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.