I didn’t realise Audi was doing a long-wheelbase A4. Is there no niche left unexplored?
A4? This is the new 2010 Audi A8, Ingolstadt’s technological flagship, a limo built around a supercar-style aluminium spaceframe and boasting the sort of toys that would make Inspector Gadget envious (and owners thankful that Lucas doesn’t do Audi’s electrics).
But it’s an easy mistake to make. The old Audi A8 looked expensive, had real presence and could easily be recognised as a cut above the rest of Audi’s cars. The new A8 though, while low and sleeker than either the BMW 7-series or Mercedes S-class, is blandly handsome and looks far too much like a £22k A4.
Go on then, hit me with the gadgets (I appreciate this may take some time)
Stepping into the A8 isn’t like stepping into a normal car, it’s like walking into the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show. You instruct the sat nav or enter telephone numbers by writing on a touch pad (with your left hand I’m afraid, right-handed Brits) and the adaptive lights use the nav’s map to change their pattern such as widening the beam to illuminate crossroads.
Then there’s Audi’s first night vision system, which goes one further than Merc’s by actually recognising pedestrians, highlighting them within the on-screen image and giving the driver an audible warning. It can even calculate your trajectory, so will only alert you if the pedestrian is stepping into your line. Clever stuff.
Browse secondhand Audi A8s for sale
Likewise, the adaptive cruise control can spot when traffic from other lanes is about to move into your space by watching it move within its lane. On top of that there’s the expected stuff: double glazing, 1400w B&O hi-fi, speed limit recognition. And did I mention that the sat-nav uses Google Earth?
I get the idea; the new A8’s like Tomorrow’s World on wheels. But what about the oily stuff underneath that showbiz glitz?
There’s a new eight-speed automatic gearbox and more powerful, less thirsty engines. From launch those engines are 3.0 6-cylinder and 4.2 V8 turbodiesels, and a 4.2 petrol V8. Later, Audi will add a front-drive 3.0 TDI, an entry-level petrol V6 and twin-turbo 4.0 V8. Torque is now split 60:40 in favour of the rear wheels and there’s an S4-style Drive Select system that can tweak the steering and gearshift maps depending on your mood.
>> Click 'Next' to find out what the Audi A8 is like to drive and the CAR verdict
So what’s the new Audi A8 like to drive?
We drove the 4.2 TDI, a favourite from the last A8 range but now fortified with an extra 111lb ft of torque thanks to a higher 200-bar injection pressure. It’s an incredible unit – massively powerful (345bhp, 590lb ft) and capable of teleporting the A8 to 62mph in a silly 5.5sec, yet it's still 24% more economical than its predecessor.
But even with all of that performance on tap, the A8 just isn’t that exciting to drive. It’s less nose-heavy than before, and better resists understeer, but will almost always wash out front-first, despite the transmission’s rear bias.
Of course most drivers won’t ever notice or care that a 7-series’ rear-drive chassis is more rewarding in extremis – the A8 counters with superb traction and handling that will never punish mistakes. But even they might be disappointed by the steering. It’s either limp and uninspired in normal mode or ludicrously heavy in sport mode when the ordinarily compliant ride becomes crashy and brittle.
But it’s a limo not a supercar. Does it have the requisite luxury feel?
In response to feedback from Asia, the Middle East and the US, the new A8 is 75mm longer, 55mm wider and, despite appearances to the contrary, 16mm taller. But while the extra length benefits rear legroom, the sloping roofline does impinge on hat space and the 500-litre boot is substantially smaller than the equivalent Merc’s.
No complaints about the quality though, for this is a stunning cabin. It doesn’t break new ground in terms of design, and lacks the full TFT displays of the S-class and new Jaguar XJ, but conveys a sporting flavour its rivals’ lack. And no one does interior lighting as well as Audi.
The latest A8 impresses with its tech-heavy spec sheet and a fabulous interior, but looks too ordinary and doesn’t drive well enough to best its rivals in this sector. It’s a good limo, but BMW and Mercedes do a better job.