As I grew older and wiser, and as I came to the realisation that there is no place for “sports” driving on Australian roads, I began to covet the pleasures of luxury motoring and low-revving low-stress diesel performance. You cannot go past the Audi A8 4.2TDI in this regard. The interior style and finish is to die for. The exterior is understated to the point it looks like an A4 from a distance. And the drivetrain - a twin-turbo 32-valve diesel V8 (good for 800Nm and 258kW), with an 8-speed ZF auto, and four-wheel drive with a 60:40 rear:front split. The only problem? The price!
Not many of us can afford north of $250K for a motor vehicle, so I waited patiently from 2011 until 2017, keeping a close eye on the second hand market, and bought when it hit my price point of $60K. This was for a vehicle with just over 80,000km on the clock and just a few scratches in the paint-work. I was confident buying this used (“pre-owned”?) vehicle, knowing it would be reliable even though was out of warranty. I did not waste money on an extended warranty. I figured anyone who would spend a large sum of money on a luxury car would probably look after it and service it according to the schedule. Of course it had full service history...
After almost two years of ownership and over 70,000km, I can now take a step back and analyse the pros and cons of the car. It has been reliable, although the front anti-sway bar squeaked loudly - replacing the links was a cheap and effective fix. The performance is gut-wrenching, and comes with a lovely V8 burble and subtle turbo whine at medium or heavier acceleration. The gearbox is as smooth as silk. The ride is harsher than I was expecting, possibly because it came with optional 21-inch rims on low profile tyres. The wheels look great, but the car much prefers freeway surfaces than the standard Australian secondary roads.
Economy is, to be frank, unbelievable. Cruising down the freeway at 120km/h returns about 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres, with the 90 litre tank giving a range of about 1000km with mixed town and country driving. I really do not think I could go back to petrol.
It is, without doubt, a big car. I used to think I was good at parking, but I remain completely unable to get this thing in the middle of any car park. It's big yes, but not too heavy thanks to the predominantly aluminium body. The engine and gearbox are surprisingly light as well, as the engine weighs in at only 194kg and the gearbox only 87kg, which is not very much for such a potent drivetrain.
The interior is just a lovely place to be; a mixture of leather, wood, aluminium, alcantara, proper big dials, decent stereo (Bose, the previous owner baulked at paying about $16,000 extra for Bang and Olufson), and very, very quiet. 120km/h on the freeway has the engine at about 1400rpm, so wind and tyre noise is all that can be heard. Massage function in the seats is surprisingly effective for a tired lower back on a long road trip. A small negative; the fuel gauge and temperature gauge do not have needles - just a small bank of LEDs. I definitely prefer proper gauges with needles.
Connectivity is an interesting mix of current and historical electronics. It has very good Bluetooth for phone and music, a CD player, two SD slots (that will never be used but apparently are to load data (ie. songs) into a “juke box”), a plug for an old version of an iPhone, and a slot for a SIM card that I have used occasionally, but seems unnecessary really. The Audi MMI includes a decent sat nav but everyone knows Google Maps is better. There is a touch pad to enter names or numbers for the phone etc.
Useless stuff abounds - infrared cameras at the front of the car and a small dashboard video display is not really useful to detect either pedestrians or animals at night, the adaptive cruise control is a much more conservative driver than me and I frequently override it, and the collision avoidance system thus far has unnecessarily avoided about a dozen non-collisions and has irritated me intensely (but I know one day it will save me rear-ending someone). I have never used or tried to learn the voice-activated controls, and a number of small buttons on the steering wheel have no known function (at least to me).
Servicing is every 15,000km, although is not done at a dealer. The main cost is the many litres of very expensive oil, generally making the total cost about $450. Tyres are about $500 a corner but I've found that wear is not too bad as I do not drive it hard. I hate not having a full-sized spare, especially in such a large car. The boot is really quite small for the size of the car - there is a panel between the front of the boot and the back of the rear seat that intrudes, and presumably houses some electronics or other gizmos.
I keep an eye on the subsequent model updates and I now am watching the new A8. Audi put some work into the engine and by 2017 it was producing 850Nm and 283kW. I considered getting a chip and upgrading mine but really the performance is more than adequate and I worry about the down-side of engine remapping. I do not like the new A8 - it seems unreasonably wide and angular from the front, and there is no V8! Just a petrol and a diesel V6. So how could Audi improve on the A8? Forget the new model and keep manufacturing the old one!
Overall, I am very happy with the car, and feel that I got great value for money. For the first few months I listened to every little squeak, rattle, engine noise, gearbox thump, and worried about reliability and expensive repairs. Now nearly two years down the track I am more relaxed. My wife has owned a 2010 Audi Q7 from new, and it has the same engine and gearbox package. This car has done 380,000km without a significant problem, despite spending most of its life pulling a 3.5-tonne horse float.
Something that has me perplexed is the gearbox fluid. Audi recommends never changing it, and I have had this confirmed from several Audi sources. My old Audi A6 3.0TDI had the ZF 6 speed box, which is still running on the original fluid after 430,000km. ZF themselves seem to recommend fluid changes about every 120,000km (or 80,000km for heavy use) but the process is not straight forward, so I have elected to take Audi’s advice.
Just a month ago I hit a kangaroo on the front right hand side of the car. Thank goodness it is comprehensively insured! The replacement headlight alone (by regulation it must be an original) is $6000! Total repair bill for minimal damage over $12,000, but I am taking the opportunity to pay some extra out of my own pocket to fix the various paint scrapes and to also re-finish the alloy wheels.
In conclusion, I can honestly say I look forward to any trip in my car, whether 20 minutes there and back from the supermarket, or 450km to the coast. For a big car it punts along back roads very quickly, quietly and economically. The interior finishes are tactile and pleasant, and more often than not I will drive with the radio off so I can listen to the car.
For about the same price as a brand new 2017 Commodore SSV Redline I have a second hand car that still looks current and is a far superior vehicle in every respect. I guess I might change my tune one day when I look in the rear-view mirror and see a couple of planetary gear-sets on the road behind me!