• Feb 23, 2011
A Plus-Sized S4 With World-Beating Tech


2011 Audi A8 - Click above for high-res image gallery

"Holy #& $#^@!"

I have to admit losing track of how many times my hapless copilot uttered this – and countless other unpublishable phrases – from the passenger seat during our drive. But if I'm being honest, it doesn't hold a candle to the endless string of explicatives running through my own mind.

The reason? I'm piloting a 2011 Audi A8 through a particularly tortuous stretch of California tarmac running between the Monterey Valley and the Pacific Coast, and for the better part of 20 miles, the driver of the tuned BMW 335i in the lead hasn't seen anything other than the A8's massive slatted grille in his rearview mirror. Just as impressive – if not more so – is the pair of worked-over E36 M3s that are having a hard time keeping up. And these guys are locals. They've been running this road for over a decade, only to have me show and spoil their ragtag rally in Audi's latest luxo-bruiser.

I'd like to think that my hairpin heroics and high-speed capers are a testament to my own skills, but I'm not that deluded. I've been equipped with the standard auto journo-issued hamfists, and to think otherwise is to fall prey to motoring delusion and insult the work of Ingolstadt's magicians. Audi's new A8 is just that good, and the steer is just the half of it.

Continue reading Review: 2011 Audi A8...


2011 Audi A8 2011 Audi A8 front 3/4 view 2011 Audi A8 rear 3/4 view 2011 Audi A8 side view 2011 Audi A8 front view 2011 Audi A8 front view (with bird) 2011 Audi A8 rear view 2011 Audi A8 grille badge 2011 Audi A8 grille 2011 Audi A8 headlight 2011 Audi A8 lower front bumper 2011 Audi A8 wheel 2011 Audi A8 wheel 2011 Audi A8 sideview mirror 2011 Audi A8 door handle 2011 Audi A8 taillight 2011 Audi A8 taillight 2011 Audi A8 badge 2011 Audi A8 badge 2011 Audi A8 exhaust pipes 2011 Audi A8 trunk 2011 Audi A8 engine 2011 Audi A8 engine 2011 Audi A8 engine detail 2011 Audi A8 engine detail 2011 Audi A8 interior 2011 Audi A8 interior 2011 Audi A8 gauges 2011 Audi A8 tachometer 2011 Audi A8 speedometer 2011 Audi A8 information display 2011 Audi A8 clock 2011 Audi A8 navigation display 2011 Audi A8 navigation display closed 2011 Audi A8 center console 2011 Audi A8 climate controls 2011 Audi A8 seat warmer/cooler 2011 Audi A8 gearshift 2011 Audi A8 touchpad 2011 Audi A8 touchpad 2011 Audi A8 push-button start 2011 Audi A8 dashboard 2011 Audi A8 speaker 2011 Audi A8 front seat 2011 Audi A8 front seat leather 2011 Audi A8 center armrest 2011 Audi A8 door controls 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 seat detail 2011 Audi A8 turn signal stalk 2011 Audi A8 back seat 2011 Audi A8 back seat center armrest 2011 Audi A8 seat massage controls 2011 Audi A8 interior illumination 2011 Audi A8 interior illumination

Photos copyright ©2011 Damon Lavrinc / AOL

If you're not enamored by the looks of this latest flagship, you're not alone. Audi has gotten back to its Germanic roots of offering one sausage in three sizes, so less obsessive types may have a hard time telling an A4 from an A8 from 50 yards out. Me? I've always been partial to the D3 chassis (2002-2009), which blended stately elegance with an understated air of superiority. It never looked menacing, but it certainly came across as imposing. Not so with the D4.

Viewed head-on, the aforementioned grille needs a survey crew to estimate its wingspan, while the angular bank of LEDs make the A8 look like Droopy Dog with electroluminescent eyeliner. In profile, Audi's designers simply embiggened the A4's roofline by 30 percent in Photoshop, did the same to the rear and called it a day. We can't blame them, because the sheer size of this latest A8 – a staggering 202.2 inches stem-to-stern with a wheelbase of 117.8 inches – is enough to separate it from the rest of the luxo-pleebs.

