I'm sorry, did you say this was a mid-life facelift for Audi's luxury A8?
Fair enough – the cosmetic changes aren't that exciting. In fact, they're really rather difficult to spot, being limited to some new front grille colours, re-arranged LEDs in the tail-lights, and new LED indicator strips in the door mirrors. Plus a different alloy wheel or two (or four for the sake of cosmetics). But under the skin, Audi's been busier tweaking the mechanicals to make an already refined car even quieter. It's also rustled up some extra equipment, added some toys to the options list, and – stop the press – boosted the engine range by dropping in a new 2.8-litre V6 petrol engine.
A new 2.8-litre petrol? Be still my beating heart...
OK, so it isn't all that stimulating, though 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds and 147mph isn't really hanging about – on paper, at least. But that's not the point. While we wouldn’t usually be that bothered about a new entry-level powerplant, producing only 199g/km of CO2 makes it by far the most environmentally friendly combination of car and engine in the luxury saloon class. All achieved via clever FSI direct injection, Audi's efficient new valvelift technology, and a Multitronic CVT auto. Average economy of 34.0mpg is impressive for a luxo-barge, too.
That sounds good. What's the catch?
This new 2.8 is two-wheel drive only and is stacked to the roof with safety acronyms to make up for the loss of Audi's quattro four-wheel-drive system. Even without the 4wd heft, it does seem to lack a bit of get up and go. Put your foot down on the motorway and the engine spools up into an angry thrash but you don't get any of the boardroom dictator-grade thump you'd expect in a car of this size. Its 207bhp sounds adequate, the problem is that with only 207lb ft of torque it just doesn't generate enough low-down thrust – especially when the 3.0-litre TDI diesel costs only £1000 more, and generates a far more respectable 332lb ft of pull.
Er, so what's the point of this new 2.8 petrol engine, then?
We're not altogether sure. Even though the difference in company car tax – 27 percent for the 2.8, 35 percent for the 3.0 TDI – shouldn't be ignored for business users, both engines come in at under 225g/km of CO2, which will be important if proposed changes to the London Congestion Charge go ahead. No-one at Audi is prepared to even guess how many of the £49,995 2.8 FSIs will find homes; currently about three-quarters of all A8 buyers leave the dealer with a diesel engine. Still, every little helps – and if people are prepared to splash out for the fuel devouring S8 and W12 models, there's got to be room for such economical luxury.
Ah, the other engines – I'd almost forgotten. How are they getting along?
Just fine it seems – there are no other major changes to the A8's oily bits. But Audi has revised the suspension and steering settings in this facelift. This has taken nothing away from the existing car, but the changes are hardly revolutionary, either – the steering’s slightly more linear, the ride supposedly smoother (but still fidgety – especially if you opt for the sport package). However, Audi claims improvements to refinement make the A8 the quietest car in class – and our autobahn experiments confirm it as a very hushed place to sit. You can't quite hear a pin drop, but normal conversation is easy deep into three-figure speeds.
Browse secondhand Audi A8s for sale
Good stuff. What about the new toys you mentioned?
The A8 has always been comprehensively equipped as standard – what with range-wide adaptive air suspension, sat-nav, leather and iDrive-shaming Multi Media Interface (MMI). But you now also get four-zone climate control for your money, and a nifty DAB digital radio. New to the options list are blindspot monitors (blinking LEDs if you're in danger of pulling out into someone), lane assist (jiggling steering wheel if you stray over a motorway line without indicating), and a ceramic brake package for the hot S8 and W12 versions. There's also a Sport trim line with bodykit and two-tone leather. And don't forget the £4500 Bang & Olufsen stereo – after all even a Mazda 3 has a Bose system these days.
As you were. The revised A8 builds on an already impressive package without ever being in danger of adding that killer hook. If you've already got your sights set on a 7-series, S-class, LS or XJ, don't worry about missing out. But the A8 is still an excellent car, and its gradually strengthening market position (2006 was the A8’s best ever year) seems set to continue – even if the new 2.8 FSI petrol is a tiny bit pointless unless low company car tax is paramount.