THE BETTER PART OF DISCRETIONAudi's A8 has long been the big saloon to choose if discretion and understatement work for you. Is that still the case? Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewThis facelifted Audi A8 faces some tough rivals, but there's an argument that it's as good as any of its competitors, even Mercedes' mighty S-Class. Efficiency has improved, power has crept up across the board and those famously cool interiors are now better trimmed than ever. Unfortunately, it might all be a little too understated for those who want to flaunt their status.
BackgroundYou might think that the A8 luxury saloon is a bit-part player in Audi's success story and in terms of pure numbers shifted, it's hard to disagree. To whit, Audi shifted 1,172 A8s in the UK in the year before this facelifted car was introduced. That represented 14.5 per cent of the luxury saloon market, with the sales leader, the Mercedes S-Class shifting 1,864 units and accounting for a 23.1 per cent slice of the pie. Between these two cars sit the Jaguar XJ and the BMW 7 Series. Somewhere tailing off the bottom is the Lexus LS. So that's fourth out of the big five contenders for Audi. Doesn't sound like a winner, does it?
Audi is used to winning. It's got extremely good at it, as it never tires of reminding us and the A8 deserves better. It was the first car in this class to popularise aluminium construction, the first to focus on four-wheel drive. But what does the latest A8 represent? That's the key question in this market sector. What does this car say about me? The latest model aims to produce an answer that's a little less specialist interest than before.
Driving ExperienceThe array of engines you get in the latest A8 is pretty mouth-watering. While it's true that the oily bits have been tweaked rather than offering anything overwhelmingly novel, they were good to begin with and have just got better. There's a choice of seven petrol and TDI engines, with the supercharged 3.0 TFSI petrol unit boosted from 290PS to 310PS, the V8 twin-turbo 4.0 TFSI moves from 420PS to 435PS, the highly efficient 3.0 TDI diesel increases from 250PS to 258PS and the 4.2 TDI diesel gains 35PS, taking it to 385PS. Its already mighty torque output is also increased by 50Nm to a prodigious 850Nm. Let's put that figure into perspective. A Ferrari 458 Italia makes 540Nm, a Lamborghini Aventador V12 688Nm and a Bentley Continental GT Speed W12 800Nm. We're talking serious muscle here. If you prefer hybrid power to sheer muscle, the efficiency-focused A8 hybrid combines a 2.0 TFSI engine and electric motor to produce a combined output of 245PS and system torque of 480Nm.
Paired with quattro all-wheel drive, the 4.0 TFSI now powers the A8 from rest to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, but under partial load the Audi cylinder on demand (COD) system deactivates four of its eight cylinders to give priority to fuel economy. Active Noise Cancellation ensures excellent acoustic comfort by using precise anti-phase noise to combat intrusive noise in the cabin while cylinders are deactivated. Active engine mounts also dampen vibration. It's clever. It's an Audi. What else did you expect?
Design and BuildViewed in silhouette, you're not going to notice a whole lot of difference with this latest car. The length (5.14 metres), wheelbase (2.99 metres), width (1.95 metres) and height (1.46 metres) of the new generation A8 remain unchanged and this also applies to the A8 L models with their additional 13 centimetres of wheelbase and body length added in the interests of rear passenger space. Turn the spotlight on the A8 and you'll spot the subtle re-sculpting of the bonnet, the revised single frame grille, the sleeker front bumper and the shapelier lower edge of the headlight units. The design of the LED tail lamps has been revised and the bumper in all models bar the S8 now incorporates two rhomboid tail pipes. Chrome detail elements, gloss black window surrounds and an extended palette of paint finishes also differentiate this updated car.
Audi interiors rightly remain the envy of many class rivals and the A8 finesses the details another couple of notches. There's a wide choice of different leathers, trim inlays in wood and metal, with fine grain poplar brown-silver making its debut alongside fine grain ash brown-gold natural. There's also a natural-looking, soft and breathable Unikat leather trim that's sure to prove popular. A 510-litre boot should hold more than enough luggage. The latest version of the excellent MMI control interface marshals the ancillary controls on a colour display screen that glides out from the dash. It helps the A8 do a better job than any of its rivals of keeping the dreaded button clutter to a minimum.
Market and ModelPrices start from around £60,000 for the 3.0 TDI quattro that most will want and there are three main trim levels - SE, SE Executive and Sport Executive. You'll need a £63,000 budget for the petrol 2.0 TFSI Hybrid models and around £80,000 for the potent S8.
Audi's rightly proud of the lighting technology on this latest A8, with optional MatrixBeam LED headlight technology available. The high-beam function in these uses 25 individual LEDs per unit that can be switched on and off or dimmed individually when the on-board camera detects other vehicles ahead. The lighting system in the A8 uses predictive route data from the navigation system with MMI Touch to adjust the distribution of light in response to the current driving situation and can recognise and act on route data, such as corners and road classifications. There are even indicators with a progressively expanding strip of light that show that the vehicle is turning even more clearly to other road users, even at long distances and in poor visibility.
Whichever spec you decide upon, equipment levels shouldn't disappoint. Safety-wise, there are eight airbags, stability control of course and Audi's clever pre-sense system, which automatically activates the hazard warning lights, closes the windows and tightens the seatbelts if it thinks an accident is unavoidable. Pay more and in such a situation, it'll automatically brake the car for you if it thinks you haven't done so sufficiently, with cruise control that notices other cars indicating in other lanes and adjusts itself to suit.
Cost of OwnershipWe'll open with the most relevant model in the A8 line up, which for most UK buyers is the A8 3.0 TDI, which returns up to 47.9 mpg, corresponding to 155 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. There is one model in the range which does even better on emissions and that's the rather expensive A8 Hybrid, netting 147g/km, although fuel economy is down on the diesel car at 44.8mpg. Go for a big petrol engine and the Cylinder On Demand technology starts making big improvements. At the very top of the line is the mighty A8 L W12 quattro, which displaces 6.3 litres and produces 500PS. It nevertheless manages to return 24.1mpg and emits 270g/km. The sports flagship is the 520PS S8 which features a supercharged 4.0 TFSI engine that'll blast it to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds, yet with a lighter right boot, it'll average 28mpg and emit to 235g/km.
Depreciation in this sector is traditionally severe, especially where the more expensive models are concerned, but Audi residuals are class-leading and the less expensive front-wheel drive cars top their class. What's more, insurance is three groups lower at the front-wheel drive entry level compared to its quattro counterpart.
SummaryAudi finds itself in a bit of a fix with this latest A8. Yes, it's improved in a number of ways, but the changes made are incremental and will appeal to the sort of person who would have considered an A8 anyway. Despite that, the A8 is a car that's easy to recommend. Even its biggest rival, the latest and greatest Mercedes S-Class, doesn't score a knockout blow, instead picking up a few points in some areas with Audi continuing to do well in others.
The A8 probably deserves to be doing better but it's a car that perhaps suffers a little by dint of its rather unprepossessing nature. It's a luxury car for people who eschew the excessive notion of luxury. Its design is focused on pared-back function rather than glitzy ostentation. It would be reassuring to think of British luxury car buyers as creatures of rare good taste, automotive gourmets if you will. Sadly for Audi, that might be a stretch too far.