2011 Audi A8 side view2011 Audi A8 front view2011 Audi A8 rear view

But if the exterior is too pedestrian for your tastes, once situated in the 22-way adjustable sports seat, any and all reservations are laid firmly to rest. This is how you do a luxury interior, and considering the four rings embedded on the chunky steering wheel, we've come to expect nothing less.

The driver's gauge cluster is standard fare, particularly when compared to the "Virtual Instruments" on the Jaguar XJ, but what it lacks in gee-whiz, it makes up for in clarity and functionality. Nestled between the tach and speedo is Audi's seven-inch central information display, a screen that keeps everything from navigation instructions to infotainment information directly in front of the driver. The optional Night Vision Assistant with Thermal-Imaging Infrared Camera mounted in the front bumper can keep track of pedestrians and animals crossing the A8's path, alerting the driver with a quick tone and visual warning. Trick, but nothing we haven't seen in the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

2011 Audi A8 interior2011 Audi A8 information display2011 Audi A8 MMI touchpad2011 Audi A8 MMI touchpad

But what truly impresses – and where this Audi stands apart – is with the first application of its MMI Touch interface. Situated on the left side of the center console, and perfectly placed to allow the driver to rest his or her forearm on the yacht-inspired shifter, the rectangular touchpad allows you to simply write letters with your fingertip and effortlessly scroll through menus. Gone are the days of endlessly twisting the MMI knob to input an address, find a phone contact, dial up an XM station or navigate a map on the flip-up, central-mounted display. The MMI Touch is hands-down the A8's killer app, and Audi's competitors better hope that the patent application has more holes than the Steelers' defense.

But the crew from Ingolstadt hasn't stopped there. In addition to the de riguer adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and Audi Lane Assist (wander out of your lane and the steering wheel gently vibrates), Audi will begin offering an optional factory-installed WLAN hotspot that can not only connect to any number of WiFi devices, it can plumb a fully-integrated Google Earth experience into the MMI system. While it wasn't equipped on our $80k-and-change tester (it's not coming to the U.S. for another few months), we had the chance to sample the system at a media event and came away impressed with the execution, but not the graphics. It's pretty, but with the topographical and satellite imagery in use by BMW and other manufacturers, it doesn't look as visually polished as even the most standard graphical sat-navs.

2011 Audi A8 Bang & Olufsen speaker2011 Audi A8 Bang & Olufsen speaker

However, polished doesn't even begin to describe the available Bang & Olufsen Advanced
sound system. Nineteen speakers, 19 channels and 1,400 watts of B&O-patented aural majesty are at one's disposal. Throughout my week with the car, the system ably provides more than a few "driveway moments" where I sat parked, blasting the Kleptones' latest while reveling in dynamic highs and forceful bass. And my neighbors were no worse for the wear – with the doors shut and the windows sealed, not an ounce of perfectly matched mid-80s mashups oozes outside the cabin.

There's certainly more than enough to impress inside the A8, but Audi is billing the standard wheelbase sedan as its driver's car, leaving the "prestige, sportiness and comfort" to the elongated and plush-packed A8L. So how's it go?

2011 Audi A8 engine2011 Audi A8 engine detail2011 Audi A8 engine detail

As if I didn't already give up enough in the opener, it's magnificent. The combination of the lightweight aluminum space-frame chassis and the 372 horsepower, 4.2-liter direct injection V8 means the A8 is on par with its peers, but the addition of Audi's rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive puts it into new territory. While the engine's output is far from world-beating, the 328 pound-feet of torque available from 3,500 rpm onwards is more than enough to effortlessly merge with freeway traffic and blow into triple digits without thinking twice. But what impressed more than anything is the utter chuckability of what is – by all outward appearances – a ponderous, massive slab of aluminum and steel.

