"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...
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Photos copyright ©2011 Damon Lavrinc / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Newest generation loaded with latest technology.
The Audi A8 is an impressive blend of performance, technology and luxury. Its 372-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 is capable of propelling this big sedan from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 5.7 seconds or cruise for hours on end at 100 mph. Quattro all-wheel drive makes it feel like it's riding on rails. The A8's cabin is luxurious and equipped with the latest in technology.
The A8 was redesigned for the 2011 model year, making it the newest and most advanced of the big German luxury sedans. The BMW 7 Series was redesigned for 2009, while the current-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been with us since the 2007 model year.
There are only minor changes to the 2012 Audi A8 lineup. Among them: Audi connect integrates Google Earth into the navigation system, providing realistic panoramic views and high-resolution 3D satellite and aerial imagery in place of the road-map look of less sophisticated systems. A Camera Zoom feature allows closer views. Real-time traffic information is available through the SiriusXM Traffic service. WiFi connectivity is available inside the cabin for up to eight devices.
The 2012 Audi A8 comes in standard-length and long-wheelbase A8L versions.
The Audi A8L features an extra-roomy back seat that can be decked out with reclining seats, a powered footrest, and a built-in refrigerator. The long-wheelbase variant is offered with either the 4.2-liter V8 or a 6.3-liter W12 that delivers 500 horsepower and 463 pound-feet of torque. All A8 models come with the 8-speed Tiptronic transmission.
The A8 is a true luxury car with high-quality furnishings and great attention to detail. A superb Bang & Olufsen surround system with 19 speakers and a 1400-watt amplifier is available, along with ventilated and massaging seats, rearview camera, sports suspension, and a heated steering wheel. The A8L offers a rear seat entertainment center with a pair of 10-inch LCD screens and individual audio controls.
Freshly redesigned, the A8 features a giant trapezoidal grille that has become an Audi trademark. Taillights are LED, the light-emitting diode technology that is becoming a hallmark of upscale cars. If the option box is checked, the high beams, low beams, turn indicators and side marker and running lights are all LED as well, and we've found the carefully arrayed LEDs produce an even, wide pattern of very white light with no hot spots.
In spite of its size and weight, the A8 provides sporty performance and handling, responding quickly to changes in direction. When pushed hard, there is little understeer or oversteer, benefits of the balanced chassis and Audi quattro all-wheel drive. At the same time, directional stability on long straight stretches of road inspires confidence. The A8 is among the world's best high-speed cruisers.
Audi's MMI multi-media interface employs a touchpad embedded in the center console to control the navigation and sound systems. The pad is multi-talented, offering functions ranging from back lighted number displays for audio presets or owner-programmed functions to scrolling through displayed menus to handwriting recognition (printed block letters and numbers) for keying in navigational requests, like addresses or city names.
The 2012 Audi A8 comes in three models: A8 4.2 ($78,750), A8L 4.2 ($84,700), A8L W12 ($133,500). A8L models have a 5-inch longer wheelbase. Both 4.2 models are powered by a 372-horsepower V8; the W12 is rated 500 horsepower. All A8 models come with an 8-speed Tiptronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive.
Standard features include charcoal filtered automatic dual zone climate control; heated 18-way power front seats; leather upholstery and leather-trimmed three-spoke multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles; leather trimmed shift lever; the usual trio of powered accessories plus a rear window sunshade, tilt and telescope steering column and tilt and slide glass sunroof; cruise control; keyless start/stop; auto-dim inside mirror with compass; voice-recognition navigation system with Audi connect; premium Bose surround sound system sharing an 8-inch color display supplemented by a 7-inch driver information display in the instrument cluster; HD and satellite radio (the latter with 3-month trial subscription); programmable garage and gate remote; Bluetooth capability; cooled glove box; and 255/45R19 tires on alloy wheels.
The A8L adds power door closing; power trunk; power rear and manual side door window sunshades; four-spoke multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles; keyless entry; and front and rear parking sensors with rearview camera.
