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.
Light weight also helps the A8 post very good EPA numbers, 17/27 mpg, which beat the six-cylinder and hybrid versions of the 7-series as well as the LS600h L hybrid. (On a related subject though, the gas gauge does not use a needle pointer; instead it lights up a series of tiny white lights, about the size of a grain of rice, in between white hash marks -- an odd design that's easy to overlook.)
Taking the A8 on a road trip meant we got more experience programming the navigation system and using the Bluetooth phone interface, which gave us a chance to really get to know Audi's touch-pad system. You input letters and numbers by drawing them with your finger. Unlike so many gee-whiz tech features that are more annoying and distracting than the more conventional methods they replace, the draw-it function is not only cool but far quicker, easier, and less distracting to use than scrolling around searching for the right letter or number with the knob controller. Very neat. Overall, Audi's MMI and its surrounding buttons get high marks for clarity and ease of use.
Both this example and the car I drove at the launch were standard-wheelbase models, but Audi says that the long-wheelbase A8 typically accounts for the vast majority of sales. It's not hard to see why. Although the standard A8's base price starts at a reasonable (for its class) $78,925, my loaded-up test version rang in at $100,575. At those prices, you might as well get the limo-like rear-seat space of the long-wheelbase version, which is only $5950 more than the standard A8.