This 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?

Audi has reacted to the launch of the facelifted BMW 7-series, the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-class and the on-going tweaks to the Jaguar XJ with a subtly updated version of the firm’s range-topping A8 saloon.

Among the styling tweaks are a new bonnet featuring more defined creases, a lightly reworked grille, a less-rounded front bumper and flatter headlights – the latter of which now support a matrix-beam LED function comprising 25 diodes that can be switched on and off independently in combination with information from an on-board camera.

This allows the headlights to react more quickly to oncoming vehicles by automatically blanking out high beam, as well as providing other safety features.

At the rear, the aluminium-bodied A8 gets a new boot lid and a more crisply styled bumper with trapezoidal slots for the exhaust pipes.

A  new range of alloy wheels, which are available in sizes from 17 to 21 inches in diameter, and added brightwork around the windows and within the door handles complete the visual makeover.

As with its predecessor, the Audi A8 comes with the choice of six different engines – four petrol and two diesels, ranging from a 242bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine to a 493bhp 6.0-litre W12. Above this is the new S8, which continues to run a 520bhp version of Audi’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. With all the power units, the focus has been on improving efficiency so they comply with upcoming Euro 6 emission rules.

The 3.0-litre V6 diesel driven here is expected to continue its domination of UK A8 sales. Its engine gains 8bhp and 22lb ft, pushing its output up to 254bhp and 428lb ft.

Like all A8s save for the entry-level 2.0 TFSI, drive is channelled via an eight-speed automatic gearbox and Audi’s quattro torque-sensing four-wheel drive system. Another standard feature is Drive Select, which allows the driver to tailor the mapping of the throttle, gearbox, steering and damping characteristics. 

Along with the mechanical changes, moves to improve engine isolation through the addition of new sound deadening materials has clearly paid dividends, endowing the strongest-selling A8 with even more impressive mechanical refinement, which is now at or near the levels of the luxury car competition. 

Despite its aluminium construction, the A8 3.0 TDI weighs 1880kg – some 40kg more than BMW claims for its more conventionally constructed 730d. This is evident in the A8’s 0-62mph time and combined economy figures of 5.9sec and 47.9mpg respectively. Neither betters the BMW, but they at least improve on the previous 3.0-litre diesel A8 by 0.2sec and 5.1mpg. 

What's it like?

Audi describes the A8 as being the sportiest car in its class, and certainly the driving position, with its low set seat and high centre console, suggests this.

Just don’t expect it to dazzle with its dynamism. The new electro-mechanical steering system is quite direct and responsive off-centre, but it has uninspiring and feel with little true feedback or genuine weighting.

Despite detailed changes to its suspension, the big Audi’s ride and rolling refinement also continue to disappoint. There is less fidgeting over minor imperfections and smaller ruts than before.

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However, the standard wheelbase A8 continues to have difficulty ironing out nasty expansion joints and larger potholes, which are often relayed into the otherwise tranquil cabin with a thud – at least on the optional 19-inch wheels of our test car. I suspect we will hear similar complaints once the car arrives in the UK early next year.

This said, there is a clear improvement in the area of body control, with less tendency for the front end to dramatically lift under hard acceleration and reduced levels of dive under hard braking. It also corners in a tidier manner than before, with changes to the damping characteristics bringing lower levels of lean when you’re charging on over winding back roads.

The addition of four-wheel drive as standard does at least provide the A8 with superb traction, and its ability to carry big speeds through fast corners without premature intervention of the stability control system, even on damp roads, is impressive.

And what of the cabin, traditionally one of the A8’s biggest drawcards?

It is now even more desirable, with new materials and detailed weighting of the controls providing an even more imposing level of richness than before. As well as providing outstanding levels of comfort and accommodation, the new Audi is also bestowed with a genuinely intuitive operation of its Multi Media Interface (MMI) system. Our only real criticism  of the interior is the fiddly operation of the stubby gear lever.

Should I buy one?

The new A8, although little different in appearance, is a clear step forward, but despite big changes to its suspension set-up, it still fails to match the competition for dynamic finesse and its ride is best described as ordinary.

What it does have going for it, though, is one of the best interiors and highest perceived quality of any large-scale production car.

Audi A8 3.0 TDI

Price £58,800; 0-62mph 5.9sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 47.9mpg (combined); CO2 192g/km; Kerbweight 1880kg; Engine V6, 2967cc, turobdiesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, 4WD; Power 245bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 428lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic

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JOHN T SHEA 22 October 2013

Richard Webber on the front

Richard Webber on the front wheel drive model last year:-
"The primary ride is expertly controlled and secondary-ride chatter is well isolated, while brakes work strongly. Steering is typically lifeless, though, seeming either too heavy or too light when toggled between modes."

He didn't specify where he drove it, but the photos were of a UK A8 with 19" wheels. It would seem odd indeed if Audis road better on British roads than on German roads!

JOHN T SHEA 22 October 2013

A6 rides much better than A8?

Odd that Mr. Kable finds the A8's ride so poor on 19" wheels when Andrew Frankel found the A6 Allroad rode so well on 20" wheels, even though the Allroad's standard ride height is much the same now as the A8's now (unlike the Mk 1 Allroad). I assume the A8 did not have the optional sports suspension?

catnip 20 October 2013

I'm looking forwad to when

I'm looking forwad to when manufacturers style the new LED headlamp technology into ultra slim, or at least differently designed units, rather than just putting them into traditional lenses (with lots of padding) as they all seem to be doing now.