June Neary checks out Audi's luxurious A8
Will It Suit Me?
When I first heard that I was getting an Audi A8, I was rather caught on the horns of a dilemma. Part of me rejoiced in the fact that it was an Audi - a brand recognised for its cerebral left field thinking. The flipside of this was that here was a car that costs around £65,000. It's not easy to step out of a car costing this much money without a tinge of embarrassment. I checked the specification and noted the four-wheel drive transmission, the colossal dimensions of the body and the prodigious power output and began to feel a little intimidated. Fortunately, when it arrived at the office, the A8 largely put me at ease. The sleek, understated styling is a welcome relief from the 'look at me' affectations of many of its prestige rivals. If I was in the market for a car and had just found £65,000 in loose change down the back of the Neary sofa, the Audi dealer would be the first place I'd turn.
The latest improved third generation A8 rectifies what many thought of as a flaw in the old car's make up. The key criticism levelled at Audi's otherwise impeccable interior design was that buyers of the top line A8 weren't getting anything markedly different to the rep who'd lucked into an A3. The themes were all the same, many of the materials felt much alike and there were so many common parts. Great if you're the one with the A3, but not so good if you want something a little more exclusive. Audi has recognised this and has now given this A8 an interior quite different to the usual classy coalhole. The latest version of the excellent MMI control interface marshals the ancillary controls on a colour display screen that glides out from the dash. Headroom is acceptable without feeling as airy as an equivalent Mercedes S-Class, but this helps in making the A8 feel smaller than it actually is. I liked that. There's a wide choice of different leathers, trim inlays in wood and metal, with fine grain poplar brown-silver making its debut alongside fine grain ash brown-gold natural. There's also a natural-looking, soft and breathable Unikat leather trim that's sure to prove popular. A 510-litre boot should hold more than enough luggage.
Behind the Wheel
There's a choice of seven petrol and TDI engines, with the supercharged 3.0 TFSI petrol unit boosted from 290PS to 310PS, the V8 twin-turbo 4.0 TFSI moves from 420PS to 435PS, the highly efficient 3.0 TDI diesel increases from 250PS to 258PS and the 4.2 TDI diesel gains 35PS, taking it to 385PS. If you prefer hybrid power to sheer muscle, the efficiency-focused A8 hybrid combines a 2.0 TFSI engine and electric motor to produce a combined output of 245PS. Paired with quattro all-wheel drive, the 4.0 TFSI now powers the A8 from rest to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, but under partial load the Audi cylinder on demand (COD) system deactivates four of its eight cylinders to give priority to fuel economy. Active Noise Cancellation ensures excellent acoustic comfort by using precise anti-phase noise to combat intrusive noise in the cabin while cylinders are deactivated. Active engine mounts also dampen vibration. It's clever. It's an Audi. What else did you expect?
Value For Money
Can any car priced at nearly £65,000 in its least expensive form be described as good value? Discuss. It certainly doesn't offer twice as much of anything as, say, a £35,000 BMW 5 Series, but the A8 is wonderfully executed. When put into comparison with direct rivals from BMW and Mercedes, it also seems to stack up quite well. There are more knobs, buttons and electronic toys to play with than in a Comet Superstore, although Audi has managed to integrate them into the fascia design without seeing brash. Audi's rightly proud of the lighting technology on this latest A8, with optional MatrixBeam LED headlight technology available. The high-beam function in these uses 25 individual LEDs per unit that can be switched on and off or dimmed individually when the on-board camera detects other vehicles ahead. The lighting system in the A8 uses predictive route data from the navigation system with MMI Touch to adjust the distribution of light in response to the current driving situation and can recognise and act on route data, such as corners and road classifications. There are even indicators with a progressively expanding strip of light that show that the vehicle is turning even more clearly to other road users, even at long distances and in poor visibility. Whichever spec you decide upon, equipment levels shouldn't disappoint. Safety-wise, there are eight airbags, stability control of course and Audi's clever pre-sense system, which automatically activates the hazard warning lights, closes the windows and tightens the seatbelts if it thinks an accident is unavoidable. Pay more and in such a situation, it'll automatically brake the car for you if it thinks you haven't done so sufficiently, with cruise control that notices other cars indicating in other lanes and adjusts itself to suit.
Could I Live With One?
The Audi A8 is the luxury car for people who don't like luxury cars. Its understated yet elegant lines and lack of conspicuous ostentation make it something of a curio in a market where it generally pays to be as subtle as a thumb in the eye. In truth, I think there are plenty of better ways of spending £65,000, but that's just me. As luxury saloons go, it's an informed choice.