Options include a Premium Package ($2000) with 22-way power adjustable, ventilated front seats with lumbar support and massage functions; Driver Assistance Package ($3000) with adaptive cruise control, out-of-lane and blind spot warnings and pre-sense plus that warns of potential collision scenarios and prepares for them, including seat adjustments, window closings, emergency braking and seatbelt pre-tensioning; Cold Weather Package ($800) with heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and rear seat/trunk pass through; automatic four-zone climate control ($950) with separate controls for outboard rear seats; solar sunroof ($790) that powers the ventilation system to circulate fresh air while the ignition is off; thermal night vision ($2300) with color-coded and audible driver warnings for highlighted pedestrians; dual pane acoustic and security glass ($600); Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system ($6300) with 19 speakers and 1400-watt amplifier; and full LED headlamp system ($1600) comprising high and low beams, turn signals and daytime running lights.
The A8 Convenience Package ($2900) adds keyless entry, power trunk and door closing, and the park assist system. The Sport Package ($5900) includes 265/40R20 tires on 20-inch alloy wheels, dynamic steering with variable rate and assist, adaptive sports suspension, sport rear differential, the 22-way front seats and special leather upholstery.
A8L options include a rear-seat entertainment system ($3000) with dual 10-inch LCD screens and individual media controls. The Rear Seat Comfort Package ($3200) has reclining heated power rear seats, rear seat ventilation, four-zone climate control and rear vanity mirrors. The Executive Rear Seat Package ($12,500) essentially gives the back seat the limousine treatment by combining the Comfort Package with the rear seat entertainment system, a power foot rest for the right-hand seat and a 10.4-liter refrigerator in an extended center console. The A8L Drive Select Plus Package ($2300) adds the sport differential and dynamic steering.
The A8L W12 makes the Premium, Sport, and Cold Weather Packages standard; and adds ventilation and massage for the rear seats; the rear-seat entertainment system with dual 10-inch screens, the four-zone automatic climate control; and a Panorama sunroof, among other indulgences. The interior is configured for four passengers with a full-length center console, although a conventional five-passenger layout is available as a no-charge option. Either way, the seats are upholstered in special diamond-stitched leather. Since many of the goodies from the A8L Executive Package are already standard, a similar package for the W12 ($3200) adds only the power footrest, the refrigerator, and a table in the center console.
Safety features on all A8s include frontal airbags and front and rear side-impact and curtain airbags; electronic stability control with brake assist; traction control; ABS; EBD; braking pre-sense; all-wheel drive; tire pressure monitoring system; and rear seat child safety seat anchors (LATCH). The optional Driver Assistance Package adds the out-of-lane and blind spot warnings and the active braking and seatbelt pre-tensioning.
The most eye-catching feature of the Audi A8 is the optional LED headlight system. Every function, including the headlight high and low beams, consists of an assemblage of light emitting diodes. There is no single bulb serving any single purpose. Viewed head on, it's like a string of monochromatic Christmas tree lights reclining on a contrasting colored light rope bed. Audi says its LED system consumes 40 watts against 50 watts to 60 watts for most headlight high beams and as much as 80 watts for some xenon HID lamps. Even with the lower wattage, Audi still fits each headlight assembly with a small fan that keeps air circulating around the LEDs any time the lights are on. Whatever, there's no mistaking the A8 in the rearview mirror or oncoming, especially at night.
The other, equally important but less noticeable feature is a modestly bulbous hood. This is something that'll increasingly be appearing on European-brand cars as they're re-styled to meet the Continent's recently adopted pedestrian safety standards. Those that are done well, as on the A8, which benefits from complementary grille geometry, will be largely invisible. Others, like on the new BMW 7 Series, may look a bit awkward until our eyes adjust to the new contours.
The other noticeable feature on the A8's face is one that's no longer there: Beginning with the 2011 models, Audi eliminated the black bar crossing the grille at bumper height. The grille now looks of a single piece, a large but not ungraceful trapezoid sporting the trademark four interlocking rings.
Viewed from the side, the A8 quite frankly could be any one of the continent's large luxury sedans. Subdued character lines paralleling each other trace rearward from the top and bottom of the front wheelwell to the top of the boot and the center of the rear bumper; the lower line, of course, breaks where it leap frogs the rear wheelwell. The overall image is boxier and less wedge-like than the styling cues that prevail in the brand's smaller sedans. Door handles pop out of otherwise clean flanks just below the upper character line. The low profile tires neatly fill circular, gently blistered wheelwells.
