This may be the ultimate stealth Audi. Eight months after its announcement in Miami, we’re finally getting a chance to drive the third generation of Audi’s flagship A8, now in Long Wheel Base form, the version most likely to dominate sales in the UAE.
Perhaps surprisingly, the big Audi doesn’t make any huge strides in the styling area. Yes, it has gloss black inserts in the huge grille (a design cue first seen in the latest generation Q7), but in reality the A8 most looks like a stretched A6, so strong is the family resemblence. You’re going to have to specify the first-ever all-diode LED headlamps (standard on the W12) to make sure that the car you’re very rapidly catching up with knows just what’s in their mirrors. Because that’s the key to the big A8 – it is very fast indeed. Think 0-100kph in less than 5 seconds, and a (restricted) top speed of 250kph.
Like the previous generation car, the A8 LWB is built using the Audi Space Frame concept, and the extensive use of aluminium results in a kerb weight of fractionally under two tonnes (1,995 kilos) despite all the technology on board. The extra length, all 130mms of it, has gone into the rear, and makes for a truly sumptuous cabin, a rival for anything else on the road and closer than ever to first class air travel.
With an overall length of 5,267 millimeters (that’s over 17 feet!), the new Audi A8 L is 130 mm (5 inches) longer than the regular version. The wheelbase has grown by the same amount, to 3,122 mm, though the width remains unchanged at 1,949 mm. Height is increased very slightly, up 2mm to 1,462 mm, and Audi boast that their new top model is both longer and wider than its main long-wheelbase competitors.
And it is abundantly clear that this car is built around the needs and comfort of its passengers – the rear cabin is a work of art, spacious, luxurious and exquisitely detailed. In this flagship W12 version, there are two sumptuous reclining seats, electrically adjustable every which way, and the seat behind the front passenger even has a powered footrest. Just as well you can move the front seat forward from the back when you really want to stretch out! And that’s not the only trick they can perform – these seats can be supplied with a built-in massage system to soothe a tired exec’s body at the end of another day of corporate stress. There’s a large centre console dividing the cabin, where you’ll find such essential luxuries as a folding table or even a refrigerator. The cabin offers four climate zones, each individually controlled, and the entertainment options are hugely impressive. Two 10.2” LCD creens in the front seatbacks take care of the visuals, whilst Bang & Olufsen provide a 1,400 watt, 19-speaker advanced sound system that produces better quality audio than most home hi-fi.
But even the highest flying executive occasionally tire of being chauffeured around and feel the need to be in command, so it’s time to jump into the hot seat and take command of this thing. After all, there are unrestricted autobahns out there to be enjoyed. And I’m glad to report it’s almost all good. Under the hood is a thoroughly tweaked version of the company’s W12 engine, now bored out to 6.3 litres and fitted with the latest version of their FSI injection. Result is power up to 500 bhp (a 50 hp increase over the older version), and full torque of 625 Nm delivered at only 3,250 rpm.
But with power comes responsibility, and fuel consumption too sets new standards: only 12.0 liters per 100 kilometers, a 12 percent improvement over the previous version. The diesel variants are particularly impressive, a 3.0 litre six cylinder and a 4.2 litre V8 promising faintly ludicrous figures and CO2 emissions under the magical 200gm/km mark. Initially the W12 petrol engine will be the only one available, with smaller capacity V6 and V8 units following in due course. As always, the diesels are unlikely to make it to the UAE “unless demand justifies it”.
Putting all the A8 W12’s power down is a full-time Quattro drivetrain, with a new 8-speed triptronic box controlled by paddles behind the steering wheel. Drive flows through a centre differential set to distribute torque 40/60% front and rear for a more overtly sporty feel, though it can deliver 60% to front or 80% rear if the situation requires. There’s a further (optional) sport differential that splits the torque between the rear wheels according to maximum grip.
It’s only when you settle into the driving seat that you begin to appreciate just how much technology this thing packs. There’s all sorts of electronic wizardry being deployed to help you, from adaptive headlights that change their beam pattern according to information from Google Maps, to infra-red night vision assistant that identifies and highlight pedestrians that may stray into your path. The cruise control is fully adaptive, and uses a camera to detect whether the vehicle in front is merely slowing down or doing so in order to leave the motorway, in which case the cruise control speeds up instead. All of this technogubbins is controlled through two large monitor displays, one in the dash and another in the centre console, and there’ another neat trick on display. In order to enter a destination in the satnav, or dial a phone number, all you do is ‘write’ the letters on the touch screen with your finger. The system reads back to you what you input to confirm that it’s correct, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road.
On the move, and it is pretty much what you would expect. The big Audi rides superbly on its adaptive air suspension (also integrated with the Dynamic Intelligence system to anticipate changes in terrain), and you can choose between a number of settings controlling ride, engine response and gearbox. The steering is light and not particularly communicative in the ‘comfort’ settings, but gets overly heavy in ‘sport’.
Given the Quattro drivetrain grip is never in doubt, and you can carry some prodigious cornering speeds through a bend. It’s less nose-heavy than the previous version, but in typical Audi style, the front will eventually begin to wash into understeer (despite the rear bias of the centre diff). You have to be doing silly things to make it misbehave – it’s a benign handling car that flatters the driver and doesn’t punish mistakes. But rather than being a hooligan, it’s better to back off to eight tenths, and then it’s a splendidly comfortable limo capable of covering a lot of ground very fast. It’s scarily easy to find yourself doing twice the UAE national speed limit on an unrestricted autobahn, and the big Audi is completely unruffled by such unlikely velocities.
And at the end of the day, perhaps that’s the key to the A8 – it really is a car to enjoy from the back seat. Here you can recline in sybaritic luxury, surf the internet using the car’s very own wi-fi connection, and plot the making of your next million whilst the countryside around rushes silently past your double-glazed windows. The Audi A8 L W12 is one of those cars that is simply better appreciated from the inside out. Whilst the exterior design and styling are never going to set the heather alight, the fit and finish of the interior, the quality of the materials used, the elegance of the design and the mind-numbing amount of technology available make it a very nice place to be indeed. Perhaps better to let the chauffeur drive after all.
Photos copyright Audi 2010
|Cost?||AED 540,000 (tbc)|
|On sale in the UAE||Q3 2010 (tbc)|
|Engine:||6,299cc W12, 500bhp and 625 Nm @ 3,250rpm|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed automatic, four wheel drive|
|Performance:||4.9 0-100kpph, 255kph, 199g/km CO2|