Excellent, whichever of its three chassis tunes you opt for

What is it?

Despite the fact that it’s not the most expensive car it builds, Audi says the new A8 is its ‘new flagship’ which ‘takes an even more responsible approach to luxury’.

Rather than being an extensive overhaul of the outgoing A8, the fourth-generation model is pretty much all-new. It’s based around Audi’s new longitudinal powertrain layout (which sees the engine sitting a little further back, between the front wheels) and new aluminium spaceframe chassis, which the company says is 24 per cent more rigid. The engines have been re-worked and hooked up to a new 8-speed autobox.

The A8 still rides on aluminium suspension but gets re-designed adaptive air-suspension. Indeed, all of the new A8 models get Audi’s clever ‘Drive Select’ electronic chassis tuning package. The driver can select from ‘comfort’, ‘auto’ and ‘dynamic’ modes, each of which alter the steering response and weight, the damper settings and the transmission shift points.

This model comes with a sports differential as standard, which can selectively divide the engine’s torque between the rear wheels, considerably increasing the car’s appetite for corners.

Inside, aside from the company’s usual fine attention to detail and exemplary build quality, standard equipment includes a hard-drive sat-nav with a touch pad, allowing the driver - searching for a sat-nav destination - to sketch out individual letters with a forefinger. Xenon headlights and double glazing is also standard.

What’s it like?

On paper, this revised 4.2-litre V8 turbo diesel looks very impressive. It is good for 346bhp and a driveshaft-twisting 590lb ft of torque from just 1750rpm. Even hooked up to a quattro drivetrain, Audi is claiming an average of 37.2 mpg and CO2 emissions of 199g/km. It can also hit 62mph in just 5.5 seconds.

What the paper specifications can’t communicate, though, is the extraordinarily refinement delivered by this unit. The combination of the huge wave of torque, the under-bonnet hush and almost complete lack of mechanical intrusion into the cabin, lifts this particular car close to the super-luxury sector, in terms of the drivetrain at least.

Defining this car’s handling prowess if not so easy. Thanks to the ‘Drive Select’ adaptive chassis kit, this A8 wears three quite different characters depending on the chassis setting selected. The good news is they all pretty impressively resolved.

The ‘comfort’ mode is very good on good roads. The smoothly-surfaced A7 on Spain’s southern coast showed this setting in its best light, the car running extremely serenely and very quickly. If there’s any criticism is that the steering is little slow in this mode and seemed to be slow to self-centre.

However, if the driver wants smooth progress on more cut-and thrust roads, ‘auto’ mode seems to succeed in combining a compliant ride and little more edge in the steering and damping, which gives the A8 the kind of unruffled briskness which is ideal for demolishing a series of roundabouts. If this mode can be criticised, it would be a slight sense of distance between the car and driver. But then this is a limo, not a coupe.

In ‘Dynamic’ the changes to the chassis are quite aggressive, but convincing. The steering weighs up considerably, the damping is much firmer (though the ride is not much less comfortable) and the car turns into corners with an enthusiasm bordering on aggression (partly thanks to the sports differential coming on song). It does, though, allow the driver to drive right up to the limit of the front tyre’s adhesion without much prior warning. The electronic chassis aids come smoothly to the rescue, but it was a surprise to be momentarily sliding sideways on a slippy, clay-soaked, road.

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Other honourable mentions should go to the overall refinement, lack of road noise, the superb ‘yacht-style’ gear lever, fine interior ambience and seamless shifts.

Should I buy one?

It would be sensible to hang on a few months until the new Jaguar XJ, the A8s most direct rival, appears in showrooms. However, early reports suggest that the rakish Jaguar is more of peformance orientated car, where the triple-personality A8 can be effectively tuned to the driver’s mood. What’s more Jaguar, or any other rival, will have a job matching this car’s amazing powerplant.

Overall, a very fine car.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Andrew Lee 9 February 2010

Re: Audi A8 4.2 TDI Quattro

I agree - we can't properly judge this (or the XJ) until we've seen it on the road. But I can't imagine it's formulaic looks having anything like the presence of the Jag. Having said that, I'm not convinced by the XJ's styling yet.

As for the A8's interior - have to confess I don't get Audi's approach (or why journalists go into such raptures about most of their interiors). The dash looks too spartan, the usual (too) shiny wood rather vulgar and the (sub-Bentley) quilted leather a bit too Cheshire or even Dubai!

Odd that both they and Jag have a wraparound upper dash contour. Perhaps they were exchanging more than talk about aluminium pressings?

ThwartedEfforts 9 February 2010

Re: Audi A8 4.2 TDI Quattro

You say that, but even when Mercedes were cramming the insides of their most expensive cars with items bought wholesale from Mothercare (run your fingers over the plastics and switchgear of any '99-'02 S-Class and you'll appreciate what I'm on about), they still managed to outsell all rivals and by an embarrassing margin. Both BMW and Audi offered bigger, more powerful, more refined diesels, used better quality materials, had bling wheels and were at pains to appeal to 'drivers', but the reason a luxury car succeeds has very little to do with how it looks or feels inside and out, or whether you can shave 2s from your evening commute home.

Whether the new A8 offers what buyers want only time will tell, but I suspect it will continue selling to a minority: Audi are shifting about 20,000 A8s worldwide each year (accounting for barely 2% of the company's total sales) and Mercedes are selling the same number of S-Class every 120 days. It won't help the A8's case that it appears - in photos at least - to be something a double glazing salesman might turn up in, only larger.

disco.stu 9 February 2010

Re: Audi A8 4.2 TDI Quattro

Having seen the car in the metal, it looks very different from the photos - the detailing is superb and the styling needs three dimensions to really work. I had my doubts about the LED headlights, but in the metal (glass???) they look ok. I suspect that on the road they will look fantastic.

The interior puts every other competitor to shame, and that will be a big factor for customers, regardless of whether they are sitting in the front or the back.