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Audi A8 4.2 TDI quattro SE Executive

Click to view picture gallery“You’ve got 70K to spend on a big,
  fast, comfortable and luxurious car.
  Should you buy a Mercedes-Benz
  S-Class, 7 Series BMW or a new
  Jaguar XJ? Well, how about Audi
  new ‘flagship

ALTHOUGH AUDI REFERS TO THE NEW FOURTH-GENERATION A8 as their 'flagship', in terms of price that honour goes to the R8 supercar. But as far as four-seaters go, the A8 is the biggest and the best that Audi makes.

Key highlights of the latest A8 super-saloon — new body aside — are its lighter 24-per-cent-more-rigid aluminium spaceframe chassis with upgraded air suspension system, new 8-speed automatic gearbox and some very neat hi-tech kit that includes a Google search function, touchpad for the SatNav and infrared night-vision for spotting pedestrians in the dark.

Also popular during these harsh financial times, when non-conspicuous wealth is the prudent choice, is the A8's dramatically understated presence. That's not to say there's anything understated about the price — the 4.2 TDI quattro SE Executive model we tested costs 65,390. However, our test car came with a number of optional extras that boosted the 'Buy It Now' figure to 95,050 — even if it does include delivery, fuel, number plates and road fund licence!

“The A8’s cabin
is beautifully crafted
using the
very finest materials
and packed with
more ‘toys’

than a private jet...”
As you'd expect from a close-to-100,000 Audi, the cabin is beautifully built using the finest materials and packed with more 'toys' than a private jet. Possibly!

It will, for instance, when you're on the Continent, automatically change the headlights for driving on the right and will even alter the clock for you.

Well-heeled drivers buying this kind of car still have that small boy fascination with speed. Looking at the paper figures (345bhp and 590lb ft of torque; 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds) you'd have to say it's pretty damn quick. And remember, this performance is not from a petrol engine but a turbodiesel V8. One that's hooked up to an all-wheel drive quattro drivetrain. Impressed? You should be. Even more so when you learn that the official average consumption figure is 37.2mpg!

But paper figures, like a map, can only convey two-dimensional information. They can never tell you how such a titanic wave of torque — made even more impressive by the near-silent mechanical refinement — actually feels. And for that you must drive the A8.

No hardship as the A8's cabin is defined by its exemplary build quality and fastidious attention to detail. Standard equipment is, of course, comprehensive with a capital 'C' and includes double-glazing and a hard-drive SatNav/Infotainment system with a touch pad that lets the driver input a destination by spelling it out letter-by-letter. To avoid mistakes, individual letters are announced after being traced on the pad.

The more traditional in-car entertainment is taken care of — and very capably so in our specced-up test A8 — by a Bose surround-sound system. Other captivating touches include a gear selector with motor yacht styling and some amazing variable-colour 'mood' lighting.

Ergonomically, the A8's cockpit is spot on, with outstanding instrumentation and all controls and switchgear perfectly sited for both logic and ease of operation. And the cooled — air-conditioned — and heated multi-adjustable seats with massage functions are superb. So good you'll never want to leave home without them!

the cockpit is spot on.
And the cooled and
heated massage seats
are superb
The A8's equipment tally is too long to list in full, but here are the highlights: supple Valcona leather, electrically-adjustable 4-way lumbar support, 12-way adjustable electric front heated seats with memory, Audi's MMI driver interface system, universal connection for iPods, USBs and MP3 players, 7-inch colour screen, SatNav with 3D mapping, 20GB music server and DAB digital radio.

In addition there's double glazing, an electromechanical parking brake, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power-folding and auto-dimming door mirrors, electrically-adjustable steering column, automatic Xenon headlights, rain sensitive wipers, climate control, LED ambient lighting and keyless start. The SE Executive model reviewed here adds 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and keyless go, power-operated boot lid (opening and closing) and Audi's advanced camera-based parking system that makes life easy by acoustically and visually indicating distances to obstacles with guiding lines.

To give you some idea of the desirable optional equipment available, our test A8 was decked-out with approximately 30K of extra kit, including a £12,500 Audi Design Selection interior treatment which gets you those fabulously comfortable 22-way adjustable seats as well as 4Zone automatic AirCon, high-end leather just about everywhere plus practical features such as electrically-operated roll-up sun screens for the rear window and rear door windows.

Also fitted were 19-inch 10-spoke 'Y' design alloy wheels wearing 255-section Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber, heated (definitely not a gimmick and very kind to your hands!) leather-clad multi-function steering wheel with gearshift paddles, BOSE surround-sound system, power door closing (you'll never slam another door), night-vision capability and electric slide-and-tilt solar-panel sunroof. The list extends as far as your credit card will stretch.

