2011 Audi A8
Audi is nothing if not ambitious.
The German manufacturer, which is part of the giant Volkswagen consortium, has set a goal to become the biggest seller of luxury vehicles in the world by 2015.
That would require sales of about 1.5 million and would eclipse the current champion, BMW of Bavaria.It means Audi must produce vehicles across the board that meet and beat competitors like BMW, Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and even VW-owned Bentley.
To do that, among other things, it needed a credible crown jewel, something to bump bumpers with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Jaguar XJ, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS and Porsche Panamera.
The contender is the sophisticated all-new 2011 Audi A8, which the company introduced at a lavish party in Miami Beach, Florida, in December, 2009. Guests were flown in from all over the world to ogle the new flagship. Now it’s out there for anybody to see, drive and appreciate.
In a word, it’s a superb automobile with sensuous styling that nevertheless will not necessarily dazzle the hoi polloi. It is so understated as to be borderline anonymous, although the owner will have the satisfaction of knowing that valet parkers at exclusive clubs and five-star spa hotels will be totally clued in.
Actually, that is no surprise. Audi has always tilted toward the elegance of a Fred Astaire and away from the glitzy excesses of a Liberace.
Cue the new A8, in tuxedo black with soft beige leather to coddle the customer. It doesn’t turn heads but the cognoscenti nod sagely. As an owner, you are secure in the knowledge that you don’t need to impress anybody because you know there’s not much out there to rival your ride.
The A8 is big, two inches shy of 17 feet long, although on interior and trunk space it israted as a mid-size by the U.S. government. It is constructed mainly of aluminum, which keeps its weight down. Even at that, it depresses the scale at 4,440 pounds.
Power comes from a lusty but butler-silent V8 engine that delivers 372 horsepower from 4.2 liters. It is linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends the power to all four wheels via Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system. Incongruously, the transmission has a manual-shift mode, with steering-wheel mounted shift paddles like a sports sedan. It’s doubtful that many owners will bother shifting for themselves.
However you do it, the A8 is plenty quick off the line, with a zero-to-60 miles an hour acceleration time of around five seconds, according to independent tests. Top speed is governed at 164 miles an hour. EPA city/highway fuel consumption is 17/27 miles to the gallon, enough to escape a gas guzzler tax.
You can adjust the air suspension system to four different settings but everything works and feels fine in the “comfort” mode. There’s also a sport setting for the transmission, which holds it to higher engine revolutions in each gear to enhance performance. Pulling back on the shift lever alternates between the “drive” and “sport” modes. But the shifter uses contact points instead of détentes to shift and is awkward to operate unless you pay close attention.
Despite its supple suspension system and cushy mien, the A8 drives a lot smaller than it is and exhibits moves that would shame some mid-size sports sedans. Yet it manages a cream cheese ride—soft but with substance. The steering is accurate and the brakes, despite a slightly soft pedal feel, confidently grasp and hold the big sedan.
Audi has a reputation for designing classy interiors and the A8 does not disappoint. Like the exterior styling, it is best described as understated elegance, with quality materials and workmanship. Instruments are highly visible white markings on black backgrounds.
There’s a redundant starting system. You can keep the key fob in your pocket or purse and press a button on the console. Or you can insert the fob in a slot on the dash and press it to start the engine.The front seats, upholstered in soft leather, deliver back massages. Out back, in the outboard positions, there’s comfort and room for all but outsized humans. The center position is severely restricted by a big driveline tunnel and hard cushions, so it’s best to think of the A8 as a four-passenger sedan. If that doesn’t satisfy, there’s an A8L that is five inches longer with the extra space in the back seat.
There are a few incongruous touches in a car that appears to be so well thought out. The front and rear cup holders are demitasse size; no room for even a modest-sized coffee or soft drink. And there are cigarette lighters for the front and rear passengers but no ashtrays.
With a base price tag of $78,925, as tested $100,265, the A8 has a plethora of electronic goodies, including a navigation system that can be programmed with a touch pad that recognizes handwriting, lane-change warning that vibrates the steering wheel, Internet access, a 20-gigabyte hard drive and an optional, at $6,300, off-the-chart Bang & Olufsen audio system.