The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - CRAIG DUFF

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.

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