2011 Audi A8 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 24, 2011

Suave styling, an impeccable cabin, innovative cabin tech, and a lean, athletic driving feel earn the 2011 Audi A8 a spot in the top tier.

With an all-new Jaguar XJ also entering the fray for 2011, the fourth generation of Audi's big, luxurious A8 sedan has tighter competition than ever. The new 2011 Audi A8 gets a new set of aluminum body panels and revised space-frame structure, a broad spectrum of drivetrain choices, and a new MMI system that goes the iPhone route for fingertip navigation. And with a new version of Audi Drive Select electronics, Audi hopes to bring luxury shoppers who like to drive enthusiastically, sometimes, the best of both worlds.

Although some might find the rather conservative exterior...well...quite conservative, the interior is worth gushing over. The Audi A8 has one of the most stylish luxury-vehicle cabins we've tested or seen, ever. It's been upgraded with wood, leather, aluminum and plastic trim, a sueded headliner and rich colors—and trimmed with a hazy, glossy-matte metallic surface that's used throughout in accents and in the dash's center beltline. Figuring in just as much as a styling expression as a functional element in the A8 are the two tweeters that rise almost silently from the dash upon startup. Even the shift knob for the automatic transmission is significantly different than what's used in other Audi models; Audi says it's modeled after the throttle in yachts and powerboats, but we see golf putter.

In the tightly competitive class of large, high-tech luxury sedans, the 2011 Audi A8 is different in one key attribute that affects, for the better, how it performs: At about 4,400 pounds, it's quite likely the lightest of any large luxury sedans—especially those with all-wheel drive. Just as its predecessors, the A8 is built on an all-aluminum space frame that helps keep the heft down—which in turns makes the 372-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 feel a lot peppier than you'd think when you put your right foot in it. Audi simply nailed the calibration of the eight-speed automatic transmission.

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The previous A8 was no stranger to electronic vehicle controls; this version gets an even better system that controls powertrain, steering, and suspension feel—together or separately. Called Audi Drive Select system, is offers Dynamic, Comfort, Auto, or Individual modes, but we think most of the time this system does a great job in Auto. Audi also tuned the feel of the steering just right for high-speed cruising, and it's a responsive setup that shines on high-speed sweepers. While the A8 is surprisingly deft at quick changes in direction and can be flung around tight hairpin corners with ease, there's very little steering feel.

The 2011 Audi A8 comes in standard-length A8 and extended-length A8L models; and without hesitation we'd recommend the A8L to nearly all U.S. shoppers. Why? Simply because the 'L' is a lot more comfortable and accommodating for those in back. The A8 L is about five inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length, with nearly all of that extra stretch going to back-seat legroom. Back doors are also larger, for easier entry and exit. And although price doesn't matter that much to these shoppers, the A8L costs only about six grand more. The extra length might slightly affect maneuverability a slight bit, but it's a positive for ride.

Plus, available on the A8L (and included in all W12 versions) are lavish individual seats in back that might just be cause to get someone else to do the driving. Four-zone climate control keeps everyone comfortable, the rear seats are power-adjustable, and the right-side one includes a footrest while the left-side seat includes massage and recline functions. Also on offer in either model is a two-panel panoramic sunroof that makes the interior considerably brighter without interfering with headroom. In either case, the A8 has plenty of trunk space, and the rather long trunklid allows a wide opening.

A lot of real estate—maybe too much—is still devoted to knobs and buttons, though many drivers will be happy for the level of redundancy. Directly in front of the driver, in the gauge cluster, is an abbreviated screen based display that's easy to scroll through with the steering-wheel controls, then more extensive screens are on offer through the main multi-media interface (MMI) screen, which still takes a little while to get used to, but it's been completely redesigned and reconceived here compared to the previous model. The eight-inch touch monitor is beautiful and easy to read from a wide range of angles, and a new Google Maps–based navigation system uses its own data connection to get live-updated mapping and routing information.

Although a Bose sound system is standard on the A8, both true audiophiles along with everyone else who simply wants to have the best will go for the Band & Olufsen Advanced sound system, which has 19 speakers, including small tweeters at the front of the cabin that emerge at startup, along with more than 1400 watts of power. Also on offer in back is a rear-seat entertainment system with its own 20-gig hard drive and two 10.2-inch screens, or—for the classic executive car need—a folding table.

