2003 A8 New Car Test Drive
The A8 is Audi's largest sedan, designed to take on the big-sedan competition from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Like the Benz and the Bimmer, the A8 is fast, roomy, and exceptionally comfortable. It rides like a luxury car, yet handles like a sports sedan. Extremely stable, it tracks rock-steady at super-legal speeds.
The same is true, of course, for the competition. But the A8 brings a unique personality to this class. It begins with its styling: Spare, clean and aerodynamically functional, the Audi doesn't have a single line on it that it absolutely does not need. Some buyers might find the A8 plain, but we like its quiet conservatism. The analogous Mercedes and BMW look a bit forced, by comparison.
Underneath those sleek lines, the Audi offers unique lightweight aluminum construction that provides best-in-class crash protection. And of course it's the only car in this class with full-time quattro all-wheel drive. That provides a measure of security and outright grip that is only available with the four-circle badge.
Two models comprise the A8 line: A8 ($62,200) and A8 L ($67,200). Related to these is a high-performance variant called the S8 ($72,500).
A8 and A8 L are powered by a 310-horsepower 4.2-liter dohc V8, driving all four wheels through a five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. The A8 packs all the luxury features you'd expect for its price, and rides on a wheelbase of 113.4 inches, comparable to that of a modern, full-size U.S. sedan.
A8 L is stretched out over a limousine-like wheelbase of 118.5 inches, for more rear-seat leg and headroom. Xenon headlights, heated seats front and rear, a ski sack, rear-compartment sunshades and a heated steering wheel are standard on A8 L, and are part of a $2,550 Premium Package for the A8.
S8 is propelled by a stouter version of the same 4.2-liter V8, producing 360 horsepower. Hotter cams, a two-stage variable intake manifold and a less-restrictive exhaust perform this trick, while at the same time upping torque to 317 pound-feet at 3400 rpm (from the A8's 302 pound-feet at 3000. The S8 can flash from zero to 60 in 6.3 seconds, and dispatch a quarter-mile in 13.9.
Backstopping that added speed are huge ventilated disc brakes, 13.6 inches front and 11.0 inches rear, with four-piston aluminum Brembo front brake calipers. The S8 suspension rides nearly and inch lower in front, its springs and shocks are about 30 percent firmer, its stabilizer bars are thicker, and its five-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels carry 245/45ZR18 performance tires. The S8 shares its 113.4-inch wheelbase with the A8.