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