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Audi A8 4.2 TDI | CAR review | Long-term test

Published: 15 May 2011

The definition of agility – 15 July 2011

Phew. Breathless drive last night in our leviathan A8 4.2 TDI leaves me marvelling at the strange mysteries of dynamic scale. I’ll let you into a wee secret: myself and the editor had a slight disagreement the other day about the word ‘agility’. We wanted to get across the fact that the Alfa Romeo 4C is the same size as the Lotus Elise, to give readers a clear indication of how tiny this car really is.

Phil thus described the 4C as having ‘Elise agility’, while I argued for simply saying it is ‘Elise-sized’.  Agility, I maintained, is not the same thing as ‘small’; not all small cars are agile and not all agile cars are small. Needless to say he won the argument as he’s the boss. But the A8 has just done me the honour of proving my point.
The car weighs 1995kg, more than twice the weight of the 876kg Elise. It is 5.1 metres long (same as an S-class or 1.36 Elises) and very nearly two metres wide.  Over its front axle sits a 32-valve V8 diesel engine displacing a substantial 4134cc, and underpinning it are the supreme but notoriously chunky components of a Quattro four-wheel-drive system. Together these components alone probably outweigh Lotus’s fleetest track car in its entirety.

And yet…

I have just helped the A8 to thread together a set of country B-road corners so fluently and fast that Paddy Hopkirk himself (had he been sat next to me) most probably would’ve sniffed and said: ‘Hmm, not bad I suppose.’ Audis are prone to understeer but the A8 is not – maybe it’s the extra heft it carries amidships by dint of its sheer size, but the car simply hustles through corners, overpowering any scrub-out with a fantastically huge appetite to press on to the next kink.

Because it’s got so much torque (590lb ft of the stuff) it never seems to lose momentum. And it’s really, really quick. At 0-62mph in 5.5secs it’s the fastest diesel we’ve tested. Plus it’s a whole second quicker than the Elise.

I don’t doubt that the Alfa 4C will be terrific and terrifically agile. But I do doubt it will be quicker point-to-point than this old man’s car. Old man’s car or not, I reckon it’s the best handling Audi since the R8.

By Greg Fountain


The sat-nav gets lost – 11 May 2011

Being no fan of sat-nav is a lonely place when you work on a motoring magazine. I’m the only person in the room who prefers to trust his own sense of direction, backed up by a proper map when needed, rather than hand in his inner compass at the door and cede control to the computer. I get some abuse but I also rarely get lost.

In the A8 the sat-nav system, with its trick handwriting recognition touchpad, is a scene-stealing item. Its large colour screen dominates the centre dashboard once it’s popped out from the 12 grand’s worth of choccy-brown leather interior, and the touchpad is an irresistible plaything as easy to resist as a large red button marked ‘danger, do not press’. I decided to try using it.

The journey was simple enough: Peterborough to Harwich requires only one key decision: head down the M11 or use the A14. The 1970s combo Peters & Lee, who were a navigationally unpromising blend of blind bloke and woman, could not have got lost. But the Audi’s sat-nav did just that.

Becoming increasingly flummoxed by my disrespectful refusal to bow to its repeated orders to turn off the A1 (why?), it developed a virtual strop, gleefully offering me the barely useful nugget: ‘12 miles of queuing traffic ahead – no alternative route can be recommended’. Not massively useful info, this, but fortunately the queue was fictional. Maybe it was a satellite’s idea of a wind-up. Eventually the strop deteriorated into huffy silence until the chips realised what I was up to and grudgingly rejoined.

I haven’t revisited either Harwich or the sat-nav, but in case you think I’m just a whinger let me tell you this: it hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of the A8, which is, both literally and figuratively, immense. The car is beautifully understated, constructed of granite (admittedly with the weight to match) and is really good fun to drive because it’s SO QUICK!

Call me a Luddite by all means, but even Luddites love to drive.

By Greg Fountain


A8 vs 7-series vs Phaeton vs XJ – 16 March 2011

The A8 may be the least fashionable limo in the directors’ car park, but fashion counts for squat when a car is as good as this. We’ve had around 11,000 miles of flaw-free motoring, which you might well expect. But we’ve enjoyed the experience all the more because the A8 has been designed to impress those on the inside more than it wows passers-by.

I’ve dabbled with a few alternatives recently, to place the A8 into some kind of perspective, and it has been a thought-provoking experience. My previous long-termer was a BMW 730d which, from the driver’s seat, is surely the most formidable opponent. But, while the Seven was imperious to drive, fleet-footed and beautifully controllable on the throttle, its strengths are wasted on a car weighing more than two tonnes.

The traditional handling spat between Audi fans and those of BMW, which BMW invariably wins when CAR has a say in matters, simply doesn’t apply here. The A8 is easily as good, its natural tendency to understeer being blotted out eclipse-like by the sheer force of the 4.2-litre diesel engine. Think I’m kidding? This is a 1995kg car, yet it hits 62mph in 5.5 seconds – half a second behind a Cayman R.

‘But the A8 has no character,’ say its detractors. Really? They ought to try its cousin, the VW Phaeton, a car with less appeal than a night stuck in a lift with Ashley Cole. The Phaeton is ostensibly the same car as the A8, and serves the useful purpose of demonstrating how NOT to do it. Only 50 private buyers felt this was a demonstration worth paying £46,195 for in 2010, and absolutely all of them would have been better off forking around £20k more for the A8. The Phaeton looks dated and frumpy, has no steering feel and the interior appears to have been beamed up from 1978. Awful.

