The problem with the Audi A8 is that, for many motoring journalists, it isn’t a Mercedes S Class. And that’s a good thing because if everything else was just like everything else we would all effectively be communists. First launched in 1994 the A8 is Audi’s flagship luxury saloon, fast forward to 2018 and the 4th generation A8 continues the evolution started from the 1st. To the casual observer, the A8’s exterior styling doesn’t look that much different to what has gone before. It’s the classic evolution over revolution philosophy.
Look closer however and you will notice the dimensions are slightly lower, longer and wider than before, Audi does very discreet styling although the new A8 has a bit of flame surfacing, where subtle sharp line meet and overlay sharp creases. For Audi, that’s radical.
Then there is the very distinctive front grille, aggressive by Audi’s Bauhaus inspired design philosophy. The interior follows Audi’s consistent design principles, it feels very modern, of its time, ahead of its time, understated but very sophisticated. You can’t get better than this in terms of pure design.
The fit and finish is exceptional, a step above the Mercedes S Class, and the choice of materials leather-fabrics-wood, almost faultless. Even the contrast stitching detailing is executed with extreme precision. To say the A8’s interior is a fine place to spend crunching those motorway miles is an understatement.
So that’s the A8 review over and done with… well not quite. One area that hasn’t been evolved is the all-aluminum base, in that it is still all-aluminum, improved construction techniques allow for a stiffer chassis which should result in an improved driving experience.
However, despite the all-aluminum construction the A8 now weighs 100kg more than the model it replaces, partly based on the fact that there is more metal (it’s slightly bigger remember) but also because there is more technology packed beneath the A8’s exterior.
In the UK the A8 is available with either a V6 petrol or 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel. Both engines are very powerful, the A8 on test was fitted with the 3.0-Litre V6 TDi, and that meant access to 268bhp and 600Nm of torques.
At idle the V6 TDi sounds.. not too dissimilar to a 2.0-litre diesel only a little quieter but not as quiet as say, the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel you get in a Land Rover Discovery, which by comparison is whisper quiet at idle.
However, once you get up to speed and press the throttle the A8 emits a characteristic grumble, sounding ever so slightly like a V8 petrol than a diesel, I can’t be sure if the car was pumping enhanced artificial engine notes through the speaker system.
At cruising speed, 70mph, the engine was hush-hush with only the wind noise detectable, and remnants of tyre noise. Yet it was so quiet, not least in part due to the double glazing, that you could isolate the of wind noise, it’s most notable around the wing mirrors where the air flow seems to become cluttered and most disturbed.
As you would expect, the engine has plenty of power and pull which is applied very smoothly, and a 0-62mph of 5.9 seconds isn’t to be dismissed. As a result, the A8 can out accelerate all but the most powerful supercars with ease. After all, 600 Nm of torque is supercar territory.
The standard fit 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox (DSG) delivers this power with precision and extremely swiftly, you can leave it auto and/or use the steering mounted paddle shift levers or go full-on manual. Whichever you prefer. The A8 is a sublime cruiser, able to travel at 90mph and never go beyond 2,000rpm, which means efficiency and 45mpg on a combined cycle.
The engine and overall efficiency are further enhanced by the adoption of a 48-volt mild hybrid system, so-called because computers instruct the engine to switch off in a quest to save fuel when you are, for example, coasting. Doing so also regenerates energy back to the batteries which are located at the rear.
Manufacturers are increasingly switching to a 48-volt system, not necessarily to power a mild-hybrid engine layout. Such a system also powers the vast array of technology now found in a modern day car, more so in a luxury flagship barge.
The A8 has adaptively damped air-suspension as standard with the usual comfort-dynamic mode settings. Heated front and rear seats, all sorts of other technologies. Indeed the A8 on test costs £69k new, Audi UK HQ fitted an additional £22k of optional extras. You can buy a new car for £22k.
So that 48-volt system will also power things like Dynamic all-wheel speed-sensitive steering a £1,950 option, and it will also power the power door closure (£675 option). What about the HD Matrix LED headlights and rear dynamic indicators? That’ll be £1,900. Electric rear sunblinds? That’ll be £900. Those 20-inch alloys will cost you £2850.
So, you may as well go the whole hog and get that Bang & Olufsen sound system, that’ll be £1,695, please. Of course, you also get DAB radio, digital TV, and even WiFi/LTE.
The technology doesn’t merely extend to consumer comfort, the latest passive and active driving and safety technologies are more or less standard. Adaptive cruise control which can also crawl and stop at low speeds, blind spot warning indicators, lots of parking assist cameras and semi-semi-autonomous driving.
And that brings us to the driving itself, the A8 isn’t a drivers machine, it isn’t a large saloon masquerading as a sports car. For one thing, it isn’t as well balanced as an S Class, and you know what? I am perfectly fine with that. The A8’s balance is progressive, focused just ahead of the front axle, and that means a little bit of understeer.
This also means the front end of the car tends to pitch and shuffle as you turn into a corner, admittedly only if you are ‘gunning-it’. But if you want to just sit back and relax the A8 will drive you from point A-B without breaking into a sweat or making you sweat and this will leave you in a condition as if you had never driven all day at all.
As with all modern day cars, the A8 is bedecked with driver modes, from comfort to dynamic to individualisation. I preferred to leave in auto mode, for an overall cosseting and that ‘amrchair and slipper’ ride quality.
But it’s new touch-screen interior that is the real talking point, “It looks like a spaceship” were one of many casual observations made. And it feels like. Audi has forgone the need to install a massive touchscreen as seen in the S Class and Lexus LS. And it’s a good decision because it makes for a more usable console and gives the impression of more space within.
There are effectively two touchscreens, the upper screen is 10.1-inches and is used primarily for either navigation, accessing settings, changing settings such as the ambient lighting etc. The lower screen is primarily used for heating controls and other ancillary controls such as raising or lowering the rear sunblind.
The graphics are pin sharp and do not fade when the cabin is bathed in sunlight. The screen itself uses haptic feedback technology. That means it actually feels as though you are pressing a button and you actually hear a click every time you access the menus. It’s a clever implementation because it means you never accidentally select a submenu.
The menu system on its own is intuitive to use as much as it is discoverable. In other words, you soon acclimatize to its operability and range of functions. If you can use a smartphone or iPad then you can use the A8’s touchscreen.
In terms of passenger space, the short-wheel-base A8 on test was reassuringly spacious for all sizes up front and for the rear. Although rear leg room for very tall people might be slightly limited. But the LWB version is available if you want to kick back and relax and be driven,
Personally, I prefer the proportions of the SWB, it’s still big enough and offers plenty of boot space and for most people its spacious enough. So, why would you go for the A8 over an S Class?
With the A8 Audi has certainly closed the gap to the S Class. The only thing going for the S Class is that it has better balance. Mercedes can no longer claim to be leaders in automotive technologies as once they used to be.
These days the interior of a car is just as important as how it performs on the road. The interior of the A8 feels modern and indestructible, the S Class has an interior that seems to have been designed by the late Liberace, an ornate chandelier wouldn’t look out of place inside.
So, it really does come down to personal preference, the S Class is predominantly driven by city bankers in white and pink-striped shirts who are always running late for a very important drinks event in Soho, to discuss how to defraud clients.
The A8 is driven by people who appreciate style and sophistication without the need to shout out how successful they are. And you know when you drive an A8 you won’t be targeted by members of the Occupy Movement. As I said, it’s a purely personal choice… Damn it, it has to be the A8.