EARLIER this year we caused quite a stir by again naming the Audi A8 as our Top 12 Best Buys winner in the Grand Saloon segment. What few people know is that we had examples of all three pretenders to the throne (Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes SClass) on test just before our Top 12 voting took place, so we certainly were in a very good position to judge.
In our opinion, a grand saloon of this type should be exceedingly cosseting, with a tastefully designed cabin executed in top quality materials. It should make a statement, but not be flash. It should be relaxing to drive, with refined and smooth powerplants that provide the type of performance that allows continents to be crossed in a jiffy. Make no mistake, the new S-Class is a groundbreaking car, as was the 7 Series, but at this moment we still believe the A8 fulfils our criteria best… Here’s why.
With its tastefully chiselled lines, strong stance and – since the arrival of the huge single-frame grille – a powerful presence, the A8 is discreet, yet still manages to make a statement. It looks even better when riding on the stunning optional 19-inch wheels, as fitted to our test car (17-inchers are standard).
That said, all our testers agree that the A8’s trump card over its two German rivals is its cabin, perhaps the best at any price. Featuring classic design, superb materials and the best iDrive-rivalling control system – dubbed MMI – on the market, the A8 manages to offer all the adjustments and features you’ll ever need, without complicating things – try, for example, to set up the seats for the 7 Series and S-Class when you’re in a hurry… Unlike its two rivals, it is possible to get into the A8, be comfortable in seconds, and drive away like you’ve driven the car hundreds of times before.
However, the Audi A8 3,0 TDI doesn’t have all the features fitted to the flagship 4,2-litre. It makes do without the super Bose sound system, memory front seats and lumbar support, for example, but the fantastic DVD-based satellite navigation system remains. Leather upholstery is standard, but owners can specify the smart Alcantara trim, as fitted to our test car, as a no-cost option. Audi’s full range of safety features is fitted.
Otherwise, the 3,0 TDI is pretty much identical to the 4,2 V8. It rides on the same air suspension, also has standard quattro all-wheel drive, and Audi’s aluminium spaceframe body construction. The quality of every aspect of this car, in our view, remains unmatched.
Under the bonnet you’ll find the same 3,0 turbodiesel that does duty in the A6 and A4, but for use in the A8 it develops more power. This V6, four-valves-per-cylinder engine is rated at 171 kW at 4 000 r/min, and produces 450 N.m of torque between 1 400 and 3 250 r/min. Audi says it is the first D-segment diesel model in the world to have common-rail injection with piezo injectors that permit up to five injection processes per operating stroke, and injection pressure of 1 600 bar. The advantage? According to Audi, piezo technology makes it possible to inject much smaller, more precisely metered amounts of fuel. Thanks to the higher speed of the injector needle, the system responds twice as fast as other injectors. Combined with the sevenhole injector nozzles, the combustion process becomes more efficient and, therefore, the engine is more efficient – better performance, improved economy, and lower emissions.
Our test results, however, did not match Audi’s claims. Still, with a top speed of 238 km/h and a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 8,98 seconds, it’s hard to think of a reason to complain, especially since this performance is achieved in such an effortless, silent and relaxing manner. Perhaps of greater concern is the economy figure of 10,33 litres/100 km, which is higher than expected. Still, considering the car’s weight and performance, it’s not bad at all. And let’s not forget that if you can afford a car like this, the fuel bill is hardly going to be a constant worry…
To drive, the A8 remains as brilliantly serene, sure-footed and relaxing as before. The air suspension gives fabulous ride comfort during general driving, with only sudden bumps reaching the cabin (a trait of all air suspension systems). Quattro all-wheel drive also gives the car excellent grip, while the steering has a nicely weighted feel.
In 3,0 TDI guise, Audi’s A8 has once again won us over with its elegance, comfort and ease of driving. It is simply a crushingly competent car that does everything exceedingly well, yet does it in such a gentle, discreet way that it makes the competition appear more than a little crass…