There are few things sweeter than the modern naturally aspirated V8 engine. In the past decade, we've been blessed to experience fine examples of free-breathing eight-pot goodness from around the globe, perhaps the best of which being the growling 6.2-liter unit that Mercedes-Benz once used in just about all of its AMG models, and a close runner-up being Audi's awesome, high-revving 4.2-liter V8.
But those fiery German V8s won't be around forever. Slowly but surely, Mercedes-Benz is replacing all of its excellent 6.2-liter V8s with lighter, quieter (boo!) twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter engines. And more to the point of this review, Audi's 4.2-liter V8 that we've loved in countless applications is now a rare find. For the 2013 model year, only the R8 supercar and RS5 sport coupe are left with this truly world-class engine, which at one point could be found in the majority of Audi models. It's a damn shame.
So here we are, the year 2012, and for every 4.2-liter V8 that Ingolstadt will no longer sell you, there is instead a supercharged 3.0-liter V6. We've tested it plenty of times in the A6, A7, S4, S5 and Q7, but now Audi's flagship A8 loses its 4.2 in favor of the forced-induction six. Displacement, meet your replacement. But don't worry – that isn't all bad.
For starters, know that this 3.0T Quattro model serves as the entry-level A8, pricing for which starts at $72,200 – nearly $6,000 less than the base 2012 model – not including $895 for destination. Our modestly equipped test car, only including options like the driver assist package, cold weather pack, LED headlamps and six-disc CD changer, stickered for $85,045 all in.
The A8 is our least-favorite quad-ring sedan in terms of design.
Engines aside, what else is new with the 2013 A8? Well... nothing. It's still the same big, svelte sedan it always was, incorporating every last drop of Audi goodness. We so have to admit, though, that the A8 is our least-favorite quad-ring sedan in terms of design – that front end equipped with full LED headlamps still looks a bit saggy to us – but compared to most rivals, the A8 is a handsome package, even with the smaller 19-inch wheels (20s are optional) at all four corners. It won't slap you in the face with sexiness like the Jaguar XJ, but to the eyes of this staff, it is indeed a more handsome barge than rivals like the S-Class and BMW 7 Series. No one will second-guess your street cred when they see those LED strips coming up behind them in the rearview mirror.
How about interior changes? Again, nothing. But why bother trying to update a cabin that's already brilliant in terms of design, quality and functionality? The cabin of our test car may have been awash in the sort of cold, gray German leather that's plagued these luxury sedans for centuries, but warmer, more inviting hues can be had. Optioning up for the long-wheelbase A8L ($6,300) gets you the predictable increase in rear seat legroom – 42.9 inches compared to the already-good 37.7 – and only adds a scant 33 pounds to the car's heft.
Once nestled into the 22-way power adjustable seats, you're greeted with a fantastic array of technology, the most impressive of which comes in the form of Audi's Multi-Media Interface Touch infotainment system. Gone are the days of scrolling through the MMI with the central command knob (don't panic, it's still there). Instead, if you want to find a phone contact or input an address into the navigation system, you can scribble your best handwriting onto the multifunction touchpad found just north of the gear lever. That, combined with Google Earth-based navigation and an array of optional driver safety aids including adaptive cruise control, pre-sense collision warning and lane-keeping assist, means your A8 is loaded to the brim with every bell and whistle to keep you safe and informed at all times.
The 3.0T engine is available on both the short- and long-wheelbase A8 (we tested the latter), and while it offers less power than the outgoing 4.2, its one major benefit is weight savings. The V6 is 44 pounds lighter than the outgoing V8, for a total of 4,409 pounds in the A8L. The only long-wheelbase luxury flagship that's lighter is the Jaguar XJL, and that includes the new-for-2013 all-wheel-drive model.
That overall lightness is what we've always liked best when it came to driving the A8, and we're happy to report that fitting the 3.0T under the hood doesn't take away from the big Audi's overall nimbleness – if anything, the weight loss up front helps matters. Like in every other application, the supercharged V6 produces 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque here, routed to all four wheels through a slick-shifting eight-speed Tiptronic automatic with plastic paddles fixed to the steering wheel.
The A8L's 0-60 time has actually fallen by three-tenths of a second (5.5 versus 5.8).
Yes, the 3.0 may lose 39 horsepower and three pound-feet compared to the 4.2, but the A8L's 0-60 time has actually fallen by three-tenths of a second (5.5 versus 5.8). It's certainly no slouch, this A8, and that quicker off-the-line time is thanks largely to the 3.0T's better power delivery characteristics. In the 4.2, all 372 hp and 328 lb-ft didn't fully come on until 6,800 RPM and 3,500 RPM, respectively, but with the supercharged six, those 333 horses are available at 5,500 RPM and the 325 lb-ft fully arrives at just 2,900 RPM. That said, one supercharger can't do the work of two turbos, and the heavier, less-powerful BMW 740i xDrive will still hit 60 miles per hour one tenth of a second sooner than the Audi.
If there's one thing we definitely miss about the 4.2-liter engine, it's the aural stimulation. That high-revving V8 made a truly spectacular noise when you wound it up, and while there's nothing to complain about in terms of the 3.0T's performance, it's simply too quiet for our tastes, though that's less of an issue here in the comfort-above-all A8.
Even with the less-powerful engine on board, it's still the best-handling big luxury sedan money can buy.
But on the road, it's not just about what you hear, it's about what you feel. The aluminum-intensive construction of the A8 means it feels more nimble and sporty than the rest of its competitive set, and things like the standard Audi Drive Select (driver-adjustable settings for nearly every aspect of the drivetrain and suspension) and adaptive air suspension ensure that you'll be hugging corners with confidence while still gliding over road imperfections. The driver-adjustable steering rack is precise and nicely weighted at speed, but eases up a bit to aid for slow-going parking maneuvers. Simply put, the A8 continues to feel just as tossable as it ever did, and even with the less-powerful engine on board, it's still the best-handling big luxury sedan money can buy.
Here's the one eyebrow-raising part of this whole 3.0T equation: fuel economy. The EPA rates the long-wheelbase 2013 A8 at 18/28 miles per gallon (city/highway), and while you'd think that is an improvement over the outgoing 4.2, you'd be wrong. It matches those numbers exactly, all the way down to the 21-mpg combined rating. Audi has fitted the 3.0-liter mill with start/stop, and since the EPA doesn't factor that tech into its testing cycles yet, don't be surprised if you see combined ratings closer to the 23.5 mpg that we managed during our week with the car. Regardless, in a boat this size, 28 mpg is indeed impressive. The only comparable vehicle that beats it is the Mercedes-Benz S350 Bluetec, thanks to its torquey, efficient diesel engine. And who knows, that all could chance once the oil-burning A8 3.0 TDI arrives.
So what exactly are you getting with the 2013 A8 3.0T? A more affordable entry point into the range that doesn't lose anything in the way of driving dynamics while still offering relatively good looks, top-notch comfort and absolute class-leading tech. And if having a V6 under your bonnet really upsets you that much, know that Audi will sell you an A8 with the same new 420-hp, 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 as the potent S6 and S7... for $8,700 more. Yes, we really miss the sound of that excellent 4.2, but when a car's main objective is to coddle before commove, the A8 3.0T is really all you need.