First Look: 2011 Audi A8 L

#Audi, #A8

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).

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