What is it?
The facelifted Audi A8 has a tough job ahead, since it arrives arrives shortly after the latest-generation Mercedes-Benz S-class. The new S-class, though, has shaken the establishment to the core and reasserted its dominance over the rest of the field, which also includes the BMW 7-series and Jaguar XJ.
The facelift is best summed up in terms of the technology gains – chiefly matrix beam LED headlamps that can shut off or push on combinations of its 25 diodes independently, either to avoid blinding oncoming traffic or to highlight potential hazards – a line-up of all-Euro 6 compliant engines and its maker’s claim that the A8 is now the sportiest car in its class.
There are styling tweaks, too (new bonnet, grille, bumpers and so on) but for all the hoopla surrounding these modifications, it’s still unmistakably an A8, which is no bad thing, everything considered.
Here, we test the A8 on UK roads for the first time, powered by the 4.2 TDI. It’s the least modified engine in the line up, thanks to its already competitive figures that strike a decent balance between good performance and running cost claims.
What's it like?
Climb aboard and, in isolation, the cabin is a wonderful place to be, although that hardly sets it apart in this class, and the vast array of buttons surrounding the low-slung driver’s seat offer a vast array of controls in a surprisingly intuitive manner. The small, stubby gearlever is a fiddle to work initially, but this is only a minor quibble.
The LED matrix lighting system is as as impressive as it sounds, providing incredible vision and effectively and automatically sensing and adapting to what's on the road ahead in fractions of a second. It is a genuine leap forward for lighting technology, although it is unlikely to swing the votes of many buyers on its own.
The V8 is a powerful, torque-laden unit that is beautifully effortless for town cruising and impressively sharp yet refined under hard acceleration. What’s more, quattro is now standard on all A8s, and the traction benefits are obvious, especially in the rain-sodden country lanes we chiefly road tested in. It’s refined, too, and the claimed economy is noteworthy against competitors.
The tweaked suspension offers some cause for hope as well. The ride is far more controlled than on the pre-facelifted car with pitch and dive under acceleration and braking reigned in and body control in corners decent, if not class-leading. The overall impression is that this a fast but secure car in which to make progress.
But these positives are undone by lacklustre steering feel. The electro-mechanical system is direct, but the weighting rarely transmits a true sense of what’s going on at the wheels. There is also an issue in dealing with larger road imperfections, which sends everything from an irritating patter to occasional thuds in to the cabin. Wind noise is also a minor issue at motorway speeds.
Should I buy one?
Those shortcomings are enough to leave the Audi in a bit of a hinterland for would-be buyers. This is not, as claimed, the sportiest car in its class (the soon to be facelifted Jaguar XJ is), and nor is it the finest riding or refined (which you suspect matters more to buyers anyway, and is an area where the S-class excels).
Ultimately, there’s no escaping that this facelifted Audi A8 sits in the same class as the new Mercedes S-class, which we recently declared the best car in the world alongside the incomparable Rolls-Royce Phantom. Where the S-class is an all-rounder par excellence, the Audi’s attributes hit too few highs and too many lows.
Even in revised form, the A8 is not a match for the S-class. Undoubtedly a good car though it is, in some areas it is not even close to the class leader.
For many buyers at this rarified end of the market that is where the discussion will begin and – swiftly – end.
Audi A8 L quattro SE Executive 4.2 TDI
Price £75,970; 0-62mph 4.9sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 37.7mpg; CO2 197g/km; Kerb weight 2095kg; Engine V8, 4134cc, diesel; Power 380bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 627lb ft at 2000-2750rpm; Gearbox 8-spd auto