► Hybrid A8 driven in the UK
► New 60 TFSIe is best of the bunch
► Hybrid power suits subtle limo
Of all the cars to benefit from electrification, a luxury limousine like the Audi A8 is the most logical. Think about what rear seat passengers want from their upmarket conveyance – peace, comfort, and space – the first two of which are dramatically improved by silent, seamless, high-voltage propulsion.
Although battery packs eat into cabin room there’s certainly no shortage of passenger or luggage capacity in something like a Tesla Model S, so it’s a little odd that for now the only way to experience the ultimate in executive wafting is with a halfway-house PHEV.
But in reality, the combination of an electric and petrol motor is the ideal solution for the time being – offering serene transportation through a congested city using the former, and the flexibility to complete much longer journeys without the need to keep recharging via the latter.
What’s the Audi A8 TFSI e like?
Spoiler alert: it’s the best-in-range (if we ignore the awesome Audi Sport S8). But then again perhaps that isn’t such a surprise, given how it’s the same story with the plug in Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series. We also like those very much.
Like those cars, the A8 PHEV is one of those automotive innovations where before the odometer has even clicked round by one mile, it’s already won you over. It just makes perfect sense.
Consider the very un-hatchback like refinement of something like a Nissan Leaf. The first thing people comment on is how quiet it is, and how smoothly it accelerates. After a while you start to notice other noises that you wouldn’t normally – tyres, wind, maybe even the air conditioning.
Now take those noises away and imagine the drivetrain silence in an already super-refined shell, and you’re left with what can only be described as a whisking around in a massive pair of noise-cancelling headphones on wheels.
What powers this machine?
A 134bhp electric motor (a ‘permanently excited’ one at that, like a Porsche Taycan) plus the V6 turbocharged petrol motor from the A8 55 TFSI, for a total system output of 442bhp and 516lb ft of torque. The most powerful A8 is unsurprisingly the fastest – 0-62mph taking just 4.9 seconds and going onto top speed limited to 155mph. Only the S8 offers more.
As a result, the 60 TFSI e is effortlessly quick, whether it’s pulling away from a junction (with none of the hesitancy we’ve experienced in other big Tiptronic Audis) or overtaking someone on a country road. Best of all, it does so with barely a murmur from the drivetrain.
You can start to hear the petrol engine when it gets into its stride, especially in Dynamic mode, but listen carefully and it sounds great – like Morgan Freeman doing an ASMR video. But in reality, the A8 is best enjoyed at low speed and with as minimal throttle input as possible, without provoking the V6 at all.
Well if you think about it, this is a vehicle that’ll spend its life transporting elite businesspeople around a congested city (because that’s where elite businesspeople work) where the ability to travel nearly 30 tranquil miles without a breath of CO2 is the priority.
That’s not an electric range that will rival many full-EVs (even a Renault Twizy) but the 12.1kWh lithium ion battery should provide more than enough stamina for the sort of trips this car is likely to be asked to do. It does weigh 140kg though, which is the same as two extra passengers, and takes up about as much room too – the luggage capacity dropping from 505 to 390 litres.
Under normal running conditions you’d keep this charged up using the socket on the left-hand side of the car, and with recuperation measures while driving. Here the A8 can claw back 25kW from coasting and 80kW from the brakes – that’s enough for 90% of everyday braking requirements. Another thing it shares with the Porsche Taycan.
That means driving the A8 is all about maintaining momentum and trying to get away with using the accelerator and brakes a little as possible, which is the essence of chauffeuring, when you think about it. The electric motor is capable of propelling the car up to 84mph, so the only reason you’ll need the petrol engine is if you press the gas hard enough to wake it up, and handily there’s an artificial stop in its stroke that signifies the switchover point, making it super easy to keep the A8 in its sweetest mode.
There’s also a host of advanced driver assistance tech including adaptive cruise control and lane keep, which takes not only other cars but sat nav data into account, so you’ll feel it slowing you down for a roundabout before you even know there’s one coming.
It also uses journey data to ration out the battery for you too, so a short journey will get a lot of electrical assistance, and a long one the least. When it eventually runs out, the A8 works like a conventional hybrid, giving you additional shove around town instead of running as a pure EV.
The ride and handling is fairly standard to the normal A8, as you’d expect, which is to say it’s beautifully comfortable even on dreadful roads and holds the road with a firm, Quattro enabled grip. It’s not what you’d call fun to drive quickly (it weighs 2.3 tonnes, don’t forget) but then again it doesn’t need to be.
Audi A8 60 TFSIe: verdict
We reckon the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is more opulent in the rear and BMW 7 Series more fun to drive, but the subtly styled Ingolstadt car is the sharpest looking and most technologically impressive.
The two massive screens that make up the latest MMI system work flawlessly (once you realise you can turn the odd haptic input into a standard touchscreen response) and the interior quality and finish is even more remarkable than Audi usually manages. And that bar is pretty high.
Silent, seamlessly powerful and emissions-free in town – like its hybrid rivals, this plug-in version of the Audi A8 is the only one you need.
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