Late in the model year a new direct-injected, 6.3-liter version of the company's 'W12' engine will be available in the A8, now making 500-horsepower and capable of getting the A8L to 60 mph in less than five seconds.

8

2011 Audi A8

Styling

The 2011 Audi A8 has, hands down, one of the warmest, most welcoming, and finest-detailed interiors ever in a German sedan; but its exterior proportions leave it short of perfection.

Judging only by the interior, the Audi A8 is one of the most stylish luxury-vehicle interiors we've tested or seen, ever. The instrument panel is trimmed with finishes that you don't typically see in other luxury vehicles, with a hazy, glossy-matte metallic surface that's used throughout in accents and in the dash's center beltline. And the instrument panel angles gracefully into the wide center console, reserving audio and climate controls for a section that's nicely angled up toward the driver. Inside, the cabin's been upgraded with wood, leather, aluminum and plastic trim, a sueded headliner and rich colors.

While many of today's new cars—even across brands—share some of the same switchgear and detailing, you'd be challenged to find evidence of such cross-pollination in this cabin. Just glancing around the A8 reveals countless little details that are reserved for this and only this interior. Figuring in just as much as a styling expression as a functional element in the A8 are the two tweeters that rise almost silently from the dash upon startup. Even the shift knob for the automatic transmission is significantly different than what's used in other Audi models; Audi says it's modeled after the throttle in yachts and powerboats, but we see golf putter.

From the outside, we're unable to gush in the same way. From most angles, the new A8 looks only like an extension of the outgoing design—albeit with some awesome detailing this time around, as you could get lost for minutes in the fine detail in and around the LED headlights and taillights. But in an apparent effort to make the A8 look a little more long-hooded and broad-shouldered (more like a traditional rear-wheel-drive sport sedan), the automaker has almost lost its proportions. While the A8 looks great from the side, or straight on from the rear, hardcore Audi fans might be disappointed that the proportions don't pop, especially from front angles, the way they used to. Audi's eggcrate grille and front airdam, which used to look brash and different now feels more ordinary. Aerodynamics of the design are very impressive, with the coefficient of drag, at 0.26, about the same as that of the Toyota Prius.

8

2011 Audi A8

Performance

Thanks to its lightweight aluminum underpinnings, the 2011 Audi A8 feels more athletic and responsive than other big luxury sport sedans.

In the tightly competitive class of large, high-tech luxury sedans, the 2011 Audi A8 is different in one key attribute that affects, for the better, how it performs: At about 4,400 pounds, it's quite likely the lightest of any large luxury sedans—especially those with all-wheel drive. Just as its predecessors, the A8 is built on an all-aluminum space frame that helps keep the heft down—which in turns makes the 372-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 feel a lot peppier than you'd think when you put your right foot in it.

The other key to making that modest V-8 move the A8 in truly quick fashion is the excellent eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi simply nailed the calibration here, and it's one of the best-calibrated automatic transmissions at any price. While you can flick through the gears manually, you most likely won't even feel the inclination to do so; if you're in its Comfort or Auto modes, the transmission doesn't mess around and shifts early—just short of lugging the engine, likely one of the reasons for this big sedan's excellent fuel economy—while if you squeeze the accelerator, say, halfway, the transmission very rapidly downshifts a gear or two. Floor it and it's just as quick, only you end up going from, say eighth to third, in a dramatic and quick rush of passing power.

In regular driving, the A8's quattro all-wheel drive system sends about 60 percent of power to the rear wheels, while up to 60 percent can be sent to the front wheels when needed. For enthusiasts, there's also an available sport differential system that brings an active torque split from left to right as well.

Audi also tuned the feel of the steering just right for high-speed cruising, and it's a responsive setup that shines on high-speed sweepers. While the A8 is surprisingly deft at quick changes in direction and can be flung around tight hairpin corners with ease, there's very little steering feel. Just on center, the steering feels secure and settled, almost with the sort of lightened heft of older Mercedes-Benz models; however yank the steering just a bit away from center and the ratio's a lot quicker than it lets on.

