Audi gives its flagship A8 limousine a big once-over in a bid to fend off a brand new S-Class.
Audi’s range-topping model, the Audi A8, has been refreshed for 2014 and for the first time since 2010 the performance-oriented S8 variant returns.
Externally, there’s little different from the outgoing model, despite significant other changes across the range. The front end gets a newly designed bonnet, single frame grille and a redesigned front bumper. The headlight design has also been tweaked to provide a subtle hint that this is a new Audi A8. At the rear there’s a revised bumper, LED taillights and blackened window frames. The back end of the exhaust system has also been modified, and now culminates in twin, trapezoidal tips.
The highlights, according to Audi, are the addition of what it claims to be class-leading Matrix beam LED headlights and the fact that Night Vision Assist now recognises animals as well as people. It’s these changes that Audi says help the A8 grasp back some ground that has been lost to Mercedes-Benz and its segment-leading S-Class. Enthusiasts, though, will note that the diesel V8 is the most powerful diesel-engined Audi in Australia and be excited by the re-emergence of an S8 flagship.
Audi also told us that this A8 represents the most comprehensive product improvement across the life of the model and there is now more standard equipment than ever before.
Interestingly, despite what you might think on face value, nearly all Australian A8 buyers drive their own car. Therefore, you’d assume the way the A8 ‘feels’ on the road is more important than it might otherwise be in something that appears like a chauffeur-driven chariot.
The A8, regardless of model, feels taut and responsive, even more so when you consider the fact that it is a big, heavy vehicle. The flip side of those handling abilities and sheer competence mean that the A8 can sometimes feel a little too stiff when you’re a passenger either in the front or back seats. It’s a conundrum. Do we prefer the driving response? Or outright passenger cosseting? We still haven’t quite resolved that one yet…
There’s also an interesting cross section of powertrains to consider. It’s important to note that the base 2014 Audi A8 3.0 TDI is available as both a short wheelbase and long wheelbase platform. All models get the same exceptional eight-speed ZF transmission, which manages to shift almost seamlessly regardless of the speed you’re travelling or the revs you’ve dialed up. All models also get Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel-drive system, so there’s never a shortage of traction or composure regardless of the road surface beneath you.
The diesel-powered A8 3.0 TDI V6 is definitely the smart, perhaps budget conscious, choice, with 190kW of power and 580Nm of torque, as well as a claimed consumption figure of 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres, for $195,000. Switch to the longwheelbase platform and you’ll pay $206,900 and fuel consumption just 0.1L/100km higher.
Out on the open road, the V6 diesel really is an impressive engine. Quiet, refined and smooth, it offers more than enough power to get the big A8 up and moving and keep it humming along at highway speeds with plenty in reserve. It is such a capable engine, we were left wondering whether you really need to consider either of the other two options. That’s by no means a critique of the bigger engines, more a notch in the belt of the V6 and its real world performance.
The next step from there is the seriously impressive A8 4.2 TDI V8 engine. A price premium just over fifty grand means you’ll be forking out $249,900 for the privilege. Your money does get you the most powerful diesel engine in the Audi fleet, one with 283kW and a monstrous 850Nm. Fuel consumption remains frugal, though, with an official figure of 7.4L/100km. As you’d expect, 850Nm delivers one hell of a thump in the back when it comes to standing – or roll on – acceleration. The V8 belies its diesel make up to emit a potent growl as revs rise. It never assaults the calm of the V8 cabin in a grating way though.
For the first time in four years the Audi S8 returns, and its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine is nothing short of astonishing in terms of its performance, with 382kW and 650Nm on offer along with a sub-10-litre fuel figure (9.6-litres/100km). The cost of all this ability is an eye-watering $279,900.
Plant your foot in the S8 and the big sedan heads for the horizon with a startling turn of speed. The S8 comes standard with Audi Drive Select and regardless of the mode selected, the S8 delivers sharper turn in, and even more competent balance than either of the diesel models. Despite the cost, Audi reckons one in three A8 models sold will be an S8.
While there’s little doubt the S8 is the genuine performance weapon of the three models, we still see the V8 diesel as the perfect compromise for those whose budget isn’t such an issue. The V6 diesel will remain the mainstay of the fleet operators, though, thanks to its sub-$200K asking price. There has been some criticism in the past directed at Audi’s electric power steering system and yet fitted to the A8 range, it seemed right at home. There’s more than enough feedback for a luxury barge, but tight, slow speed maneuvering is dispatched with ease. Of the three models, we were particularly impressed by the front-end grip offered by the S8.
The facelifted A8 is solid and beautifully constructed, but the feeling of outright luxury isn’t quite at the level of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class that benefits from being a brand new design. The audio system is exceptional, the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot works quickly and accurately, and Bluetooth phone connectivity is easy and fast. There is however, no USB input plug; strange given the smartphone revolution, though Audi claim most people link via Bluetooth now. A proper iPhone cable costs $100 across the range, which also seems a little strange.
The Wi-Fi hotspot enables you to use Bluetooth to connect to the car’s Internet feed. Up to eight devices connected at one time. Our only issue was the fact that our test drive took us into areas devoid of 4G coverage. That aside, the system worked perfectly for us at launch. Use any of these in car systems and there’s little doubt that Audi Connect is the best system in the business.
The electric closing doors are a high tech, and pleasing addition – simply close them gently and let the system do the rest. Integrated rear seat entertainment is a nice touch and a cabin air ionizer ensured the quality of the air is as good as it can be regardless of how dusty it might be outside.
Fit, finish and touch surfaces are right up at the pointy end of the class, and there’s a solid feeling of quality to everything inside the A8’s cabin. There’s a dazzling array of buttons and switchgear and you won’t work an A8 out overnight, that’s for sure. What is certainly pleasing though is the fact that mastering the technology doesn’t require an engineering degree.
The Audi A8 range is definitely at the pointy end of the upper luxury class. The S-Class is marginally better in some areas, but the Audi trumps the Benz in others. Bang up to date, and with efficient drivetrains and sensational performance across all three engine variants, ensures that the A8 will remain a favourite.