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Luxury limousine is updated – mostly inside – in the face of rejuvenated opposition. Is it still a great chauffeur car?

What is it?

Perhaps it’s a size thing – or, at the very least, a purpose thing. After all, we’re on board with gratuitously powerful sports cars of any variety, but driving a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 Audi A8 in 2021 (especially around Norway, where more cars are electric than are not) does feel like turning up to a bar mitzvah with a plate of pork chops.

Still, the competition is also rife with chunky V8s (think Mercedes- Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series); and yet more pertinent is the fact that this A8 will also offer a 3.0-litre petrol V6, a 3.0-litre diesel V6 and a plug-in hybrid system with a longer electric range than before, plus the sporty S8.

This is a mild overhaul for the A8, with the significant new additions being a bigger grille, bigger front intakes, new OLED tail-lights, new infotainment software and, on range-topping Vorsprung trim, new digital matrix LED headlights with no fewer than 1.3 million micromirrors, which don’t so much illuminate the road as deliver a forward-facing sunrise.

What's it like?

It’s peachy to drive in precisely the suave-yet-potent way that you want from an A8. Our test car was a non-UK model, using a 453bhp version of the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that we will get in the S8. The permanent Quattro four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and predictive air suspension of our test car is all pertinent to the hot model, though.

Adaptive air suspension is fitted across the entire A8 range, but the predictive air suspension of the S8 uses a camera to read the road ahead and prepare accordingly. It not only softens everything for a speed bump but also ‘leans’ the body in fast turns to mimic an active anti-roll bar and to help to reduce pitch and dive.

It works, too, keeping body control precisely in check, despite the A8’s substantial heft, but it must be said the Audi falls short of the S-Class’s more tactile, fluid steering responses. It’s still a confident thing to wield around town or on a fast winding road, mind; tactile it isn’t, but it feels indomitable the second you set off.

It’s relaxing, too, shrugging off big bumps and high frequency road patina with equal nonchalance, although there’s a subtle patter in Dynamic driving mode at slower speeds if we’re really nitpicking. It’s a real shame that the predictive ride system will be offered to us only on the S8, because it could solve the significant issue that the A8 doesn’t quite ride as well as you might hope.

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The eight-speed automatic gearbox goes about its business with barely a ruffle in progress and easily keeps the V8 in its very broad comfort zone.

Speaking of that engine, it really is a delight. Clearly, the S8 will have a lairier take on proceedings, yet it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting more power unless they were desperate to execute the full Ronin.

The delightful V8 mutter from the exhaust, the serene yet potent wash of acceleration: it’s all there. However, it’s worth pointing out that the PHEV version has a similar 0-62mph time, and while its V6 and electric motor certainly won’t sound as good, it’s sure to be the sane choice for anyone who leases or gets a company car.

The updates inside are mild. The infotainment system may have new software, but it’s not the modernist slab of touchscreen seen in the S-Class. Still, the stacked twin touchscreens look appropriately high-tech and are actually easier to use, not least thanks to the gear selector that doubles as a wrist rest while you’re prodding. The menu layouts, graphics and response times are great, and while the screen for the climate control isn’t as intuitive as physical switchgear, it’s pretty straightforward. The steering wheel is free of touch- sensitive ‘buttons’, too, so praise be for small mercies.

Naturally, rear passengers get acres of lounging space, especially in the long-wheelbase car, and the boot will take long-haul luggage with ease.

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Should I buy one?

It would be easy to dismiss the A8 as dated. In truth, it’s still ruthlessly modern by any measure, and while it doesn’t quite have the handling finesse or ride comfort of the S-Class, it’s now even more tech-savvy, not to mention cheaper than its main rival.

So, if you want a traditional limo and its figures stack up for you, don’t hesitate: it’s still a world-class act.

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f839 16 November 2021

Would have this over its German "big three" rivals. BMW looks low rent inside, like pieces of nice upholstery draped over a far cheaper cabin. Merc looks like the Apple store. That completely writes those two off for me. 

Madd59 15 November 2021

" ... which don’t so much illuminate the road as deliver a forward-facing sunrise."

 
Pulitzer deserving line.
 
Well done Vicky!
Deputy 15 November 2021

The Norwegian Atlantic road - speed limit is 50mph the whole way.  Great place to test an Audi S8!