You can think of the new 2011 Audi A8 L as something of a road-bound Gulfstream jet for the jet set. No, the lengthy new Audi -- which is set to land in Beijing next week as a star of the 2010 Beijing auto show - won't go 500 mph, but this is one car that will no doubt fly on the interstate (especially with the W-12 underhood) and get you there in style and comfort while doing so.
The "L" of course stands for Long Wheel Base, and Audi means it. Both the wheelbase and the overall length of the stylish new A8 grow by 5.1 inches, nearly all of which presents itself in the rear seats. Not only is it larger than the new A8 (which is also bigger than the outgoing car), but it's also 2.9 inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length than the last A8 L, stretching 207.3 inches from bumper to bumper.
Audi naturally makes good use of all the extra space. While you could order two ordinary rear buckets, most hedge fund managers we know will sell a few extra shares and pop for the top-shelf power rear seats. When we say power, we mean power everything -- recline, headrest, cushion depth, fore and aft adjustment, heating and cooling, lumbar adjustment and even a massage system with four settings. The rear passenger side seat even gets an adjustable foot rest that flips down from the back of the front passenger seat, which can itself be adjusted from the rear seats to make more room. Most of us don't have recliners this nice in our living rooms.
While you're lounging in around, you'll be equally equipped for work or play. Order the optional center console and you'll get controls for the rear dual-zone climate control, Audi's MMI touch control system, an optional fold-out table and even an optional mini-fridge. Ante up for the Rear Seat Entertainment System and you'll get dual 10.2-inch screens on the front seat backs with controls on the center console as well. Said entertainment will of course be best enjoyed with the optional 1400-watt, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. If movie and music playback doesn't keep you entertained, you can always connect to the internet using your cell phone connection.
If you're not in the mood to be entertained, simply sit back and enjoy the ride. Plush Valonea leather is everywhere -- punctuated by wood trim so extensive it can even be found on the grab handles. Settle in with the extra loose cushion Audi includes and let the air suspension soak up every imperfection in the road while you gaze out the optional panoramic sunroof. Unlike most sunroof setups, both panels can tilt and slide open.
The A8 L's luxury credentials are impeccable, then, but what of our earlier reference to the high-speed nature of jet travel? Audi again has you covered with a standard 367-horsepower 4.2-liter V-8. If you can wait a few more months, though, you'll be treated to the return of the wonderfully decadent W-12 engine. We got nervous when the W-12 variant and the V-10 powered S8 both disappeared in 2010, but the W is back with a vengeance sporting an extra 0.3 liters of displacement and direct injection. The result is jet-like thrust from the 500 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque on tap, a 50-horsepower improvement over the old W-12 and indeed the V-10 as well. Audi says this new beast will be quicker at the air, er, drag strip as well, hitting 62 mph in just 4.9 seconds onto its electronically limited 155-mph top speed (we're betting it'll go a lot faster than that if the limiter is removed). Even better, preliminary tests suggest the A8 L will get the equivalent of 19 mpg average in the European test cycle.
The W-12's thrust is delivered smoothly to the ground through Audi's eight-speed automatic transmission and its now legendary quattro all-wheel drive system. In normal driving, 60 percent of the power is diverted rearward, but in low-traction situations as much as 80 percent of the power can be sent to the rear wheels and as much as 60 percent of the power can be sent to the fronts. Pick up the optional sport differential and quattro will vector torque from left to right across the rear axle as your driver slings you up the windy road to your chalet (assuming you opted not to take the helicopter this time).
When it was first revealed, some were disappointed that the new A8's styling was a bit conservative, but in a time when inconspicuous wealth is the new vogue, it fits the bill quite nicely. A8 L owners will be slightly less inconspicuous, though, with extra chrome on the grille slats, lower fascia air intakes and mirrors, standard LED headlights, W-12 badges front and rear and special trapezoidal exhaust tips integrated into the rear fascia. Standard 15-spoke, 19-inch wheels house 15.75-inch front and 14-inch rear brakes and both 20- and 21-inch variations are available.
Following its debut at Beijing, the Audi A8 L will launch in October alongside the standard model, but at that time only with the 4.2-liter V-8 onboard. If you lust for W-12 glory, you'll have to wait until next spring. The next S8 is expected about a year after the launch of the W-12 and we hear the S8's mighty V-10 may be replaced by a smaller engine -- possibly the supercharged 4.0-liter V-8 we've been hearing whispers about. A hybrid model is also reportedly in the pipeline, but its timing is unclear so far. For now, we understand the A8 L W-12 will likely command a price similar to its predecessor, somewhere in the $130,000 range. Better start deciding which stock portfolio to raid.