By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Two things about the Audi A8.
First, it’s a relative bargain.
$75,100 to start — and that’s with Quattro all-wheel-drive. To put that in some perspective, Mercedes wants $92,900 for the least expensive Mercedes S-Class . . . without AWD.
Now, the Benz does come standard with a V-8 while the Audi comes standard with a supercharged V-6.
Audi also offers a turbo-diesel V-6 — unavailable in the Benz S-Class as well as other high-end luxury liners such as the Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS. BMW will be offering a diesel in the 7-Series . . . but not until next year.
The Audi has another thing going for it, too. Or not, depending on what you want:
It’s relatively demure.
Though it can hit $140k fully optioned out in “L” long wheelbase form, with the 12 cylinder “W” engine under its hood — it hasn’t got the Flash Factor you get with an S-Class or XJ.
Much less a Porsche Panamera.
It’s as low profile a six-figure car as you can find — and that’s worth a lot to people who value no-holds-barred opulence but — like Elvis — prefer not to be reko-nized.
WHAT IT IS
The A8 is Audi’s ultra-premium sedan.
It comes in full-size — and fuller-sized “L” (extended wheelbase) — versions, the latter giving backseat occupants limousine legroom.
You can go gas V-6 or V-8, supercharged or turbocharged.
Base price is $75,100 for the regular wheelbase A8 3.0T with supercharged gas V-6 and Quattro all-wheel-drive. A long-wheelbase L model with turbo-diesel V-6 lists for $82,500. Turbo V-8 equipped models start at $83,900 ($87,600 in long wheelbase form). At the pinnacle is the 6.3 liter W12-equipped, long-wheelbase model, which carries a sticker price of $135,900 — not including Grey Poupon.
Cross-shops included the Benz S-Class and BMW 7, the Jaguar XJ and the Lexus LS.
The A8 is now available with a high-efficiency — and high-performance — turbo-diesel V-6 that’s capable of getting the car to 60 in just over six seconds and also achieving 36 MPG on the highway.
For the moment, none of the big Audi roller’s competitors offer diesel power — though several do offer hybrid powertrains. However, these cost so much more (the base price of the Lexus LS hybrid is $120,970) as to make any direct comparison grossly unfair. . . to them.
Opulent — but not ostentatious.
Diesel engine doesn’t just save you money — it saves you time. Unlike most of the cars in this segment, you won’t need to stop for fuel once every 200 miles or so.
Teched — but not over-teched.
Huge inside — doesn’t look it on the outside.
Or drive like it.
Massaging seats. Five different kinds of massages. Oh yeah.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Superlative diesel engine is not available in regular wheelbase A8s.
Exterior styling might be too demure for status-conscious buyers.
Current A8’s trunk is on the small side (just 13.2 cubic feet) for such a large car.
UNDER THE HOOD
Several of the cars in the A8’s class come with one kind of engine only (e.g., a V-8, as in the Lexus LS) or only offer a choice of this or that engine.
Gas V-6 or gas V-8.
The A8 is the only car in this class that offers buyers their choice of four very different engines.
The first — standard equipment — is a supercharged 3 liter (gas) V-6. It produces 333 hp, sufficient to get the regular wheelbase A8 to 60 MPH in about 5.3 seconds — which by the way is almost 1 second quicker to 60 than the V-8 powered Lexus LS460 (6.2 seconds) and also significantly quicker than the six-cylinder-powered BMW 740i (5.8 seconds).
The engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Next up is a turbo-diesel 3 liter V-6, also paired with the eight-speed automatic. This engine produces immense torque (406 ft.-lbs. — more than many V-8s) as well as 240 hp. So equipped, the A8 is capable of getting to 60 in about 6.3 seconds — virtual dead heat with the Lexus LS460 V-8. But unlike the V-8 Lexus, the diesel Audi won’t have you stopping for fuel every 15 minutes. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration — but the Audi TDI’s EPA rated 24 city is almost 10 MPG better than the V-8 Lexus’s absolutely dismal 16 city rating. And on the highway, the Audi is capable of 36 MPG vs. 24 MPG for the V-8 Lexus — a 12 MPG difference.
The A8’s diesel is truly luxurious in that gives you the range almost all the cars in this class — excepting the uber-dollar hybrids — lack. That it’s also as quick — or nearly so — as some of the ever-hungry V-8s in competitor models only adds insult to injury.
The one fly in the soup is that Audi only installs the diesel in the long wheelbase “L” version of the A8. (More on this below.)
