Herrsching, Germany - Audi's W-12 engine has completed its journey from auto show oddity to regular production offering. The 6.0-liter, 414-horsepower unit offered in the European-market A8 sedan features four banks of three cylinders--it is in reality a pair of narrow-angle V-6s mated together at 72 degrees. Although the W-12 is a frighteningly complex piece, it actually is no larger than Audi's 4.2-liter V-8, and its installation didn't require major alterations to the A8's aluminum spaceframe structure.
Audi claims the W-12's block is stiffer than that of any competing V-12. As a result, its operation is ultra-smooth and virtually vibration-free. Throttle response is astonishing, irrespective of engine speed, and its willingness to rev is paired with plenty of top-end go. Engineering highlights include chain-driven adjustable intake and exhaust camshafts, a dry-sump lubrication system, and no fewer than six catalytic converters. Despite its considerable size, the A8L 6.0 Quattro will run like a sports car. It storms from 0 to 62 mph in 5.8 seconds and accelerates strongly far past 100 mph, until the governor cuts in at 155 mph, 30 mph below its true top speed.
Although the turbinelike engine, which is mated to a five-speed manu-matic gearbox, is very quiet, the passenger compartment of the A8 is not. Among the chief aural intruders are wind, tires, and suspension. We were also disappointed by the inadequate brakes, which droned and shuddered when pushed.
In Germany, the Audi A8L 6.0 Quattro costs the equivalent of $98,500, which is more expensive than a BMW 750iL but considerably less than a Mercedes-Benz S600. Audi expects to sell fewer than 750 of the twelve-cylinder A8 models between now and the arrival of the new A8 in the spring of 2003. Americans will have to wait until then for a taste of the W-12.