Can the updated Audi A8 take on the best from Mercedes-Benz?
The 2014 Audi A8 range has been updated with revised exterior styling, new safety technologies, improved interior trim and personalisation options, and updated powertrains that increase performance and reduce emissions.
It’s at first hard to tell the facelifted Audi A8 from the four-year-old original. It certainly typifies Audi’s – sometimes too? – evolutionary design changes. Nonetheless, both ends have been updated with the bonnet, single-frame grille and front bumper modified with more pronounced contours and headlights that portray a flatter look.
The A8’s back end now comes with a revised bumper and LED taillights and darkened window frames. Audi has also modified the A8’s exhaust system, which now terminates in two large, trapezoidal tailpipe tips.
Inside the changes are even more subtle, with the Audi A8 maintaining one of the best interiors in the business, although it soon will be challenged by the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Plenty of modifications have improved passenger comfort, particularly on the long-wheelbase models that are now available with a continuous, leather-covered center console and a reclining seat with power fold-out footrest.
Audi has also added power-closing doors, integrated rear seat entertainment, cabin air ionizer and a refrigerator in the rear seat back.
As far as luxury sedans go, the all-wheel drive only Audi A8 has found a near-perfect balance of conservative exterior and interior styling with the latest in powertrain, in-car and safety technology.
Australian buyers can pick between a 3.0-litre TDI, 4.2-litre TDI and for the first time in this current generation, the Audi S8, which is powered by a turbocharged 4.0-litre petrol V8. (Stay tuned for the S8 Review.) All models arrive by mid-next year with both diesel variants also available as long-wheel base models.
The most popular model, the Audi A8 3.0-litre TDI, which accounts for the majority of sales both in Europe and in Australia, has seen a power increase to 190kW (+10kW) with 580Nm (+30Nm) of torque.
Despite its sizeable frame, the standard wheelbase only weighs 1880kg thanks to lighter all-aluminium construction. This results in hugely impressive claims for the entry-model Audi A8 – a twin 5.9 second 0-100km/h and 5.9L/100km (on European test).
Driven at speeds in excess of 220km/h on Autobahns around Dusseldorf, Germany, the 3.0-litre TDI Audi A8 is more than adequate for a luxury limo. It gets up to speed quickly, and maintains pace effortlessly.
For those who want even more, though, the 4.2-litre TDI pumps out 283kW of power and an over-the-top 850Nm of torque. This cuts down the 0-100km/h time to 4.7 seconds, while consumption rises only moderately to 7.2L/100km. Behind the wheel the difference is instantly noticeable, but unless cutting 1.2 seconds out of the time on the on-ramp to a freeway is essential, the performance benefits are marginal compared with the super-sweet and still-fast standard diesel.
Perhaps the biggest change from a driving perspective with the facelifted Audi A8 is the switch from hydraulic to electro-mechanical power steering. The change has allowed a fuel saving of 0.3L/100km while tightening up the steering and allowing for an array of safety technologies – such as active lane assist and park assist.
Around tight corners the Audi A8 feels like a big car. Though it doesn’t weigh nearly as much as expected and hence doesn’t lean or move around too much, its 5.14m length ultimately hinders its agility.
Where the A8 really shines is in traffic and highway conditions. Since the laws of physics are different in Europe to Australia, we were legally – and safely - cruising along at 220km/h on the autobahn in both diesel A8s with minimal fuss from the engine.
Most impressive though, is the new adaptive cruise control system that can be set to follow the car in front all the way from a standstill to well above legal speeds. Though it doesn’t (yet) turn the wheel – the Benz system will follow slight curves in the road – it essentially removes the need for your feet to do any work.
The car can come to a full stop in traffic and a single tap of the accelerator will reengage the system, which also shows no signs of sudden acceleration when it has lost track of the car in front, particularly around bends. This is ideal for start-stop traffic and though scary to test, we couldn’t fault it in both highway and traffic conditions.
As far as interiors go, the Audi A8 is up against the toughest competitor in the world – the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While the new S-Class is certainly a glorious place to be, the A8 puts up a fight. The cabin ambience and the high quality materials are impeccable and Audi has even added the ability to cover your A8 with, erm, vegetable tanned unicum leather, if that’s your thing.
In fact, you’d have to nitpick to find something wrong with the A8’s cabin. From the steering wheel to the gear stick and everything in between, the interior is the ultimate expression of what Audi has of late built a solid reputation around.
Where it leaves all its competition behind, however, is in-car technology. The Audi Connect system is arguably the best in the business. Making its local debut with the Audi RS5, the Audi Connect system is one of the highlights of the A8 range, integrating everything from Google maps and streetview to enabling a wireless hotspot for devices inside the vehicle.
For example, the rear passengers can connect their iPads or laptops to the vehicle’s 4G LTE WiFi connection and browse the web in motion – maximising productivity. It can take up to eight devices and during our testing (in Europe) it performed flawlessly.
There are plenty of functions built into the system that will also eventually work in Australia, such as the ability to see flight times at the nearest airports, available parking spots nearby and much more. The Android based system is highly customizable allowing for easier app development.
Another novel innovation is the Audi Matrix LED lighting system that allows the headlights to talk to the car’s navigation system to better illuminate the path ahead. (Read more about Audi Matrix LED.)
We also tested Audi’s animal and pedestrian detection system, which uses infrared cameras to detect heat signatures and warn drivers of potentials dangers near the road. Once detected, the A8 shines a spotlight on the object (individual LEDs blink a beam of light three times in quick succession) to warn both driver and pedestrian.
Though it worked without any issues and warned us of dogs and pedestrians on the side of the road, it started becoming an amusing distraction as we could point the A8 towards any object, including houses, and see what was cooking…
Of course, in order to properly do an Audi A8 review, we spent a considerable amount of time being chauffeured in the back seat. On Germany’s ultra-smooth roads, it’s hard to complain about the ride, something that has been an issue with A8s in the past.
There’s also an almost eerie silence inside the cabin, a credit to the cabin refinement and improved noise vibration and harshness (NVH).
Audi uses similar technology as noise cancelling headphones to negate road noise inside the A8, making it one of the quietest cabin’s we’ve ever been in. Even at 200km/h, we could hold a casual conversation without raising our voice.
Before we headed to Germany to review the updated Audi A8, we were picked up by a hire car company that has a fleet of Audi A8 LWB vehicles. The current generation 3.0-litre TDI 2012 Audi A8 in question had done over 100,000km and, according to the driver, had been without fault to date.
He noted the small boot space (which has been increased by an extra 10cm of depth in the updated model) had caused him some grief, but was otherwise more than happy with his vehicle.
Prices for the new Audi A8 range are likely to remain similar to the current model and so far equipment levels remain unconfirmed. The A8 3.0 TDI starts from $188,000 (additional $11,000 for LWB) while the 4.2 TDI commands a $50,000 premium.
As far as upper-large luxury vehicles go, the Audi A8 is amongst the best. It outclasses its competition with in-car technology while providing ultra-modern drivetrains, performance, efficiency and a gorgeous and welcoming interior.
It just happens to go head to head with the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class that launches this month and that’s a tough act for anyone to follow.