As with its predecessor, the 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.
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.