It’s difficult to appreciate just how long the A8L is until you stand next to it…or attempt to park it in your garage. Perhaps this will provide some perspective: the A8L’s wheelbase and overall length are within a half an inch of the three-row, eight passenger Honda Odyssey minivan. In other words, they aren’t kidding around when they added the “L” to the name. Hip and headroom are plentiful, although as in the A7 the wide console in between the front seats — which houses the MMI dial flanked by related buttons and now the touch pad — makes the driver’s seat feel tighter than it should in such a big car. The upside is that this large area provides another place to use the gorgeous, matte wood veneer that we loved in the A7.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
Audi has quickly become my favorite luxury automaker. Jaguar might have a better-performing CEO-class sedan, but the human-machine interface inside an XJ frustrates me too much. Audi manages to deliver lots of technology in a very easy to use package that doesn’t distract a driver. And the A8 is hardly a chore to drive.
What really stands out in the 2011 Audi A8L are the exceptional materials used in the cabin. Audi has a very strong reputation for interiors and it is well deserved. Every surface feels special and the interior is very well laid out. To top it off, opt for the $1500 alcantara headliner — it’s the ultimate tactile sensation for those looking to upgrade an interior. Using Audi’s new touch-sensitive input pad for the infotainment system feels a bit odd at first, but the system works very well and is quite accurate at deciphering the letters and numbers you form on the pad. It’s a rare instance of touch-sensitive technology working well in a car, but it’s not surprising that Audi got it right.
Audi makes good use of an aging 4.2-liter V-8 by adding direct injection and pairing the engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Though the A8L isn’t a small car, it manages better combined fuel economy than an Acura TL while providing an extra 67 horsepower and weighing a few hundred pounds more. The V-8 doesn’t compare so well to BMW’s twin-turbo unit, but Audi’s choice of normal aspiration makes the A8 much smoother to drive around town where the BMW feels very peaky and unnatural. Of course driving any of these limos around town almost seems like a waste of potential.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
In addition to this A8L test car, I drove another A8L, virtually identical in spec, with our design editor, Robert Cumberford, last month in New York. We drove from the west side of Manhattan to Monticello, 100 miles northwest, and back again. Upon returning to the city, I was at the wheel as we spent two hours creeping across Manhattan, and this type of driving exposed something I’d not noticed before in the A8L: how difficult it was to smoothly modulate the brake and accelerator pedals in low-speed, stop-and-go traffic. I feared that Robert must think I was a lousy driver, so I finally said, “Sorry I’m being so jerky, but I’m finding it really hard to operate either pedal smoothly.” “Don’t worry,” Robert replied. “I was having the same issues.” I felt like I was either stomping on the brake and accelerator pedals or applying them too gingerly; there was no in-between. The result: incredibly annoying herky-jerky driving as we inched our way from the George Washington Bridge across Central Park and down Fifth Avenue, over to Madison Avenue, and finally west to Robert’s hotel near Times Square, in heavy traffic the entire way.
Back here in Michigan, this morning I threw the A8L into a corner and was reminded that the steering loads up in a weird way; it lacks linearity as you dial in more lock. It’s a fairly minor point — as this is not a car that’s usually thrown into corners — but it’s worth noting; the BMW 7-Series is more fluid in the same circumstance. Also, the gearshift lever is difficult to move correctly in its gate; if you’re in drive and you want to back up, it’s easy to overshoot reverse and go into park, and then you have to pull it back down. A minor point? Not if you’re trying to quickly back into a parking space.
These quibbles aside, the new Audi A8 is at the very top tier of full-size luxury sedans, which is an achievement when you consider that the first A8 was not the equal of the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It was an interesting car that had a lot of design credence but dynamically was quite soft; this car is far from that.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Audi A8 may not have gotten an Automobile Magazine All-Star award this year, but it makes my own personal All-Star list. The A8 is a paragon of luxury, but it’s interior has a totally different character than that of, say, the Jaguar XJ. While both vehicles are make use of fine-grained leather and high-quality wood and metal trim, the XJ feels overtly opulent while the A8 feels more restrained but still very rich.
It’s true that the A8 is a large car, but it only feels big when you’re trying to fit it into your garage, not when you’re on the road. This would be a perfect car for a long road trip, with a delightfully smooth powertrain, adaptive cruise control, and plenty of room in the back seat for when you let your co-driver take over — although that might not be too often.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I also find the steering efforts somewhat off-putting. The unexpected resistance it offers in high-speed maneuvers increases the perceived size of a vehicle that doesn’t need any help in this category. Fortunately, the issue is completely resolved by entering the “Vehicle” section of MMI and adjusting the steering to “Comfort.” In this mode, the steering is light and accurate, which is how it should be in a vehicle like this. I cannot help but wonder how many Mercedes S-class and Lexus LS owners passed over the A8 because the steering happened to be set in Dynamic mode.
If it sounds as if we’re nitpicking here, we are. The fact is, the A8 is one of the best competitors in a segment where everyone is bringing their best. I find the A8 to be the most engaging and exciting of the German full-size set even though it remains appropriately understated. The A8’s bass-mouth, LED-infused face has matured to the point where it’s no longer shocking or polarizing, yet remains interesting and distinctive. No review of an Audi can miss out on the fact that its interior is superb, and so it goes here. I will add that the complex assortment of controls that makes up the MMI interface becomes second nature once you spend enough time behind the wheel.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 Audi A8L
Base price (with destination): $84,875
Price as tested: $92,875
4.2-liter V-8 engine
8-speed automatic transmission
Quattro all-wheel drive
Electronic differential lock
19-inch alloy wheels
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Audi drive select
Adaptive air suspension
Electronic stability program
LED daytime running lights and tail lights
Audi MMI navigation plus system
HD radio with Bose surround sound system
Sirius satellite radio
Audi music interface with iPod integration
Heated front seats
Power glass sunroof
Power rear window sunshades
Power trunk close/open
Audi parking system with rearview camera
Auto dimming heated exterior mirrors
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Driver assistance package — $3000
Adaptive cruise control
Rear seat entertainment system — $3000
Premium package — $2000
22-way climate comfort front seats with massage
Wood decorative inlay
Key options not on vehicle:
Executive rear seating package — $12,500
Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system — $6300
Rear seat comfort package — $4000
Audi drive select plus package — $2300
Audi night vision with pedestrian detection — $2300
Alcantara headliner — $1500
Full LED headlights — $1400
Panoramic sunroof — $1300
Cold weather package — $800
Heated steering wheel — $300
17 / 27 / 21 mpg
4.2L FSI direct injected V-8
Horsepower: 372 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 328 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Curb weight: 4453 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch alloy wheels
265/40R20 Pirelli P-Zero performance tires