We’ve put the big, yet conservative new Audi A8 through its paces to see if the Neckarsulm built flagship saloon can go to a higher level.
Buyers in this sector tend to know what they want and often shy away from making a fuss. The exterior of the 5,172mm (17 feet) long machine on first glance looks like a typical scaled up version of the German firm’s saloon range. It is a classic three box saloon, albeit a very pretty one. To the untrained eye or worse still the staff, you might find people admiring your “nice A6” to which you should instantly reply ‘you’re fired’. The super wide grille is the key frontal design feature.
The latest generation A8 is now electrified. A highly cost effective 48 volt mild hybrid system as now standard in all modeles. This helps reduce emissions and improve performance thanks to its BAS (belt alternator starter motor) and its ability to let the car coast for up to 40 seconds with the engine off and still in gear. Ireland gets a two engine choice with tiptronic auto gearboxes for now, both are V6s. A 3 litre TFSI petrol is perfect for diplomats while the 3 litre TDI diesel is the better high-miler choice. Audi has applied its new naming language to these so my TDI test car came with a ‘50’ not 3.0 badge (I suppose it is not far off the owner age profile). The petrol TFSI is called 55. In other markets a 4 litre V8 diesel and even a 6 litre W12 cylinder engine are available. An e-tron plug in hybrid with wireless induction charging is in the pipeline.
Inside the A8 you find a cabin that is elegant without being in the slightest way flashy. There is the really cool high tech black panel dash that when powered down is camouflaged in to the delightful contours of the well crafted machine. When you get in a 10.1-inch touch screen pops to life and impresses but with a press of the ignition button the cabin comes to life. The virtual cockpit display we know is cool but it is the touch screen displays emergence from the flush darkness that deliver the wow factor. Finally as hidden air vents rotate open they add a sense of theatre that enhances the confident grin already on your face. Yes the new A8 is clearly a more luxurious offering than its mini-me siblings. SE and Luxury are the grades in Ireland and of course there are many more cost options available. The standard sound system is good bu tif you have a spare €9,892.55 you can get a Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System with 3D sound. 22 way adjustable leather seats come as standard on my ‘Luxury’ test car and very comfy they are too. An A8 driver will have no complaints about trying to find the perfect position. Kilometres simply disappear in the A8 and often I got out more refreshed than when I got in!
The hot new stuff continues with the optional dynamic all wheel steering that delivers a tighter turning circle. This makes multistory car parks less of a pain – especially in the stretched A8 ‘L’ version (pictured). At higher speed the rear steering axle turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the front but to a barely perceivable degree. At slow speed the rears turn in the opposite direction aiding maneuverability. A host of electronic driving aids will keep occupants safe and possibly annoy your chauffeur. The 360 camera is a brilliant bit of kit. It can generate some brilliant views of the car – even when in motion (slow speed only). While level 3 autonomous driving is available its not legal here yet. My test car had level 2 features like active lane assist (keeping) and the humble adaptive cruise control (with follow to stop) and speed-limiter function. In an ideal world you get driven in an A8 by a professional but like an S Class, LS or similar most users drive themselves as it is so pleasurable. Night driving is effortless too thanks to literally brilliant HD Matrix LED headlights. An additional €4,717.99 gets the even better HD Matrix LED headlights with Audi laser light and OLED rear lights. It goes without saying that the standard head up display does a great job helping keep the driver’s eyes on the road ahead.
The extensive use of alluminium in the space frame continues with a weight saving of up to 100kgs. This keeps the kerb weight down and emissions as low as possible. An active chassis allows the A8 be many cars in one. In efficiency mode you can return impressive fuel consumption with little loss of power. At the other end of the scale the dynamic mode allows for spirited driving that in my 286hp/600nm Quattro (four wheel drive) test car proved entertaining. 0-100km/h takes just 5.9 seconds while CO2 is a mere 150g per kilometre. The Audi A8 is a high mileage cruiser designed to do Bonn to Berlin in comfort. The clever air suspension system delivers a premium ride quality ensuring the cabin remains a tranquil place at all times – and that is what buyers in this class demand. For a few euro more you can specify the optional Audi AI active suspension that has electro-mechanical actuators on all wheels. It can read the road ahead and adjust accordingly. The option also delivers enhanced passive safety in the event of a side impact in conjunction with Audi’s pre sense 360°. My A8 50TDI test car started at €107,000 and had a couple of options fitted like power assisted doors (€1,035) and metallic paint (€1,674).