Audi carries the LED theme into the taillights, enclosing the brake light units in a loop of running lights that wrap around the corner of the rear fender to double as side marker lights. The trailing edge of the trunk lid arcs across the car between the taillights, curving around the rear fender to link up with the upper character line creasing the A8's flanks. Properly placed dual exhaust tips peak out through the lower portion of the rear bumper, itself graced with a slender strip of bright work running the width of the car. A cutline bisecting the vertical plane of the trunk lid below the interlocking rings logo and between the taillights hides the lighting for the rear license plate and the pressure button for opening the trunk.
The W12 model adds subtle but distinctive touches, including bright accents in the grille and on the exterior mirrors; and trapezoidal chrome tailpipes integrated into the rear bumper.
The Audi A8 cabin is luxuriously appointed and trimmed and comes loaded with technology. Where there's wood trim, it's real. The standard leather upholstery and trim have an expensive look and feel.
The seats give good support without being overly firm or too soft. The driver's seat offers 22 adjustments, more than enough for us to find a comfortable and proper driving position. Front-seat headroom in the A8 trails that of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class by half an inch and the BMW 7 Series by more than three inches. In front-seat legroom, the A8 splits the difference between the BMW and the Mercedes. Visibility is good except the wide C-pillar (the rearmost body panel supporting the car's roof) creates a blind spot, although the blind spot warning system can help address that problem.
Rear-seat accommodations in the A8 felt average, and the numbers are close to BMW's: The 7 Series sedans have a quarter-inch more legroom and a half-inch more headroom, while the S-Class has half an inch more headroom and more than three inches more legroom. The A8L betters the S-Class in rear-seat legroom by a half inch. The long-wheelbase BMW 7 Series, including the 740Li, tops the A8L in rear-seat legroom by about 1.5 inches.
The A8 has the least trunk space of the three, holding about one less foot-square box than the BMW 7 Series and three cubic feet less than the S-Class.
The Audi A8 is loaded with technology and, as with the BMW and Mercedes, there is a learning curve. Like computer users, some drivers will use all the features and personalize all the settings, while others will focus on driving and not plumb the depths of the technology. Some of the technology works very well, some not as much.
We do not love the shifter, for example. Audi describes it as styled like a yacht's throttle lever with the intent of serving as a wrist rest to facilitate the driver's use of the nearby touch pad. This sounds good in theory, and it looks trick, but in practice not once during our weeks with the A8s did we manage to shift directly from Park into Reverse, the shift lever relentlessly and stubbornly slipping directly to Drive or occasionally only to Neutral irrespective of how gently we eased it out of Park. If you were James Bond and the bad guys were chasing you, you'd want an older car that could quickly be thrown into Reverse by feel. Modern luxury cars are slow to get going because drivers must look and carefully select Reverse or Drive. By the time Bond found Reverse on the A8, he'd be looking at the business end of a pistol.
The automatic climate control works very well and it easily kept the cabin cool during Central California's hottest days of the year. Ventilated seats mean occupants will be comfortable within moments of climbing into a hot, parked car. When temperatures dropped to the low 40s, we found the A8 warm and cozy, and we're confident there would be few sedans better for the iciest winter weather.
Figuring out how to operate Audi's navigation and audio systems borders on overwhelming, however. Audi stresses that its goal was to maximize features while minimizing distraction. Hence the touch pad and voice recognition interfaces. But we wonder whether the front seat of a high performance luxury sedan is the right place to display a full-color, Rolodex-like graphic of album covers of CDs and DVDs. The system includes a 20-gigabyte hard disk drive.
Audi connect integrates Google Earth into the navigation system. Instead of the usual road-map background, the system overlays the traffic grid on top of high-resolution 3D satellite and aerial images. A Camera Zoom feature allows closer views of surroundings or destinations. Google Voice Local Search allows destination searches to be accomplished by voice command. Once the driver knows how to operate this feature it can reduce driver distraction: Instead of trying to scroll through a seemingly endless list of points of interest while simultaneously trying to watch the road, the driver can simply press a button and say, 'Vail Mountain Lodge.'
