New & Used Audi A8: In Depth
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The Audi A8 is an executive sedan on the order of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS, and Jaguar XJ.
The A8 is the flagship sedan of the German automaker's lineup, available in short- and long-wheelbase models, in front- or all-wheel-drive variants, and with a wide range of engines, including a supercharged V-6, a twin-turbo V-8, a smooth W-12, and a turbodiesel.
The A8 carries through into the 2016 model year with only minor changes—although Audi has jettisoned the short-wheelbase versions in favor of the extended versions that show this sedan's best side.
MORE: Read our 2016 Audi A8 review
Preceded in sales by an eight-cylinder version of the A6 sedan called the V8, the Audi A8 came into being when Audi split off the special model into its own line and created an aluminum space-frame method of construction specifically for it.
Audi sold the first-generation A8 from the 1998 model year through 2003. It heralded two firsts for the company: its first mass-produced vehicle with an aluminum space frame and its first car to offer six airbags. The A8 came to the U.S. with a V-8 and standard Quattro all-wheel drive for most of that time, while other markets also saw six-cylinder versions as well as a W-12 engine—a twelve-cylinder layout that is basically a pair of V-6s joined side by side. Later in the first generation, Audi did offer a high-performance S8 in the U.S.
In its second generation, which was sold from 2004 through 2010, the A8 returned with a 4.2-liter V-8 and a six-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels. This A8 was offered in both short- and long-wheelbase models here. Audi also brought back the W-12, now displacing 6.0 liters and making 450 hp. The second A8 was distinguished by its extra-large grille, which was part of the brand's signature at that time. When the second-generation A8's run ended in 2010, it had reverted to a V-8-only engine menu.
Today's Audi A8
Now in its third generation, the Audi A8 delivers even better performance. It is handsome, but the look isn't quite as dramatic as that of the Jaguar XJ, the other aluminum-bodied vehicle in the class, or even the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The new A8 went on sale in the U.S. in the 2011 model year, with a 4.2-liter V-8 rated at 372 horsepower, whichquoted as having a 0–60 mph time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph (limited electronically). A W-12 engine option was added for the long-wheelbase model in 2012.
For 2013, a pair of new engines replaced the former V-8. The lower portion of the current powertrain lineup now includes a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 333 horsepower, and a 0–60-mph time of 5.5 seconds; and a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 420 hp and a 0–60 mph time of 4.7 seconds. Above them is the performance-oriented S8, which uses a 520-hp version of the twin-turbo 4.0-liter and hits 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The most expensive is still the W-12, a 6.3-liter that makes 500 hp and is good for a 0–60 time of 4.4 seconds. A 3.0-liter TDI six-cylinder diesel was added for the 2014 model year, available only on the long-wheelbase model, with EPA ratings of 24 mpg city and 36 highway.
Audi Drive Select coordinates steering, powertrain, and suspension with different preset modes and an Individual setting that allows the driver to control each component independently. The A8 feels a bit more nimble than some of the vehicles in its class, but it's still tuned for the tastes of its buyers--not shocking, never abrupt, always collected and calm even when it's accelerating with the quickness of a supercar.
As you'd expect from a big sedan like this, the A8 supplies generous room for passengers. Four- and five-seat configurations are available; those with fewer seats supply more amenities, including an available reclining right-rear spot that mimics the best you'll find in first class or on a private jet. Video from LCD screens, a cooler between the seats, and heat and massage are also available.
The A8's subtle looks steer attention toward its rich finishes and high-tech features. Its infotainment system uses the latest version of Audi's MMI, including MMI touch, which allows fingertips to trace out individual letters (of destinations, for example). There's built-in wi-fi hotspot capability and Google Earth 3D navigation-system data—the latter brings some of the most detailed, attractive map interfaces in any car. For the fitting final touch, there's a magnificent Bang & Olufsen audio system, with tweeters that rise from the dash surface when the system is switched on. The car's central display screen can also hide in the dash when not needed, for a cleaner look and an unobstructed view out the front.
Two big changes come to the A8 lineup for 2016. First and foremost, all models save for the S8 will be sold in the extended wheelbase only; the S8 keeps its short-wheelbase setup. Audi is also adding a new tweener model of sorts, called the A8 Sport. This model is powered by the standard 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 and has exterior styling—specifically front and rear bumpers—that give it a sporty look reminiscent of the S8's.
The next A8 likely will take cues from the Audi Prologue concepts, which carry a leaner look than today's models. They may also be joined by an A9, which would be a four-door coupe/hatchback version of the A8, similar to how the A7 complements the A6.