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Audi A8 L road test report

L

Right between the end of a recession and the start of a new age of austerity, the car industry has decided to launch a number of luxury cars. After the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Bentley Mulsanne, we’ve seen a brand new Jaguar XJ and Audi A8, which will be followed at the end of 2010 by a long-wheelbase version, the A8 L. This longer limo has an extra 130mm in the wheelbase, all of which has been given over to the rear section of the cabin, where the paying customers will mostly sit (90% of sales are for the purposes of chauffeuring). But is the extra space worth the £3,880 premium Audi will charge for the A8 L models?

Road Test Reports Says4 star rating
A front-facing image of the Audi A8

Image number 2 of the Audi A8Image number 3 of the Audi A8Image number 4 of the Audi A8

Performance Performance - 5 stars

The A8 L has a choice of five engines, two diesel and three petrol units. The base 3.0 TDI V6 diesel produces 247bhp and 405lb-ft of torque. It’s a very good engine: quiet and refined, it only becomes a low growl when the accelerator is prodded and the car starts to gain pace rapidly. And as it can complete the 0-62mph sprint in a very respectable 6.2 seconds, the landscape can change at a surprising rate. However, if you do want a diesel with more poke, there’s also a 4.2-litre V8 generating 345bhp and 590lb-ft. This engine propels the car to 62mph from a standing start in just 5.6 seconds. It does feel a little quicker than the 3.0-litre and the sound that the V8 makes is very impressive, but we’re not sure it’s worth an extra nine grand. The petrol engines follow the convention of the diesels, with a 3.0-litre V6 and 4.2-litre V8. The 3.0 TFSI is a new supercharged unit that produces 286bhp and mirrors the similar-sized diesel in its 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds. It feels similarly quick and makes the right kinds of noises for a V6. The 369bhp 4.2 FSI V8 allows you to dispatch the 0-62mph sprint in a creditable 5.8 seconds – although it’s worth noting that the additional torque of the 4.2 TDI allows it to undercut it by 0.2 seconds. All the same, the traditional whomping soundtrack of a V8 is there in full effect. The range-topping W12 is a 6.3-litre monster producing 493bhp and 461lb-ft of torque, so 0-62mph is possible in just 4.7 seconds. Putting it in context, that’s the same time as a Porsche 911. It is genuinely rapid: you never forget it’s a big car, but when it starts to really stretch its legs you’re beguiled by the sonorous tones of the engine at full chat. Of course, its utter madness to build a car like this in these cost- and environmentally conscious times, and Audi are unlikely to sell many at £92,515, but you have to admire the German carmaker for being audacious enough to push the boat out.

Ride & Handling Ride & Handling - 4 stars

All A8 Ls come fitted with Audi’s Quattro four-wheel drive system, so it always feels planted, with plenty of grip at its disposal. Indeed, the car handles very well for a car that is this big (5.2m long and 2m wide), negotiating bends and corners accurately, thanks to steering that initially feels quite light, but which weights up nicely as the speed increases. But it’s fair to say that it’s the ride that is going to be the more important element of the A8 L. The A8 L is therefore fitted with an adaptive air suspension system with three presets – Comfort, Auto and Dynamic – that controls the damping and adjusts the ride height. Comfort is likely to be the default mode: it has softness and compliancy that manages to preserve the occupants’ comfort at all times. Auto also offers a perfectly comfortable ride: at higher speeds, it adds an extra edge of tautness to the already well-contained body and lowers the ride height. The Dynamic mode was fine on our test drive over smooth German roads, but we suspect that it might feel on the harsh side when it has to contend with the cracked and broken UK surfaces.