Longer and wider than before (although it certainly doesn't look it from outside), this five-metre long A8 has generous amounts of passenger space, particularly in the back. Desirable extra-cost items include multi-adjustable powered rear seats that, in addition to being heated, supportive and superbly comfortable, also offer air-conditioned ventilation and that addictive massage that helps to banish the boredom of long journeys.

Behind the rear seatbacks the boot offers a credible 510 litres for luggage. Or if golf is your thing, room for four golf bags. The powered opening and closing boot lid will also make life easy for your caddy.

Luxury cars are
designed to cosset
passengers, so
consequently the place
that should really
impress the most
is inside — and the A8
does exactly that..
With a marked lack of road, wind and engine noise — helped by the legal motorway 70mph in 8th gear requiring just 1,300rpm — cabin refinement at all speeds is first rate.

Luxury cars are designed to cosset passengers, so consequently the place that should really impress the most is inside — and the A8 does exactly that.

The cabin, thanks to Audi's MMI system (Multi Media Interface) is satisfyingly minimalist — a perfect example of 'as without so within'. The stereo, Bluetooth and SatNav are all operated via the intuitive and foolproof MMI's control dial. Situated close to the novel gear selector, it's used for scrolling through the various menu functions, all displayed on the large colour screen that rises silently from the top of the fascia. Finding the perfect driving position is straightforward thanks to the electrically-adjustable steering column and powered finely adjustable driver's seat. Relax and go.

The A8 continues to use an aluminium suspension but now comes with 'Drive Select'. This electronic adaptive chassis set-up lets the driver engage any one of the A8's triple driving 'personalities': Comfort, Auto or Dynamic. Each mode modifies the steering response and weighting, throttle response, air suspension settings and the transmission shift points in varying degrees to create three distinct pre-set dynamic personas.

As you'd expect, the A8's ride is as fine as the cabin. Comfort equates to 'limo' mode and is very accommodating on decent blacktop with the car running smoothly and very ably. Auto encourages a keener driving style that's still as comfortable as it is competent. So competent and assured, in fact, that it will be the default choice for most drivers.

Dynamic is 'playtime'. The changes to the chassis are immediately noticeable; the front-end is perceptibly tidier. 'Wieldy' sums it up best. The ride comfort remains but the damping is palpably much firmer, letting the A8 bite into corners with an almost aggressive delight (helped by the standard-fit sports differential strutting its stuff, selectively dividing the power between the rear wheels as necessary).

Audi have worked
some magic
when it comes to
making this very large
car handle so well
while being so
Audi have definitely worked some magic by making this undeniably large and luxurious saloon handle so well while being so cosseting.

Make no mistake: this latest generation A8 is absolutely wonderful to drive, handling more in the manner of a sporty hatch than a luxury flagship than a luxury flagship saloon.

The A8's steering possesses a decent amount of 'feel', tackling corners and quick changes of direction with aplomb.

To all of this, Audi's legendary quattro four-wheel drive adds reassuring grip and all-weather security. And you can drive this A8 hard without complaints from your passengers.

Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW are the A8's logical rivals. But they will have their work cut out matching the A8's superb 4.2-litre diesel powerplant. Audi claims a combined fuel economy of 37+mpg (urban 27.7; 46.3mpg extra urban) and we were pleasantly surprised to find that over our hard-driven week-long test the A8's on-board computer recorded an impressive overall average of 31.7mpg.

The V8 TDI is also a shade quicker than its 4.2 V8 petrol-drinking brother, hitting 62mph from standstill in just 5.5 seconds (the petrol takes 5.7). With seemingly never-ending pulling power of 590lb ft on tap between 1,750 and 2,750rpm, low down acceleration always feels immediate. Really step on it and you'll hear a snarly, spine-tingling growl from the V8 that's all the more satisfying for being muted.

But then any speeding-up — be it from 30 to 50mph, 50 to 70mph, 70 to 90mph, and so on round the clock well into three-figures — feels supercar quick and effortless; all delivered with barely a whisper and with seamless, lightning fast shifts from the eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission. For the buzz of total control whenever you feel like some hands-on hard charging, use the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Either way is rewarding.

We haven't mentioned the brakes. But you will already know they are brilliantly capable and serve up potent and progressive stopping power at any speed and in any circumstances. A full-on emergency stop from 60mph was predictably drama-free.

Few cars come close to matching the A8's persuasive mix of refinement and all-round ability. Even fewer provide such easy to use leading-edge yet user-friendly high-tech features and driving aids. And even less can cosset and entertain you in the delightful and meaningful way that the A8 does; ensuring every journey you make, fast or slow and wherever you sit, is a real pleasure. You will enjoy a special relationship with your 'A' to the power of 8 Audi. — MotorBar

Audi A8 4.2 TDI quattro SE Executive
| 65,390
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 31.7mpg
Power: 345bhp | Torque: 590lb ft | CO2 199g/km