Next up is a 4 liter V-8. A turbocharged V-8 — optional in both regular wheelbase and L versions.
Again, something different.
It makes 420 hp — and 444 ft.-lbs. of torque — oats enough to get the 0-60 time down to just 4.2 seconds, among the quickest times in this class. In fact, the A8 V-8 is only slightly less quick than the ultra-performance version of the Jaguar XJ — the XJR — which features a much larger (and much thirstier) 5 liter V-8 that does the 0-60 deed in 4.1 seconds. A hardly noticeable difference. Unlike the Jag R’ s base price of $116,895 — vs. $83,900 for the V-8 A8.
Which also comes standard with Quattro all-wheel-drive.
As do all versions of the A8 — irrespective of engine choice. All of the A8’s competitors start out in rear-drive form — with AWD an extra cost option.
But wait, there’s more.
If a V-8 (supercharged or otherwise) doesn’t quite hit the spot, Audi has one more offering left on the table:
Twelve cylinders, arranged in a staggered “w” configuration (four rows of three cylinders arranged in two banks, sharing a common crankshaft) displacing 6.3 liters and rated for 500 hp and 463 ft.-lbs. of torque.
This engine is unique — no one else offers anything like it — which definitely adds to the exclusivity factor. The W8 engine is also smoother than a George Clooney seduction. However, the W-equipped A8 is actually less quick than the supercharged V-8 A8, requiring 4.3 seconds to reach 60. How come? Because it’s a really heavy engine — adding about 200 pounds to the car’s curb weight.
It’s also a conspicuous consumer of the Earth’s precious bodily fluids. Its EPA rated 13 city is bad enough to give Al Gore a stroke — but that may just be reason enough to choose this engine. Perhaps that’s why the Big Kahuna is only available in the “stretch” L version of the A8, at a starting MSRP almost twice that of the base (regular wheelbase) supercharged V-6 A8.
All the A8’s engines come with Auto Stop/Start — a feature that automatically shuts down the engine when the car is stationary and the driver’s foot is on the brake, then automatically restarts it. This can be left on — or off — at your discretion. And — kudos to Audi — the default setting is off.
In current BMWs, it is on.Which means that every time you go for a drive, you have to manually turn the system off — if you prefer not to have the engine turn itself off at every red light.
ON THE ROAD
I spent a week in the A8 TDI L — the stretch job, with the new (to the A8) 3 liter diesel V-6. You can expect to see more such engines, even in high-end cars like this (BMW will introduce a diesel-powered version of the 7 Series for 2015) in part for fuel economy reasons — though not so much at the behest of buyers. After all, people who can buy a $75,000 and up car are probably not too concerned about fuel economy. Bur rather, because of government fuel economy mandates that are really putting the screws to any car (and car company) that doesn’t average 30-something MPG).
But, the diesels are also becoming more commonplace — even in higher-end cars — because modern turbo-diesels are simply desirable engines in their own right.
The A8 L gets to 60 in just over six seconds, which ought to be speedy enough for all but the most extreme-o-philes. It’s also capable of nearly 40 on the highway if you don’t hammer it too hard. And even if you do hammer it, it’s almost impossible to get less than 25 or so out of it — which is easily 10 MPG better than what you’d have to deal with in competitor’s V-8 powered models . . . and maybe even a few of their six-cylinder-powered models, too.
This is a luxury.
Not having to deal with pit stops once every two hours on the highway — and twice a week (or more) just knocking around town.
My daily drive consists of a 60-plus mile round-trip into town and back — so in the neighborhood of 450 miles a week. As I type these words, after seven days with the A8 — the car still has a quarter tank left. I’d get maybe three days before the tank ran dry in any of the A8’s V-8 gas-burning competition. In a car like the Jag XJR you can literally watch the needle drop as you drive.
Another virtue of the diesel is its drama-free thrust — another luxurious attribute. With 400-plus ft.-bs. of torque available at almost any engine RPM (and road speed) the lightest pressure on the accelerator results in immediate forward pull — without having to spin the engine to 4,000-plus RPM and higher (as you would with most non-turbo/supercharged gas engines). The car also holds very high speeds (90-plus) at not much more than a fast idle (around 2,100 RPM) courtesy of the ultra-deep .667 overdrive ratio in 8th combined with a long-legged 2.62 final drive ratio.
German cars, don’t forget, are built for Germany — where one can drive for hours at triple digit speeds . . . legally.