Forget about the official 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. It simply isn't a factor. Instead, Audi's chassis and powertrain boffins have focused on making this big boy dance. And it does. You wouldn't think that something this large and this lux could be this quick on its feet, responding to steering inputs with immediacy and selecting the perfect of its eight ratios to put the power down, but it does. And it does it with clinical precision that doesn't leave the driver out of the mix – a neat trick that's often lacking in the rarified air of the sports executive set.



With the Audi Drive Select set to Dynamic, a Cray's worth of computing power seamlessly tweaks the adaptive air suspension and S4-derived Sport Differential to nearly eliminate any trace of understeer and allow mid-corner lifts to forcibly tuck that massive schnoz into bends. My driving companions are left shaking their heads and I'm left with an unshakable grin. These kind of antics shouldn't be possible, but the A8 manages to hack physics thanks to a smorgasbord of trick electronics, a set of unflappable, fade-free stoppers and 20-inch wheels wrapped in sticky summer rubber. And it's not just what's added on – excellence is baked-in. Thanks to its stiff aluminum chassis clothed in matching bodywork, this Audi simply has less mass to move around than its competitors. The A8 checks in at 4,409 pounds, while the Mercedes-Benz S550 weighs 4,455 pounds and the BMW 750i checks in at a hefty 4,641-pound starting weight. That may not sound like a massive difference, but consider, too, that the A8 manages to be lighter while toting around all-wheel drive.



If you care about such things, Audi estimates fuel economy at 21 city and 27 highway, and I managed to average out around 19 mpg during a nine-day stretch – easily within spitting distance of both Benz's and Lexus' flagship... hybrids.

When the time came to motor back up Highway One for a very late dinner, I set the Select system to Individual (suspension in Comfort, the rest in Dynamic) and amped up the front seat massagers for both me and my companion. "You're $%#^@#& kidding me, right?" No. No I'm not, my vocabulary-challenged friend. And neither is Audi. For lack of a better phrase, they've put old luxury on notice and infused some very welcome "sport" into its flagship.


2011 Audi A8 2011 Audi A8 front 3/4 view 2011 Audi A8 rear 3/4 view 2011 Audi A8 side view 2011 Audi A8 front view 2011 Audi A8 front view (with bird) 2011 Audi A8 rear view 2011 Audi A8 grille badge 2011 Audi A8 grille 2011 Audi A8 headlight 2011 Audi A8 lower front bumper 2011 Audi A8 wheel 2011 Audi A8 wheel 2011 Audi A8 sideview mirror 2011 Audi A8 door handle 2011 Audi A8 taillight 2011 Audi A8 taillight 2011 Audi A8 badge 2011 Audi A8 badge 2011 Audi A8 exhaust pipes 2011 Audi A8 trunk 2011 Audi A8 engine 2011 Audi A8 engine 2011 Audi A8 engine detail 2011 Audi A8 engine detail 2011 Audi A8 interior 2011 Audi A8 interior 2011 Audi A8 gauges 2011 Audi A8 tachometer 2011 Audi A8 speedometer 2011 Audi A8 information display 2011 Audi A8 clock 2011 Audi A8 navigation display 2011 Audi A8 navigation display closed 2011 Audi A8 center console 2011 Audi A8 climate controls 2011 Audi A8 seat warmer/cooler 2011 Audi A8 gearshift 2011 Audi A8 touchpad 2011 Audi A8 touchpad 2011 Audi A8 push-button start 2011 Audi A8 dashboard 2011 Audi A8 speaker 2011 Audi A8 front seat 2011 Audi A8 front seat leather 2011 Audi A8 center armrest 2011 Audi A8 door controls 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 door detail 2011 Audi A8 seat detail 2011 Audi A8 turn signal stalk 2011 Audi A8 back seat 2011 Audi A8 back seat center armrest 2011 Audi A8 seat massage controls 2011 Audi A8 interior illumination 2011 Audi A8 interior illumination

