There’s a certain decadence to being chauffeured in a large, luxury limousine. Anonymous behind tinted windows, you can watch the world pass you by as someone else does the hard work of negotiating traffic. It’s a serene world, made even more comfortable by a long list of luxurious features more at home in, well, your home, than in the back of a car.
Meet the all-new 2018 Audi A8, Ingolstadt’s flagship passenger car – a technical tour de force that Audi is hoping will conquest buyers of rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the upper-large segment.
Let’s face it, the upper-large is a niche segment, and when your budget is over $100,000, even more so. In 2017, just 561 cars were sold in that most niche of segments, representing a miniscule 0.0004 per cent of the new car market. Of those 561 cars sold in the over $100K bracket, just 35 rolled out of Audi showrooms with an A8 badge on the boot lid, placing the limo well behind the segment-leading BMW 7 Series (164 units), Mercedes-Benz S-Class (113) and Porsche Panamera (111). Not huge numbers, by any stretch, but a fertile plain to be tilled nevertheless.
In this, the fourth-generation Audi A8 – internal code, D5 – the folks at Ingolstadt haven’t held back with technological wizardry. No furrow has been left unturned in a bid to present a compelling proposition for buyers in this segment.
But, let’s be clear. The A8 is never going to be a volume seller. Instead, think of the A8 as a technological showpiece – a real-life advertisement for not only the capabilities of Audi as an automotive manufacturer, but also for how your povvo-pack A4 will eventually be specced. Trickle-down tech at work.
Australia scores a four-car range of the A8, with a choice of just two engines – a 3.0-litre turbo diesel or a 3.0-litre turbo petrol. This range also sees the introduction of Audi’s new model-naming convention. Thus, the A8 range starts with the diesel A8 50 TDI quattro ($192,000), steps up to the A8 55 TFSI quattro ($195,000), extends to the long-wheelbase A8 L 50 TDI ($207,000) and tops out with the long-wheelbase A8 L 55 TFSI quattro ($210,000). All prices are exclusive of on-road costs.
As befitting a flagship model, the A8 wants for little. Standard features across the four-car range include adaptive suspension, HD Matrix LED headlights with dynamic indicators, a panoramic glass sunroof, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, a 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, DAB+ radio, a remote control for the back row, head-up display, and MMI Navigation Plus with not one but two touchscreens – a 10.1-inch and an 8.6-inch, both with haptic and acoustic feedback.
On the safety front, the A8 is brimming. Adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go function, 360-degree camera with 3D views, active lane assist, side assist with cross-traffic assist, exit warning, collision-avoidance assist, intersection assist, and pre-sense front and rear.
That’s not to say you can’t load your A8 with options. There are plenty of boxes to tick to supersize your A8 and make it more sumptuous, more luxurious.
There’s a Premium Plus package ($11,000): 20-inch alloys (over the standard 19s), adaptive windscreen wipers, interior ambient lighting, digital TV reception, electric sunblinds for the rear doors and rear window, privacy glass, and seat ventilation and massage function for the front seats are highlights.
The Executive package ($18,500) is a box we’d tick. It focuses almost entirely on the back row and adds a suite of luxury features more at home in your lounge room than in the back of your car. The Executive package does away with the more traditional rear bench seating for five, and opts for two individual rear seats, electrically adjustable and with lumbar support and massage function. The passenger-side rear seat also scores a heated foot massage function (yes, really) while both seats score footrests. There’s an extended centre console as well as folding tables like you would see in a business-class cabin of an airliner.
Combined with the $6500 Entertainment package that adds two tablet-style TV screens and a six-stacker DVD changer, the idea of living in the back of your A8 suddenly becomes a very real prospect.
Other available options include dynamic all-wheel steering, a snip at $4500, and we’d venture to say it's a necessity for a car of this size. There’s also night-vision assistant at $5200 and a slightly laughable $13,200 HD Matrix LED headlight package that includes laser lights and OLED rear lights.
No surprises then that none of the cars we drove at the local launch came anywhere near their stated list prices.
