomic front seats take this luxury to another level with available massage, heating and ventilation functions designed to envelop passengers, while the optional four-zone automatic climate control is mated with individual rear-seat settings. I've been taking a study of this fact and Audi must have been doing the same. Men don't mind wind on their face, in fact many of them like it. Women, you guessed it, are just the opposite. We like "Indirect Ventilation". Audi has added this feature which allows for a more optimum four-zone climate. Inside, the A8 will use a system somewhat similar to BMW's controversial iDrive control only more intuitive.

The 2004 Audi A8 L has incorporated the first surround system available in Audi. It is engineered on Bose cabin surround sound system architecture. Simply put, you can hear the music as loud as you want without having to feel the whole car shake. In fact, Bose has included Audiopilot which means you don't have to adjust the signal to exclude tire or window noise, the patented Audiopilot does it for you. It adjusts the specific aspect of the music that is masked by noise, whether the car is moving or not.

The 2004 A8 L features a 330-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 five-valve engine and Audi's legendary quattro permanent all-wheel drive system. The standard six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is becoming standard in luxury cars and Audi has it in theirs. Tiptronic allows the driver to choose between the sporting character of a manual- shift gearbox and the convenience of an automatic transmission. If you haven't quite got it yet, I am into convenience. The engine has gained in terms of output and performance. An additional 20 hp and 15 lbs. ft. of torque results in an estimated 0-60 miles per hour of just 6.3 seconds.

I didn't understand the AAS system, so I had to figure this one out. My intial reaction was, this would be great for SUVs, but why on a sedan. Here's the reason. The 2004 A8 L achieves driving comfort by combining the adaptive air suspension with an electronically controlled, continuously adjustable damping system. The configuration also benefits dynamic handling properties by reducing roll or pitch when starting, stopping and cornering. The adaptive air suspension system maintains vehicle suspension height, irrespective of loads. Extra air is pumped into the springs at high gross weights, and discharged when the load is removed. This function adapts the firmness of the springs to the load situation at all times, resulting in a consistent ride and stance.

Automatic level, with an initial ground clearance of 4.7 in. Dynamic level, with a ground clearance of 3.9 in. Comfort level, with a constant ground clearance of 4.7 in. Lift level, with a ground clearance of 5.7 in. I opted for automatic or comfort because Automatic level sets the vehicle at 4.7 in. of ground clearance. To maximize aerodynamic advantages when speed exceeds 75 miles per hour for longer than 30 seconds, the vehicle is automatically lowered one inch to the "Motorway" setting of 3.7 in. of ground clearance. When aerodynamics are less of an issue, such as speeds below 44 mph for longer than 30 seconds, the vehicle automatically lifts to its original stance. Why comfort mode? You guessed right again, I like comfort.

So we're finally back to the real story. As I mentioned one doesn't have a powertrain that gets 317 but CAN get 443 without other plans in mind. We cornered Len Hunt, and sure enough Audi has plans that "could be possible". The RS is being debated as is the W-12 engine or a bi-turbo V-8. According to Hunt, the next step they are looking at is the normal wheel base, probably for '04. Sounds like the logical life-cycling of a high performance car could happen in '05-ish. Note the ish. Another "you heard it hear first" from Len is that Audi plans to build a S4 Cabriolet as well. All this news just from listening to the difference between makes 317 torque and the car can take 443 torque! Later on a radio show in Phoenix with Bill Zervakos and myself, Len Hunt announced that Audi would be bringing out an S4 Cabriolet.

The only thing I could find wrong with this car was the steering was a little soft. I know it's not supposed to be a sports car, but I like the steering stiffer.

By Lou Ann Hammond

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Images of the 2004, Audi A8L

2004 Audi A8L
2004 Audi A8L
Spacious in the back and rear seats too
Spacious in the back and rear seats too
The Bose surround system in the 2004 Audi A8L
The Bose surround system in the 2004 Audi A8L