Photos copyright ©2011 Damon Lavrinc / AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 54 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      Very nice - better looking than the previous A8, and still much better looking than the ugly BMW. I like this better than the new A4s (which look flat and squished to me, especially at the rear.) The shoulder lines are very nice, adds some weight to the lines. If this thing really drives nice I would take it over the S55. And you can put a roof rack on it and go skiing! Nice work Audi.
      • 3 Years Ago
      At this price range you can't really go wrong if you pick either the 7 Series, the A8, the S or the XJ.
      It really comes down to your personal preference on looks, features, brand snob appeal etc.
      I personally am not satisfied with Mercedes as an owner. BMW's drive better but I still don't love them.
      The A8 is good with a gorgeous interior so it would be a toss up between the A8 or the XJL. I love how the XJ looks and it is a great value but the downside of it is no all wheel drive.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great story! The A8 now seems to be ahead of its competitors after years of being bested by the S-class and 7-series. Also, speaking of vocabulary, is "embiggened" a real word? Although, the word you may have been looking for was cromulent.
      • 3 Years Ago
      21-27 MPG??? LOL
      I guess this is with the engine off down the hill and no AC. My previous 08 Altima 2.5S was doing 20-22 average in Boston area. Sometimes these editors are really amusing.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Any American who buys this garbage should be deported


      Buy American You can still help save the economy that has been ruined by buying foreign crap
        • 3 Years Ago
        Uhhhh. No.

        Show me one American vehicle that competes directly with the A8, S Class, 7 Series, LS, etc.

        The DTS is garbage.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The new A8 is a very impressive car, unfortunately I can't love this car. It's too bland and cold for my tastes. If I were ever in the market for this sort of car (you can only hope...) it would probably be the XJ or S-Class. The new A8 just doesn't give me a James May-style fizz whenever I see it.
      • 3 Years Ago
      graduation gift to myself
      • 3 Years Ago
      OMG I got to drive all of Audis current lineup at my work! A dealership in Portland closed so we got all their cars including a $96,000 2011 A8!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One thing I want to know is why didnt Audi drop in the V10 out of the S6 into the grill tastic A8? On a side note I was amazed at the TDI engine in the Q7 very very quite.
      • 3 Years Ago
      21/27 mileage sounds too good to be true. Even small compacts with 6 cylinder engines can't cross the 20 mark in city.

      Also, Audi site rates A8 17 in city.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ive said it before and I'll say it again, Audi caught BMW napping. An a6 that handles better than the 5 series, and several hundred lbs lighter w awd, an a8 that m3s struggle to keep up with and a few hundred lbs lighter than the 7 series while toting awd. The games up BMW. Time to stop pulling. Y2k Mercedes, time to stop relying on nostalgia. Audis built two ultimate driving machines and it won't be long until the a4 wrestles the crown from your 3 series.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I don't normally agree with everything you say Zam, but you're dead right in this case.
        • 3 Years Ago
        damn tats one big bland blob of a car. the older model is much better looking. the styling works on the a4 but not this. the new a6 has evo headlamps and a bmw interior. not so nice. the rs5 has failed against the older m3 and c63. whats the diff bw an a5 sportback and an a7? audi seems to be the one whose sleeping.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Those were E36 M3's!
        The new A6 looks to be following BMW. The new 5 series is a junior 7 series, instead of a large 3 series. The new A6 seems to be a junior version of their old person's car, instead of a larger version of their young's person car, A4.

      • 3 Years Ago
      Looks like an amazing car. Too bad Ill never get to drive or own one. I used to be a fan of Audi's LED headlight strips, when they first debuted, they looked sinister. The newer renditions make them look droopy-eyed and rather sleepy looking in appearance. Not diggin that aspect of the car, but the rest is sexy.
        • 3 Years Ago
        If they would just flip them upside down, they would look much more sinister... instead of droopy-eyed.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I like the one Pic above that shows how much grille you will have to clean out if you randomly hit a bird
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