Build Quality & Reliability Build Quality & Reliability - 4 stars

There’s no doubting Audi’s perceived build quality, with the German carmaker having a strong reputation for producing some of the best-made cars in the industry. The A8 L seems to bear this out, as its well screwed together and uses some of the best high-quality materials to be found at this level of the market. The cabin, in particular, reinforces Audi’s renown: with soft-touch plastics and leathers covering all the available surfaces, it feels a supremely comfortable place to be. To some extent, this attention to detail lulls potential owners into a false sense of security when it comes to reliability. Audi does OK in the annual JD Power customer satisfaction survey, coming ninth in the most recent league table of manufacturers. The A8 doesn’t show up in the list of cars, largely because luxury four-door saloons don’t sell in huge volumes. However, the Warranty Direct Reliability Index does include the A8 (albeit the last generation) – and it doesn’t come out well. An index figure that borders on a designation of Poor tells its own story, as does an average repair cost of £456.85. We hope the new model performs better.

Safety & Security Safety & Security - 5 stars

The low sales volumes of the A8 mean that it hasn’t undergone the crash-testing regime of Euro NCAP. However, recent Audis have fared very well and we have no doubt that this bigger model would be just as safe. The reason for our confidence is that the A8 L has a number of highly innovative features among its armoury of safety equipment. In addition to the high-strength aluminium body is a new pre-sense safety system: at its most basic level, it uses the information from the ESP to activate the hazard warning lights, close the windows and sunroof, and pre-tense the seatbelts. A more sophisticated version, which works in conjunction with the adaptive cruise control, also warns the driver of a possible frontal collision and, if he takes no action, starts to brake, thereby reducing the impact. Another useful innovation is a system that links the sat nav to a number of the car’s other functions, using the information to identify features on the road such as bends and junctions in order to adjust the gearbox to avoid unnecessary changes and adjust the lights to provide optimal illumination on the road. Indeed, there are also numerous lighting options, including full LED headlights and adaptive lights that change the beam pattern according to your speed and the type of road, plus a night vision function for pedestrian detection. Of course, if all these measures still don’t manage to prevent an accident, there are still the usual passive safety features, such as eight airbags, Isofix child seat anchor points and a head restraint system.

Space & Practicality Space & Practicality - 5 stars

The standard A8 was criticised at launch for the relative paucity of legroom at the back, but this has now been rectified by the addition of 130mm to the wheelbase, all of which has been allocated to the back-seat area. This means that there is more than enough room to stretch out and – if you opt for the electrically operated, airline-style reclining seat – you can almost lie flat out in the rear (although the front passenger seat is sacrificed in the process). The driving position is also extremely comfortable, with a full range of electrical adjustability to the seat and steering wheel. There’s also the option of a massage function (also available on the rear seats) that will probably be a godsend to the chauffeurs who have to spend large portions of their working day sat behind the wheel. The intuitive and easy-to-use multimedia interface (MMI) has also been redesigned and upgraded for the new A8, with integrated handwriting character recognition to help with destination inputs for the sat nav and telephone numbers for the phone system. It can also access a number of online services when the GSM SIM card of one of the car’s occupants is placed in a card reader. There are also the usual entertainment options, such as CD/DVD, DAB digital radio, full iPod connectivity, a 20GB hard drive and optional screens for rear-seat passengers to watch TV or a DVD, or play games on a connected console.

Ownership & Value Ownership & Value - 3 stars

The A8 L is neither cheap to buy or run, and it doesn’t retain its value very well – but such considerations tend to be relatively unimportant in the luxury car market, so they’re unlikely to affect the initial purchasing decision very much. Prices start at £58,765 for the 3.0 TDI, rising to £92,515 for the extravagant, range-topping W12. The running costs also vary wildly, with the diesel fuel economy at 42.8mpg (3.0 TDI) and 36.2mpg (4.2). The petrol models, as you’d expect, fall further, with the 3.0 TFSI recording 30.4mpg, the 4.2 FSI consuming 29.1mpg and the W12 burning through 22.8mpg. CO2 emissions for the 3.0 TDI are 176g/km (Band I for vehicle excise duty, costing £200 a year), while the other models’ CO2 emissions all place the cars within VED Band K, which will cost £245, and the W12’s 290g/km placing it in the top band (£435 a year). When it comes to residuals, owners can expect to receive around 39% of its original cost after three years and 60,000 miles.

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