2006 Mercedes-Benz S550 vs. 2006 BMW 750Li vs. 2006 Audi A8L

Younger people will appreciate the 750Li's interior which, while not as drop-dead gorgeous as that of the A8L, is edgier and more modern than the flowing curves of the Mercedes. However, the seat adjustments, while half as intricate as those of the Benz, are twice as complicated to use. This group of cars is a tough bunch of lemmings to run with. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have been following each other's lead for years, each improving on ideas introduced by the other two. Right now, the BMW is the lone competitor not offering all-wheel drive, and it suffers as the originator of the wheel-controlled on-board computer, having the most primitive and complicated form of the concept. The Mercedes-Benz, with its wildly flared styling and more advanced computers, has rewritten the ostentatious luxury book BMW published a few years back, and for the time being, is at the top of the class. But rest assured, BMW is working late into the night with books full of visions and revisions to blow our minds again soon enough.

Audi A8L: The cool, quiet type

The Audi A8L is an automotive anomaly. It isn't as fast as the BMW 750Li or the Mercedes-Benz S550. The brakes are less vigorous--by quite a lot--and it certainly doesn't carve the curves with the same verve. It doesn't have as many gadgets, and the seats don't massage you, cool you, or hold you in place with powered bolsters. It doesn't do any of these exciting things, but at the same time, it doesn't do anything wrong either.

In our February 2005 issue, we asked whether anybody had "seen someone in an Armani suit running the 110-meter hurdles?" The A8L may not win that dash, but it does it with an understated elegance that the extroverted Sean Jean Mercedes-Benz and Polo Sport BMW can't match. It is for that reason that a good portion of our staff still dreams of an A8L in the garage. The $11,500 "Audi Exclusive" interior package (suede headliner, black piping on upgraded cream leather, wood inlays) on our test model didn't hurt either, and even led one staffer to proclaim it "the sexiest sedan interior in the world." Just as the butter-soft leather and custom wood dash inlays could be called smooth, so could everything else about the car. The sheetmetal--its Armani suit--that wraps around the car is the best representation of the current Audi styling language, and the huge full-length grille looks bold and luxurious. The steering, while too light to be truly sporty, is fluid and consistent, unlike the constantly changing Benz and BMW systems. The throttle and brakes are also easy to modulate, and although the Audi's 335-horsepower 4.2-liter V-8 is not world-beating, it is as smooth as ever.

It is hard to judge the A8L in terms of the S550 or the 750Li. While they're all similar in size, power, and price, the Audi has completely different intentions. It doesn't strive to be the most technological or the most powerful, but instead the easiest to live with day-in and day-out. The seats adjust with regular buttons as they have for years, and while Audi's MMI is similar to BMW iDrive and M-B COMAND, it is less intrusive and only used for stereo, navigation, and a few various lighting and car data commands. The A8L is for the affluent American who doesn't need to jump out and say "look at me!" and doesn't need to show off their computerized toys to their friends. It is a car whose goal is to stay out of your way and just sail along. If that's for you, hop in the back seat, open the optional champagne cooler, and let's toast to the Audi A8L and its bargain (we're talking relatively, here) base price of $72,090.

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