2008 Audi A8L quattro AT6Posted on April 16th, 2008
Luxury sedan with a sports car attitude
By Nina Russin
I like to think of Audi’s flagship sedan as a very big sports car. It combines the performance and handling driving enthusiasts look for with a spacious cabin that gives second-row passengers as much room to stretch out as those riding in front.
Rear passengers in the upscale Audi enjoy comfort and convenience features normally reserved for the front row: dual-zone climate control, cupholders, storage bins, and power lumbar controls. The optional Bang & Olufsen audio system provides symphony-quality surround sound throughout the cabin.
Uncompromised driving experience
Despite its size, the Audi A8L has the ride and handling characteristics of a sports car. Curb weight is extremely light for a seventeen foot-long sedan: just over 4400 pounds. The 4.2-liter engine is also quite powerful. Direct injection feeds fuel directly into the cylinders for instant throttle response. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 5.9 seconds.
A standard six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift option closely matches the gears to the driver’s style and road conditions. Average fuel economy is about eighteen miles-per-gallon.
An aluminum frame saves weight and enhances torsional stiffness, to improve steering feedback at speed. Weaving through highway traffic reminds me of a wide receiver: big, light on the feet, and fast as spit. Think Larry Fitzgerald, but with twenty-inch rims and low-profile tires in place of feet.
Not afraid to get dirty
While I wouldn’t recommend taking the A8 on the Rubicon trail, an adaptive suspension system gives the luxury sedan additional ground clearance for driving through snow or on unimproved roads.
Normal ground clearance for the car is just under five inches. The driver can modify the car’s ride height using a mouse on the center console. At speed, the adaptive suspension automatically lowers the car to improve its aerodynamics and handling.
A lift mode raises the car up an inch, giving it enough ground clearance for the average graded dirt road. The only caveat is the car’s length. Its 121-inch wheelbase gives the Audi a lower breakover angle than a short wheelbase car. In other words, it will be more likely to become high centered when trying to crest a steep hill.
A mouse that roars
Years back, BMW’s iDrive system opened the door for car operating systems that look and function like personal computers. The system got a lot of negative feedback: drivers were reluctant to give up traditional knobs and buttons. But now that everything from cell phones to television controls have computer-inspired designs, mouse-based systems in cars have gained greater acceptance.
Audi’s multi-media interface system consists of a mouse in the center console and a pop-up screen above the center stack: the mouse controls a variety of functions: navigation, satellite radio, CD or MP3 audio, Bluetooth telephone, and suspension settings. It’s a very intuitive system to use, and combines a lot of functions in an uncluttered format.
The steering wheel has redundant audio and cruise control settings, to minimize driver distraction. Paddles on the back of the wheel allow the driver to shift F1 style, or he can use the shift lever in the floor console.
Separate controls on the center stack regulate temperature. Both rows of passengers have dual-zone climate controls. Controls for the front seat heater and ventilators are also on the center stack. The seat ventilators with massage are a $1500 option.
Segment-leading active safety
Audi is an industry leader in both active and passive safety. As its flagship, the A8 is a showcase for emerging occupant protection technologies. All models come standard with front, side, side curtain and front knee airbags. Engineers minimized the number of castings and weld spots in the body structure to give the safety cage around the passengers better integrity.
In a side collision, a high-strength aluminum front pillar braces itself against the other vehicle, while an aluminum roof frame, seat cross members , roof posts and floor panels, work together to resist intrusion.
Audi’s permanent four-wheel drive system, called quattro, can send up to a hundred percent of the engine’s power to a single wheel to maintain traction. A radar based adaptive cruise control option on the test car ($2100) allows the driver to maintain a preset distance from the car in front. A blind spot detection system illuminates a signal in the side view mirror to alert the driver about vehicles in surrounding lanes.
Standard electronic stability system integrates antilock braking, traction and yaw control. The driver has the option of disengaging the system to permit wheel spin in certain situations, such as climbing out of a rut or driving the car for sport.
At night, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps illuminate corners of the road by following steering movements. The system enhances pedestrian safety, since the headlamps illuminate the corners of intersections where people may be waiting to cross.
First class cabin
While it isn’t especially suited for active lifestyles, it’s hard to find fault with the A8L’s spacious passenger cabin. Since the transmission tunnel runs through the middle of the car, the second row is better suited for two passengers than three.
Up front, both the driver and passenger have sixteen-way adjustable seats with four-way power lumbar support, separate center armrests with two bins underneath, cupholders, and overhead reading lamps. The black leather trim on the test car is an upgrade from the standard Valcona leather. I’m not sure what the difference is, but the seats are extremely comfortable.
All comfort and convenience controls are easy to reach from both front seating positions. There are two power points in the car: cigarette lighters in the front and rear.
Second-row passengers can fold down a central armrest with integrated storage bins and cupholders. The flip-out cupholders are flimsy looking: I wouldn’t want to try to stash a water bottle in one.
All four doors have map pockets. There are closed storage bins in the rear door for cell phones or small electronic devices, and additional map pockets in the front seatbacks.
Engineers took extreme measures to reduce noise intrusion to the interior. There are sound deadening panels under the floor, between the passenger cabin and engine, and inside the wheel arches. The windshield and side windows have an acoustic polyvinyl material sandwiched in between layers of glass to further reduce noise.
As a result, the audio system doesn’t have to compete with the squealing brakes, blaring horns, and screaming drivers during a typical rush hour. It’s almost enough to make the daily commute civilized.
While it isn’t large enough to hold a bicycle, the A8L’s spacious trunk is large enough to stash big cartons, duffle bags, golf bags or camping equipment. There is enough room in and around the rear seats to stow luggage and larger cartons as well. I was able to pack two large cartons of running shoes into the trunk, two more on the rear seats, and several racks of clothing on top.
Three flagship models available
The A8 and A8L are two of Audi’s four flagship models: the other two are the sporty S8 with a V10 engine, and the A8W12, which has a twelve cylinder engine in place of the 4.2-liter V8 in the A8L.
Base price on the A8L is $74,690, not including a $775 delivery charge. MSRP on the test car is $98,665. The A8L is produced at Audi’s Neckarsulm, Germany assembly plant.
Likes: A quiet, spacious luxury car with world-class performance and classic design. Despite its long wheelbase, the A8 is as light and nimble as a sports car, with exceptional acceleration and braking. The interior is exceptionally comfortable: second-row passengers have as much leg, head and shoulder room as those riding up front, with amenities not normally found in the back seats of a car.
Dislikes: The A8 interior is not particularly well suited to active lifestyles: the cupholders are too small, and there are not enough power points.
Model: A8L quattro AT6
Base price: $74,690
As tested: $98,665
Horsepower: 350 Hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 325 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.9 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Not available
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 16/23 mpg city/highway
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