At first glance, the A8 presents an intimidating, albeit handsome, figure. Let’s be clear, this is a big barge of a thing. And in this new generation, it’s even bigger than the car it replaces. How much bigger? Well, in standard form, without the ‘L’ badge on the tail, it’s a mammoth 5172mm long, some 37mm longer than the D4-gen A8. It’s also 13mm taller than its forebear, at 1473mm, while its 2998mm wheelbase eclipses the previous A8 by 6mm. Width? Close to two metres, 1945mm to be precise. But interestingly, despite sprouting in two directions, the 2018 A8 is actually 4mm trimmer than its predecessor.
The new A8’s design cues are borrowed unashamedly from Audi’s 2014 Prologue concept. The hexagonal grille is wider and flatter than ever, while slightly flared wheel arches promise quattro all-wheel-drive goodness. There’s an uncluttered, almost minimalist design language at play. It’s just not very busy, externally. Which is a nice way of saying it's a bit conservative in its styling, certainly externally.
Inside, though, the A8 offers a carnival of technology. Those twin touchscreens, centrally mounted, entice with their lustrous sheen. They come at the expense of Audi’s centrally mounted rotary dialler that presented an easy-to-use interface for, well, just about everything. It’s gone, though, and using the touchscreens to control every function is fiddly, especially in right-hand-drive markets where it’s the left hand doing the fiddling – a counterintuitive process for most of us whose dominant hand is the right one. Passengers, though, will find it a doddle. Still, the high-definition screens are as crisp and clear as any we’ve seen, and the view from the 360-degree cameras are cinematic in their quality.
The quality of materials in the cabin is top-notch. Every touchpoint oozes luxury. The front seats are comfortable and offer plenty of adjustment, so finding the ideal driving position isn’t a stretch. The steering wheel is quite understated, wrapped in leather, and festooned with the usual controls. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is front and centre, and the smorgasbord of information it displays is easily configured to taste.
It’s on the road, though, where the A8 underscores its luxury credentials. We sampled three different cars at launch, and all proved very capable at delivering on what the A8 is built for – namely, effortless motoring.
First up, the A8 50 TDI (priced $203,000 plus on-roads with the as-tested $11,00 Premium package) with 210kW (3750–4000rpm) and 600Nm (1250–3250rpm) from its 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel. Matched to an eight-speed tiptronic transmission sending power to all four wheels (all A8s feature Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system), the 50 TDI is at once comfortable, quiet and surprisingly easy to navigate around the tight confines of inner Sydney.
It certainly doesn’t feel its size, and that slab of torque available from just 1250rpm never leaves you wanting for pace. The transmission, too, shuffles effortlessly and quietly, intuitively selecting the right gear for whatever situation you find yourself in.
Road noise is almost comically non-existent, while the plush ride absorbs anything and everything that stands in the A8’s way with ease and comfort. This is, in short, a cossetting ride isolating you from the outside world. Exactly as it should be in a car of this type.
On the highway, the diesel purrs along nicely. There is a hint of diesel rumble, but it’s by no means intrusive. Rolling acceleration is excellent, and for a bit of fun, lane-keeping assist lets you take your hand off the wheel for up to 30 seconds. It works well enough, especially on a freeway with excellent line markings. On some rural twisty bits, it didn’t quite stack up despite clear lane markings.
That last function hints at the Level 3 autonomous driving Audi is spruiking with its all-new A8. Except, we don’t get that in Australia. Yet. Stand by, though. Another feature not available yet, but promised in 2019, is Audi’s predictive adaptive suspension that analyses the road surface and then adjusts dampers on the fly to, in theory, offer the most suitable damping for the conditions ahead. We’ll be keen to try this out next year and see if it’s as promised on the box.
Our second stint behind the wheel came in the long-wheelbase A8 L 50 TDI, which sported almost 60 grand worth of options (Premium Plus pack $11,000; Entertainment pack $6650; Executive pack $18,500; Dynamic all-wheel steering $4500; Night-vision assistant $5200; HD Matrix LED headlights and Audi OLED rear lights $13,200) for an as-tested price of $266,050.
