I first drove the new Audi A8 on the launch event in Spain, and I liked it. Recently I had a new A8 4.2 here at home in New York, whose mean streets of provide a much more challenging, real-world environment.
Impressively, the A8's chassis is still able to deliver a dreamy ride over our ragged, spring-thawed blacktop. Impact harshness is well masked, despite the big Audi's 20-inch wheels and resultant low-profile tires. Around town, and on a road trip to Philadelphia, I mostly left the Drive Select system in its default, Intelligent, mode, where it automatically decides when to soften and when to firm up the dampers. It also sets its own parameters for the sensitivity of the electronic throttle, the shift mapping, and the steering effort. The latter is a particular success, with natural efforts that don't vary severely, as they do in other Audis. Kudos too, to the electronic brains behind the throttle calibration, which make smooth getaways easy to achieve.
With the 4.2-liter V-8 able to whip the A8 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, apparently Audi engineers did not feel the need to artificially enhance the feeling of responsiveness by giving the car a jumpy throttle. The A8's swiftness comes via an engine with only 372 hp and 328 pound-feet of torque -- neither are towering figures in the luxury-sedan world, but they prove to be more than enough for the svelte, aluminum-spaceframe Audi. The standard-wheelbase A8 tips the scales at a hair over 4400 lbs, which makes it lighter than any of its all-wheel-drive, 8-cylinder competitors -- and also lighter than the rear-wheel-drive, V-8 BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class.