2009 S8 New Car Test Drive
The Audi A8 is a big luxury sedan designed to challenge the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It beats them in some areas and in others it offers an individualistic alternative. In many respects, the Audi A8 raised the bar for performance. Several versions are available, the A8, the A8 L, the A8 L W12, and the S8.
Three versions are available. The standard A8 boasts instant throttle response from its powerful 4.2-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission, while quattro all-wheel drive and an adaptable air suspension provide an excellent balance between handling and ride quality. The A8 offers a supreme sense of control with Gibraltar-like stability, benefits of its lightweight, Aluminum Space Frame that bonds the car into one cohesive unit.
The cabin is elegant and comfortable, and tops the class in finish quality. Audi's Multi-Media Interface, or MMI, integrates controls for various features and electronic systems into a big knob. It's a little easier to learn than BMW's iDrive, but it isn't easy. There is a learning curve and sometimes we find ourselves having to work harder to perform simple functions and wonder whether this is progress or burdensome technology.
The A8 L rides on a stretched wheelbase that provides more room and comfort for rear-seat passengers and uses the same engine as the A8.
The A8 L W12 upgrades to a 12-cylinder engine and a whopping 450 horsepower. It's the only 12-cylinder sedan from Germany's big three luxury brands with all-wheel drive.
The Audi S8 is powered by a 5.2-liter V10 and comes with a firmer suspension, faster steering, and bigger brakes. The S8 is distinguished by special trim and equipment inside and out. The S8 is perfect for triple digit speeds on wide-open highways and would be an excellent choice for a cross-country race. It's also a good selection for getting away from enemy agents, for those in that line of work, particularly in bad weather. For driving through the neighborhood or in stop-and-go traffic, however, we found it suffers from an overly sensitive throttle that makes smooth takeoffs a bit too challenging.
For 2009, changes to the A8 are minimal and in the category of repackaging some features and options.
The 2008 Audi A8 is available in four variations: The A8 4.2 ($70,050); A8 L 4.2 ($77,900); A8 L W12 ($120,100); and the S8 5.2 ($96,200). All come with Audi quattro all-wheel drive.
The A8 4.2 rides on a 115.9-inch wheelbase, while the A8 L adds 5.1 inches in both wheelbase and overall length. Both are powered by a 4.2-liter V8 rated at 350 horsepower and come with a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift control. Both models come with dual-zone automatic climate control that uses temperature, moisture, and infrared sensors to demist the windows before they can even think about fogging. Other standard features include leather upholstery; heated front and rear seats; 16-way power adjustable front seats with lumbar adjustment; interior air filter; power tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; memory for the driver's seat, mirrors, and steering wheel; heated power mirrors with auto-dimming and passenger side tilt-down back-up aid; power windows and door locks; remote keyless entry; sunroof, Bose AM/FM radio with 6-disc CD changer; Sirius satellite radio; auxiliary audio input jack; navigation system with voice recognition; Bluetooth wireless cell phone link; trip computer; auto-dimming rearview mirror; Homelink universal garage door opener; rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles; trunklid-closing assist; automatic bi-xenon adaptive headlights with washers; theft-deterrent system; front and rear fog lights; adjustable load-leveling air suspension; front and rear limited-slip differentials; and P255/45HR18 tires on alloy wheels. The A8 L adds manual rear side sunshades. The parking brake is operated by a switch.
The A8 L W12 rides on the 121-inch wheelbase and is powered by the 450-hp W12 engine. It comes with ultra-luxury amenities, including front and rear park assist; power sunshades for the rear windows; power-adjustable rear seats; leather upholstery on the door panels, console and dashboard; rear dual-zone automatic climate control; massaging and ventilated front seats; Alcantara interior trim; wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel; rearview camera; keyless access and starting; door-closing assist; power trunklid; trunk pass-through with a ski sack; and P255/40HR19 tires. The A8 L W12 also comes standard with a full-length rear-seat center console, housing elaborate climate controls and seat adjustments, plus a dual-screen entertainment system; this limits seating capacity to four, though the rear center console can be deleted at no cost in favor of a three-place bench seat.
The S8 rides on the standard 115.9-inch wheelbase, and features a high-performance 5.2-liter V10 rated at 450 hp. The air suspension is firmer, the brakes are larger and the steering is quicker. Extra bright trim and 20-inch wheels with P265/35R20 tires contribute to a distinctive look outside; while inside are sport seats upholstered in two-tone leather, darker wood or carbon fiber trim with aluminum accents, and white-on-gray italic gauge faces.
Option packages for the A8 and A8 L include a Sport Package ($4,300) with firmer suspension settings, 20-inch wheels with P265/35R20 summer performance or all-season tires, and a multi-function leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles. A 14-speaker, 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system custom-tailored to the Audi's interior acoustics ($6,300) is available.
Options for the A8 and A8L include adaptive cruise control ($2,100), which uses radar to maintain a prescribed distance from traffic ahead; four-spoke wood and leather multifunction steering wheel with wood shift knob ($690); a solar-powered sunroof panel ($790) that blows cooling air through the car while it is parked (and replaces the standard glass sunroof); front seat massage and ventilation ($1,500); rear-seat electric lumbar adjustment ($350); 19-inch wheels with P255/40R19 all-season tires ($1,900); and, for the A8 L only, a personal refrigerator ($1,500) in the trunk accessible through the rear-seat armrest.
A8 L W12 options are limited to the adaptive cruise control, solar roof panel, four-spoke multi-function steering wheel ($200), Bang & Olufsen stereo, refrigerator, full-leather upgrade ($3,900), and 20-inch wheels with P265/35R20 tires ($3,200).
Most of the stand-alone luxury options offered on the standard-wheelbase A8 are available on the S8 for the same prices. Carbon-fiber interior trim ($550) is available.
Safety features on all A8 models includes 10 air bags, including dual front airbags, front and rear side airbags, curtain side airbags, and front knee airbags. In a crash, computers quickly determine which dual-threshold, dual-stage air bags to deploy, how quickly to deploy them, and how intensely they should be deployed. Also standard are antilock 4-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, front-seat active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitor. A Technology Package ($3,600) adds Audi Side Assist and Audi Lane Assist.