Audi connect also offers real-time traffic and weather, fuel price updates, and streaming news feeds (available to view when the car is at a stop). But perhaps the coolest feature of all is that Audi connect also makes your A8 a WiFi hot spot, providing connectivity for up to eight mobile devices. Your email can be downloading while you drive and you can stop and check it whenever it's convenient.
Essential controls follow Audi's established patterns, with legibly marked buttons and knobs ergonomically arranged on the center console forward of the shift lever. A touch of class is the tidy analog clock with round face and sweeping hour and minute hands centered in the dash.
The 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system is superb, with the crispest of highs floating out of twin, acoustically tuned, mini-tower speakers that pop up out of the ends of the dash top and the deepest of basses pumped up by the 1400-watt amplifier but without rattling windows or threatening occupants' heart health.
The Audi A8 excels at driving dynamics. This is a car owners will look forward to climbing into, whether it's for the daily commute or the out of state vacation.
We found the A8 rode better and responded to steering inputs with more certainty than did the 2011 BMW 740i or the 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 we also drove. Our A8 tracked through curves taken at elevated speeds more confidently than the BMW and Mercedes did, the quattro all-wheel drive system invisibly willing the back end to trace the arc marked by the front tires.
Road and wind noise were nicely muted in the A8.
The refined but audibly muscular V8 delivers its power through the 8-speed automatic cleanly and in a linear fashion, with no bumps or surges from camshaft mode transitions.
The W12 arranges its 12 cylinders in four rows of three, instead of the two rows of six cylinders used by a V12. The Audi W12 arrangement results in a more compact package better suited for the quattro all-wheel drive system. The A8L W12 displaces 6.3 liters and produces 500 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 463 pound-feet of torque at 4750. For the 2012 A8L, Audi claims a 0 to 60 mph sprint in 4.4 seconds, and a top speed electronically limited to 130 mph.
Fuel economy for the A8 4.2 is an EPA-rated 18/28 mpg City/Highway with a Combined rating of 21 mpg. Those estimates better or equal the BMW 740i's 17/25 mpg and the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid's 19/25 mpg. Also worth noting is that the A8's V8 delivers more power than either the 740i (315 hp) or the S400's combined gas-electric net (295 hp). Flooring the accelerator will reduce fuel economy, of course. During a week of hard driving, our fuel economy ranged from 13.6 to just over 18 mpg, the latter achieved during extended freeway driving.
The W12 rates 14/21 mpg City/Highway, or 16 mpg Combined, in the EPA test. That's slightly better than that of the V12-powered BMW 760 Li 13/19 mpg, or 15 mpg Combined, and the Mercedes-Benz S600 at 12/19 mpg, or 14 mpg Combined. But the BMW and Benz V12s edge the Audi W12 for horsepower, at 535 hp, 510, and 500, respectively.
The brakes performed consistently and evenly on the A8, never showing the slightest hint of fade. The brakes are always at the ready, aided by a programmed function that primes the hydraulic system any time the driver abruptly lifts off the gas pedal. But it doesn't overdo things, as evidenced by the lack of drama when the brake pedal was touched in the midst of a freeway off ramp entered too fast, delivering only a well-controlled damping of the rate of travel and a calming stop at the intersection at the foot of the ramp.
The A8 is not a lightweight, tipping the scales at 4,409 pounds. The A8L weighs in at 4,453 pounds with the V8, 4,773 pounds with the W12. Both Audi V8 models are marginally heavier than the BMW 740i and 740Li, respectively, and this despite Audi's pound-shaving all-aluminum space frame. Compared to the 5,000-pound, V12-powered BMW 760Li, however, the A8 W12 looks very lean indeed.
The Audi A8 combines high performance and high technology in a luxury sedan that's almost as entertaining to ride in as it is fun to drive. It can cruise at high speeds all day while allowing email to download to the driver's laptop. This latest-generation A8 compares favorably with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Sacramento, California.
Audi A8 4.2 ($78,750); A8L 4.2 ($84,700); A8L W12 ($133,500).
Neckarsulm, Baden Wuertemberg, Germany.
Options As Tested
Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System ($6300); Convenience Package ($2900), including front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry, power trunk and power closing doors; Premium Package ($2000), including 22-way front seats with ventilation and massage.
Audi A8 4.2 ($78,750).
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