AUDI has lifted its game and the looks of its A8 flagship with the launch of a revamped model range.
The midlife update adds about $10,000 to the cost of the big limousine but there are now a lot more standard toys to play with and the packaging has been primped and polished to keep it up the front of the pack.
It is a fast and fun drive when required or a relaxed and regal carriage when carrying passengers. VALUE The A8 cruises into the luxury limo market at $198,000 for the 3.0-litre turbo diesel with an eight-speed automatic and allwheel drive.
Hire-car drivers will gravitate to the long-wheelbase variant at $206,900.
The plutocrats who drive themselves — and want a more forceful assertion of their status — can head for the 4.2‒litre twin-turbo oilburner or the sports-oriented Audi S8 powered by a 4.0-litre V8 turbo at $279,000.
All A8s are fitted with standard air suspension, satnav with Google street or satellite view overlays, matrix-LED headlamps to automatically dim the high beam as traffic approaches or passes and a head-up display.
Competition includes the new S-Class Mercedes-Benz starting at $215,000 for the S350 with a 3.0-litre turbo diesel. That figure grows by $10K for the long-wheelbase version.
BMW’s equivalent entry PRICE $198,000-$279,000 WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km CAPPED SERVICING No SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/15,000km RESALE 45 per cent SAFETY Not tested ENGINES 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 190kW/580Nm; 4.2-litre V8 twin turbo diesel, 283kW/850Nm; 4.0-litre V8 twin turbo, 382kW/650Nm (S8) TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto; AWD THIRST 5.9L/100km; 7.4L; 9.6L (S8) DIMENSIONS 5.1m (L), 2.0m (W), 1.5m (H) WEIGHT 1880kg (2040kg; 1990kg) SPARE Space-saver level 7 Series is the 730d at $205,100. Petrol engines provide the motivation for all LWB variants, starting with the 740Li at $226,645. TECHNOLOGY The A8 is Audi’s software showcase and there are plenty of options to boost the features list. Highlights include an infra-red camera to spot pedestrians at night and an impressive adaptive cruise control. Beyond the electronic bling there are the impeccable basics.
An alloy spaceframe helps contain weight, the ZF transmission is almost as well calibrated as the eight‒speeder in the BMW and the air suspension keeps it flat, not flatulent, when taking sweepers at highways speeds. DESIGN The family-first design language resonates with every glimpse of the A8.
It looks, not surprisingly, like a stretched A4, until you enter and notice the obvious improvements in materials and space.
If the fit and finish are firstrate, there are still too many buttons to make navigating through the multitude of menus an easy experience for anyone other than technophiles.
The boot depth has been increased by 10cm to handle bulky items and space is 520L, about average for this class.
The long-wheelbase version adds 13cm of space for rear occupants. SAFETY The presumption that car makers fit their best safety systems to the most expensive models holds true here. Even so, don’t expect EuroNCAP or ANCAP to crash-test European flagship limousines — they’re too expensive and too elite to justify the outlay.
Audi’s blind-spot monitoring and reversing camera help keep the car out of the path of obstructions and eight airbags will insulate the occupants from the worst effects of any crash that does occur.
Physics helps too — the big 8s have a lot of crumple room in any direction. DRIVING Decent handling and the cheapest long-wheelbase variant among the German limousines should give Audi a lock on the hire car market.
In rough terms the stretched A8 is about 10 per cent cheaper than the opposition and doesn’t want for features or comfort.
Where the Audi suffers — marginally — is against the S‒Class. That’s to be expected: as a midlife upgrade, the A8 hasn’t had the total overhaul bestowed on the Mercedes flagship. Consequently the S-Class feels and looks a touch more refined.
There’s not much in it, though, which shows how good the A8 was when it first hit the streets in 2010.
Audi’s drive-select software adjusts suspension, steering and shift points as drivers switch between comfort and dynamic modes.
Comfort should be the default setting when travelling with a rear passenger — the dynamic setting perceptibly stiffens up the ride but the A8 loses its capacity to waft across surface irregularities.
The 3.0-litre takes just a heartbeat to start shifting the A8’s mass; the 4.2 accelerates instantly from any speed and at any revs as the auto adapts to match the driver’s desired rate of progress.
A stonking 850Nm will achieve that result, even in a car weighing well over two tonnes and it shows in the car’s 0‒100km/h time of 4.7 seconds.
Like the S8 performance model, the 4.2 uses a sports centre diff to shift urge front to rear and endow the car with a sportier feel than its rivals (Benz’s S63 AMG excepted).
The S8 is quicker still at 4.1 seconds to triple figures but uses 2.0L more fuel over 100km, making the 4.2 the preferred A8 powerhouse.
More typical limousine driving — less pace, more poise — highlights the absence of noise. A muted hiss as wind whispers over the windscreen pillars and a distant thrum from the tyres deliver all the acoustic accompaniment a CEO can demand. VERDICT Smart pricing and packaging keep the A8 on the same page as the new Benz.
Conservative styling masks a sporty potential that should attract owners who drive themselves, rather than rely on the chauffeur.