The transmission — and other driveline parameters such as throttle response — can be adjusted via the MMI rotary input for a plusher (or sharper) driving experience. With the diesel, though, changing gears is more about having fun than having to. Because there’s so much torque on hand everywhere — anytime.
This is a big car — even the regular wheelbase version is almost 17 feet long (202.2 inches) which for some sense of scale is about a foot longer than most current mid-sized cars.
Now add another five or so inches for the L version — riding on a 122.9 inch wheelbase.
But it does not feel big — much less ponderous — from behind the wheel. Despite its limo-like proportions, it’s very manageable — even in close quarters such as backing out of a parking spot in a busy shopping center. And once moving, it is not editorial excess to describe it as agile. In Dynamic mode, with the auto-adjusting suspension cinched down, the A8 takes to the curves in a most un-Town Car stretch way. And the ride is exactly what it should be in a car like this.
As unperturbed as a state room in the QE II.
AT THE CURB
There is so much room in the L’s back seats that a tall guy literally can’t touch the back of the driver’s seat without leaning forward and stretching his arms all the way out. There’s 42.9 inches of legroom back there, too — more than most luxury cars provide front seat occupants.
That goes for the A8, too.
The A8’s front seaters enjoy a comparatively skimpy 41.4 inches of legroom. But they do get 5-way massaging seats — Pulse, Wave, Stretch . . . oh, behave! It’s going to be very hard to say goodbye to the A8 when they come to pick it up.
I mentioned the demure exterior styling — relative to some of the others in this class. It looks money. Just not NBA/rap star money. You can glide by without everyone turning to look to see whether Pit Bull (or one of the Kardashians) just drove by.
This, too, is luxurious.
And so is the inside. Not only because it is as opulent as a custom-ordered G4. But also because it’s not an intimidating — or exasperating — car to drive.
I liked, for instance, that the A8 has a conventional-in-theme gear selector. Instead of a Game Boy-esque toggle that provides no mechanical feedback, your hand falls to a T-shaped handle on the console. Depress the release to the left with your thumb, then pull back for Drive (or Sport). Reverse is forward — Park one more up. Yes, it’s drive-by-wire, just like all the others. But there’s a definite , physical sensation of engaging the individual ranges that none of the other cars in this class offer.
The rest of the A8’s controls are similarly intuitive, tactile — and not fussy.
Which is relaxing . . . which is (wait for it) luxurious.
Every trim comes standard with “soft-touch” doors that shut themselves tight, an electric eye foot-swipe opener for the trunk and Wi-Fi access via Audi Connect. Notable options include power actuated side privacy screens (a rear privacy screen is standard) a solar sunroof, night vision camera and — in L models — an Executive Rear Seat Comfort Package that reconfigures the backseats to one “relaxation” back seat that folds out like a Barcalounger, with a powered footrest.
The ’14 A8 has one significant flaw — and one minor one.
For a large car, it has a very small trunk. Just 13.2 cubic feet. That’s about the same size as a Toyota Corolla’s trunk (13 cubes). On the other hand, several of the other big cars in this class also have pretty tiny trunks. Or at least, some of the other German-brand big cars have tiny trunks. Just 14 cubes in the BMW 7; a rather downsized 16.3 in the Benz S. The latter two are better (well, bigger) but for cars this size, they’re still on the small size, trunk-wise.
The Lexus LS has an appropriately big car trunk — 18 cubes.
But none of these modern rollers have trunks like they used to make ’em. Goodfellas-style, like you’d find in a ’70 Buick Electra 225 or Cadillac Sedan deVille. But then, they didn’t have massaging seats, either.
Final note: Buyers who like the current A8 but who could use more trunk might want to wait a few months for the introduction of the 2015 model, which will get a larger trunk — as well as 15 more hp for the 4 liter V-8.
Oh. And the minor gripe? That the diesel engine is a long-wheelbase-only deal. Why? The performance — and mileage — would be even better in the slightly smaller, lighter regular wheelbase A8. Ir certainly ought to be on the options list.
After all, not everyone needs stretch-limo accommodations for the backseat occupants. But 36 MPG — and just over six seconds to 60?
Who wouldn’t want that?
THE BOTTOM LINE
Evaluating a car involves subjectives as well as objectives. For me, the A8 is closest to the ideal of what a luxury car ought to be. It is graceful, elegant, super comfortable — and most of all, tasteful.
Objectively, it’s also a fantastic deal — and the unusually wide array of drivetrain choices, most notably the new TDI diesel, make it the go-to car in the segment as far as I am concerned.
Even if it does have a teensy trunk.