In just about every criteria, the new A8 makes a very convincing case for itself
With 250bhp, the A8 3.0 TDI delivers enthusiastic performance
As expected, the big new Audi’s best work is done at a steady cruise
In the metal it looks striking and far enough removed from its predecessor
No rival manages to combine such style, comfort and solidity
First DriveUK drive confirms that this facelift improves the A8, but doesn’t make it a class leader
First DriveThis third-generation luxury saloon offers mild styling changes and a new suspension set-up, but the big Audi fails to keep pace with its rivals
What is it?
The new Audi A8 - a car the German car confidently predicts will further enhance Audi’s reputation in the upper luxury ranks and help provide the basis for a further lift in volume to take its worldwide sales over the one million mark for the first time by the end of 2010.
In its previous three incarnations, Ingolstadt’s flagship saloon built up an impressive reputation for style, performance, quality and overall engineering prowess. So it is no great surprise to find these factors at the forefront of the fourth-generation A8 which is planned to go on sale in the UK in the spring.
But with highly regarded rivals like the Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 7-series, Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS460, it will need to do more than its predecessor to really make an impression on luxury car buyers in these economically straightened times.
In the metal it looks striking and far enough removed from its predecessor to leave you in no doubt that it is a brand new model. The exterior styling is highly technical and full of subtle nuances that don’t really become apparent until you see it up close.
No official figure has been made for the car driven here, but Audi claims it hits the scales up to 200kg under that of its direct competitors.
At launch there will be three engines to choose from, including a 372bhp 4.2-litre V8 petrol unit in the A8 4.2 FSI and a 350bhp 4.2-litre V8 common rail diesel in the A8 4.2 TDI – the latter endowed with a whopping 590lb ft of torque. For our first drive, however, we’ve gone for the upgraded 250bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the A8 3.0 TDI – a model, Audi says, will easily account for the majority of UK sales.
What’s it like?
In just about every criteria, the new A8 makes a very convincing case for itself. So much so, that it should now be considered an automatic inclusion on the short list of anyone in the market for an up-market four-door. Yes, it’s that good.
With 250bhp, the A8 3.0 TDI delivers enthusiastic performance, exceptional mechanical refinement and, thanks to new measures such as a new eight speed automatic gearbox, brake energy recuperation and a standard stop/start system, truly impressive levels of fuel economy.
As expected, the big new Audi’s best work is done at a steady cruise where the engine’s 405 lb ft of torque and the gearbox’s long gearing combined to provide relaxed and near silent progress at 75mph.
But although the A8 3.0 TDI encourages a measured driving style, it also possesses a good turn of speed through the gears. The upgraded engine is particularly impressive from 2000rpm through to 4000rpm, where it provides a satisfying surge of acceleration. With the gearbox in sport mode, kick down is quick and smooth.
The steering is characteristically light at low speeds for ease of maneuverability around town. But it weights up nicely at speed and, with the rack now mounted lower down in the engine bay and ahead of the engine, the responses are noticeably sharper off centre even if the ratio is much the same as before.
On urban roads the lack of tyre noise from its Pirelli P-Zero 255/45 R19s and suspension thump is truly first rate. Audi says it has focused a good deal of attention at improving ride quality and it is evident the moment you set off down the road for the first time and experience the terrific refinement. There’s a newfound air of control and quietness about the way the advanced underpinnings operate.
The A8 is different to most of its established luxury saloon rivals in that it feels better the harder you drive it. Find a deserted back road and you discover its body control is superb given the overall mass. You can confidently carry big speeds through to the apex and thanks to four-wheel drive there is sufficient front end purchase to give it a pleasingly neutral cornering character.
It is not until you really begin to throw it around that the limitations of sticking a heavy engine up ahead of the front axle line show through, and even then mild oversteer is quickly quelled by a long list of driver aids.
For all of the A8’s improved dynamic ability, however, it is the interior of the new Audi flagship that remains its biggest drawcard. No rival manages to combine such style, comfort and solidity.
Should I buy one?
The fourth-generation A8 is a highly convincing car – the best yet, without a doubt. In terms of driveline refinement and overall dynamic ability it is now close to matching its rivals.
In terms of build quality and overall ambiance, it is ahead of the up-market competition. A definitive verdict will have to wait until we get the chance to put it up against the S-class, 7-series, XJ and LS460. For now, however, the new Audi looks to have all the bases covered. I, for one, look forward to the comparison test.