To be fair, the interior of our particular A8 is a bit special, having been hand crafted from cows the colour of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. It bumps the price by a ludicrous £12,000 to an even more ludicrous £95,050, and punts this particular A8 into a stratosphere it can’t sustain. But at £65,390 basic it’s a steal.

Then there’s the Jaguar XJ. Here’s a car that ought by rights to sweep away the Audi’s Germanic heft with a wave of British sovereignty. It doesn’t. Despite artful use of aluminium and a peachy drivetrain, the Jag can’t resolve its external design issues. The back end and rear three-quarter don’t grow on you – they grow apart from you. Whereas the Audi’s initially plain lines become more confident, more settled, with each day.

The Jag interior has been heaped with so much praise in certain quarters that it’s virtually invisible, but I think it’s an over-egged, one-trick pony (the trick being: it’s quite funky the first couple of times) that basically doesn’t work very well. The touchscreen is unworkable unless your eyes are firmly off-road and the gear ‘selector’ looks nice but isn’t as good as a trad stick. Audi’s MMI, here with handwriting recognition, and helm-like lever both work better.

Basically it’s like this: the A8 gets better every time you get into it and looks better every time you approach it. Nothing else in the class does the same.

By Greg Fountain

 


The Audi A8's northern light trick – 20 January 2011

Hadn't driven Greg's A8 for a while and jumped in last night, only to be startled by the light show enabled by LED lighting bars integrated into the A8's ceiling. The roof of the cabin glows in an imperious white, with shapely slivers of luminesence accenting the headlining - it's quite unlike anything else I've seen inside a car at night. I'm afraid my hastily grabbed cameraphone snaps don't do it justice. You’ll have to trust me: it brings a little bit of Jean Michel Jarre to your evening.

It's so long since I've driven the A8 that I'd rather forgotten about the driving experience. It wasn't as slick as I remembered it, jittering over road acne even in Comfort mode selected on the air suspension and the brakes were a touch grabbier than anticipated. Worst of all is the steering at low speeds; when manoeuvring at full lock, the wheels judder, rumble and jolt as if a clonking hammer is tapping at the rack. Feels like a tight diff on a four-wheel drive car, but it’s very unbecoming on a £95k luxury car. It was so bad I actually stepped out to check the tyres weren’t flat.

Those chill-out lights and hushed, velvet-punch drivetrain soon had me relaxed and stress-free on the open road. Once on the move the A8 is a very comfortable place to be and the cabin has a stonking sense of occasion. Still looks like a giant A4 outside though. Even in the dark.

By Tim Pollard

 


 

Our road test editor on our A8 – 11 October 2010

Haven’t warmed to Greg’s A8. I don’t find it enough of an event, either inside or out. Most importantly, though, I find the eight-speed gearbox really annoying – it wants to change gear as soon as you accelerate, giving the throttle pedal a real stodginess. Even selecting manual won’t solve it – it just reverts back to auto.

But on a long drive to Plymouth from Peterborough with the wife and two-year-old the other weekend, it’s growing on me. Such a long trip makes the massage seats feel like £1400 extra well spent.

By Ben Barry


 

Long-term test hello – 16 September 2010


A quick recap to how we welcomed our A8 to CAR Magazine's long-term test fleet over the summer

Associated editor Tim Pollard has never been to the Le Mans 24hr race before, but this year the La Sarthe virgin went in at the deep end and joined the works Aston Martin pit crew. It seemed like the perfect excuse for the CAR office to packs its bags and join him, and as he traitorously headed out to France in our long-term Audi A5 Sportback, we showed our support for the Brits by commandeering managing editor Greg Fountain’s new Audi A8 as our executive transport.

With Tim having travelled out ahead, art director Andy Franklin, designer Alex Tapley and myself rendezvous at the office at 6am, and immediately come a cropper. As the art team unpack their provisions from the Cube and Clio, it becomes clear that everything won’t fit; the A8’s boot is soon full, and even after we slot Andy into the back seat and pack around him, the beer remains on the car park floor. I’m a non-drinker myself so declare we’re good to go, but undeterred Alex and Andy meticulously repack the car, sacrifice their camp seats, and find space for the booze. With their priorities clear for the weekend, we set forth for France.

Friday night to Saturday night is a bit of a blur, but Andy, Alex and I congregate again at 10pm, exhausted but in awe that the race is just seven hours old. We extract the A5 from our campsite, and with a media pass stuck to the windscreen, somehow manage to blag our way inside the circuit. Our map is essentially a crayon drawing, but eventually we find our way to the edge of the Mulsanne straight. There are no fences, no marshals, so we stand by the Armco, just six feet from the track and gaze dumbstruck as the cars thunder past at nearly 200mph.

We catch up with Mr Pollard twelve hours later, and it’s fair to say he’s a little wired – he’s been up since 7am on Saturday. And while his reward is a new model year 2011 DB9 to schlep him home, he also looks like he’s just emerged from a coal mine – to save the cream leather yours truly has the honour of escorting the Aston back to our campsite. Tim walks, and when he rejoins an hour and two showers later, he’s not quite with it. It’s because of this that we deem it okay to feed him the burger than Andy dropped in the ash and then wiped clean on the grass.

We’re up and awake at 8am on Monday morning, and with just five hours sleep it seems sensible to send Tim on his way with a 5.9-litre V12 to keep him awake.

We make good progress, especially when we join a 120mph convoy of three UK dealer-registered A8s, but a massive queue for the toll booth outside Rouen scuppers our timing, and despite driving faster than anything else on the roads for the next 90 minutes I miss the A8’s crossings. Tim and Andy roll into Dover 15 minutes later, and straight onto their train thanks to flexi bookings. Alex and I settle down to wait.

By Ben Pulman

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

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