Sharing the same powertrain and power outputs as its slightly shorter (by 13cm) sibling, the ‘L’ badged A8 offered the same driving experience, albeit with one key difference. Our test A8 L came with the optional dynamic all-wheel steering assist ($4500), and it immediately proved its mettle when Audi’s sat-nav sent us on a wild-goose chase. Needing to perform a U-turn in what looked for all intents and purposes like a three-point turn waiting to happen in this 5.302m-long limo, the A8 L swung around in a single movement with room to spare. Impressive stuff.
Audi’s is like most of these all-wheel-steering systems, where the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts while at low speeds. Up the rate of knots, and the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts to enable sharper cornering. To be honest, this is a moot point. Neither the A8 nor the elongated A8 L are what you would call corner-carvers. They’re just too bloody big. We did enjoy one short twisty stretch where we let the A8 L off its leash and it was, well, big.
Last cab (or should that be 'hire car'?) off the rank was the long-wheelbase A8 L 55 TFSI, again brimming with options to bring the as-tested price to $281,150. There's the $11,000 Premium Plus pack; $13,200 for those trick tail- and headlights, Entertainment pack at $6650, Executive package $18,500, dynamic all-wheel steering $4500, night-vision assistant $5200, and a premium Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System for $12,100.
Powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol matched to an eight-speed tiptronic, the petrol variant puts out 250kW (5000–6400rpm) and 500Nm (1370–4500rpm). Again, plenty of oomph, if not Earth-shattering. Audi claims a sprint time to triple figures of just 5.6 seconds. Believable too.
And what seemed slightly less believable was just how quiet the petrol variant is on the highway. It is so quiet, you have to keep checking to see if the car is actually switched on. The 55 TFSI sits at highway speeds cruising at just 1100rpm with barely a ripple. Better still, thanks to Audi’s 48V mild hybrid system, the engine shuts down for up to 40 seconds when coasting, i.e. foot off the accelerator, saving fuel in the process and recharging the battery situated in the back of the A8. It’s so good, so seamless, you don’t even notice it happening, neither when the engine shuts down, nor when you get back on the gas and those six cylinders fire up again.
Fuel economy is the name of this game, and to that end it works, if not quite to the levels Audi spruiks. However, indicated figures were still pretty impressive considering the size of the A8 and the A8 L. A quick summary. The regular diesel A8 is claimed to sip just 5.9L/100km. We saw an indicated 8.0L/100km. The longer A8 L diesel ups that consumption to 6.0L, and again we saw an indicated 8.0L. And the long-wheelbase petrol asks for 8.2L/100km on the combined cycle. Our test car returned exactly 10.0L.
In an attempt to get a real-world insight, a stint in that luxurious back row was needed. With my driver on the tools up front, I settled into that cushioned and comfy individual back seat in the A8 L and started fiddling with the luxury accoutrements.
The digital TV worked well, a crisp and sharp picture, although being out in rural NSW, the reception was a bit shaky. Still, it’s a nice way to while away the hours on a long drive. If watching reruns of MasterChef isn’t your thing, there’s a six-DVD stacker so you can load up your favourite movies or shows (although, the question must be asked, who still watches DVDs in this day and age of streaming?). How long before streaming services are available, or at the very least, the ability to screen-cast off your smart device?
Bored with MasterChef, I played around with the massage function, both for my back and feet. Massage isn’t my thing, but I have to admit to feeling pretty relaxed at the end of the drive.
And that’s the thing with cars of this type. For all their abilities on the road, it’s the sumptuousness of them in the back that makes them desirable. To a certain type, anyway. As good as the A8 and the A8 L are on the road – quiet, soft, powerful – the real delight comes from being driven around in the back seat, basking in the features Audi has built into its flagship limo.
Audi’s all-new A8 certainly makes a statement in this most niche of niche segments.