The Audi A8 is a genuine contender for the world heavyweight championship, the full-size luxury sedan category, now topped by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But with the A8’s long wheelbase for interior room, its aluminum space frame for lightness, and its available 12-cylinder engine for spectacularness, it feels kingly.
It’s not just that unique W12 flagship engine that makes the car stand out. The lineup includes three other engines, including a new supercharged V6, a turbodiesel V6, and a twin-turbo V8s. And that’s not counting the S8 with a more powerful version of that V8.
The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 is the base engine, making 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque while getting 29 highway mpg. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel TDI makes 240 hp and 406 pound-feet of torque, while getting 36 combined mpg with a range of more than 800 miles to a tank of gas, numbers we achieved at 80 mph on a weekend road trip.
The 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 makes 435 horsepower, which is pretty impressive until you try on the 6.3-liter W12 that makes 500 horsepower with 488 pound-feet of torque and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.
The biggest change for 2016 is that the shorter wheelbase A8 has been dropped for North American import. There’s also a new model, the A8 Sport with the V8, which takes on aggressive front and rear fascias that visually give it a touch of S8.
An 8-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive are standard in the A8, with the torque split 60/40 to the rear under normal driving conditions, while moving to 60 percent at the front if traction is needed there.
The base price of the A8 3.0T with the supercharged V6 engine is $81,500. Standard equipment includes leather, navigation, LED headlights, satellite radio, Bose sound system, Bluetooth, front and rear climate control, and sunroof. Everything that moves is power-operated.
Option packages start jacking the price way up, including ventilated seats, 19-inch wheels with all-season tires, leather console and armrests. Stand-alone options include night vision and rear-seat entertainment, and a 14-watt, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced sound system.
There’s a Sport plus package that includes dynamic steering, adaptive air suspension, 265/40-series summer tires, and the same differential that’s used on the S8.
The A8 sheetmetal is handsome but subdued. The long hood works complements the width of the car. The LEDs used front and rear for parking lights look upscale.
The cockpit has real panache, and doesn’t appear to have missed a detail, not in the wood, leather, aluminum or plastic, in their many lines, surfaces, textures and knobs, not to mention the suede headliner. The effect is exciting without being distracting, lavish and radiant while being restrained and careful. One example is the shift lever that copies the throttle in a yacht, although we must say it looks something like a putter poking out of a golf bag. With the top Bang & Olufsen sound system, two tweeters rise from the dash on startup.
There is all-day comfort in the front seats, with available adjustment from 22 different directions. The two power-adjustable seats on the rear bench are lavish enough that the driver must just want to ride back there instead, especially since there is available entertainment with a 20GB hard drive and two 10.2-inch screens; there’s even a folding table. The right seat has a footrest while the left seat can recline and massage you. There’s separate climate control for the rear. We say spring for the optional two-panel panoramic sunroof.
We like the Geeky in-car data services, but wonder if Google Maps, Google Earth and Bluetooth voice command is too much information. We like the steering-wheel controls but dislike the latest MMI, because it’s not intuitive and requires training. It’s a mouse-like rotating controller, with a scratchpad that enables you to spell out your desires. Your A8 can be turned into a WiFi hotspot with a subscription from T-Mobile.
The overall handing of the A8 is sophisticated and composed. But mostly, Audi has nailed the calibration of the 8-speed automatic transmission (or rather ZF the transmission supplier has), which always chooses the correct gear quickly, and simply and smoothly. Using the Drive Select system, in Comfort or Auto mode, the transmission short-shifts, meaning it upshifts casually and early; while if you floor it for passing, it will jump from eighth gear to third in a heartbeat, to bring on a rush of passing power.
Drive Select is the electronic godhead that governs engine, transmission, steering, and suspension feel, according to what the driver wants at the time, Dynamic, Comfort, Auto, and Individual for custom settings. It brings out the best in the car, from switchbacks to city to freeway cruising, although Dynamic makes the steering effort a bit high.
The base 3.0T supercharged V6 is fast and responsive, if not vibration free. The low-end speed from the supercharge boost and well-spaced gears in the transmission enable it to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds. To compare, the 3.0 TDI diesel does 0-60 in 6.4 seconds, while being a bit noisier.
The thing about the A8 is you have four characters from which to choose among the four engines: supercharged V6, turbodiesel V6, turbocharged V8, and 12-cylinder. With the new Sport model, you can also choose to change the visual character, from standard sedan to sport sedan. Great transmission, carefully detailed cabin, and fine ride.