But like any good German-engineered product, the A8 gives you an at-times overwhelming array of possibilities if you wish—highlighted in an Audi Drive Select system, with Individual settings and the opportunity to separately select attitudes for the powertrain, suspension, and steering. Dynamic mode gives you much more heft, but no more road feedback—at least on the coarse, somewhat undulating roads where we pushed the A8 a little harder. The steering in Dynamic mode, especially in lower-speed hairpins, is just short of too much; it'll give your shoulders a workout.

If this is all a little overwhelming—as it was for us on an admittedly short drive—you can simply leave the A8 in its default Intelligent mode and for normal driving, it does just fine with respect to

We like the nice, linear throttle; even in Sport mode it avoids the touchy feeling altogether. And thanks to the suspension, there's nearly no lift under hard acceleration or nosedive under hard braking—adding to the sophisticated, uber-composed yet athletic feel of the A8.

Late in the model year a new direct-injected, 6.3-liter version of the company's 'W12' engine will be available in the A8, now making 500-horsepower and capable of getting the A8L to 60 mph in less than five seconds.

9

2011 Audi A8

Comfort & Quality

With a tight, quiet cabin and some of the best long-distance seating comfort of any super-sedan, the 2011 A8 won't disappoint—provided you get the extended Audi A8 L.

The 2011 Audi A8 comes in standard-length A8 and extended-length A8L models; and without hesitation we'd recommend the A8L to nearly all U.S. shoppers. Why? Simply because the 'L' is a lot more comfortable and accommodating for those in back. The A8 L is about five inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length, with nearly all of that extra stretch going to back-seat legroom. Back doors are also larger, for easier entry and exit. And although price doesn't matter that much to these shoppers, the A8L costs only about six grand more. The extra length might slightly affect maneuverability a slight bit, but it's a positive for ride.

In all A8 models, the front seats are ample and supportive, combining cushiony softness at first with an underlying firmness that should make them all-day comfortable. They have great mid-back support, combined with headrests that are supportive without forcing your neck forward. In back, while the standard backseat setup has long cushions good for lankier passengers, there's simply not enough legroom back there in the normal-length A8; so do get the A8 L unless you're tight on parking space.

Plus, available on the A8L (and included in all W12 versions) are lavish individual seats in back that might just be cause to get someone else to do the driving. Four-zone climate control keeps everyone comfortable, the rear seats are power-adjustable, and the right-side one includes a footrest while the left-side seat includes massage and recline functions. Also on offer in either model is a two-panel panoramic sunroof that makes the interior considerably brighter without interfering with headroom. In either case, the A8 has plenty of trunk space, and the rather long trunklid allows a wide opening.

The A8's cabin is a very quiet, refined place, and while you won't hear much wind or road noise, you will hear the engine somewhat during acceleration. The air suspension system also recalibrates itself to Comfort, Dynamic or Auto modes, though it rides reasonably well in all three with not a lot of discernible difference on most roads (though we did notice a slight bit more road noise in Dynamic than the others on one particularly coarse Interstate stretch).

9

2011 Audi A8

Safety

There aren't any U.S. crash-test results for the 2011 Audi A8, but it has some very impressive safety credentials.

The 2011 Audi A8 hasn't yet been crash-tested, and because of its rather low-volume status, it likely won't be by either of the major safety organizations in the U.S. But based on its impressive roster of features, the A8 impresses for safety.

In the 2011 A8, Audi of course has all the fundamentals for a very safe, large sedan, including a strong aluminum space-frame structure, an extensive array of airbags (including front knee bags), and an advanced stability control system.

But thanks to a host of additional, truly advanced features, the A8 has some even more advanced features that are likely to help reduce the severity of a crash, even if you don't manage to avoid it. All A8 models include automatic emergency braking, which activates to lessen the impact of a collision it deems unavoidable. There's also a braking guard feature that warns the driver with a chime and jolt of the brakes. And whenever the accelerator is released abruptly, the brake system now primes itself and cleans the brake discs for best stopping response. Additionally, Audi's Pre Sense system adjusts seats, tenses seatbelts, and adjusts shocks to optimum positions when it senses an impending collision; it also activates the hazard lamps and partially brakes to lessen the severity.

10

2011 Audi A8

Features

Features like an innovative new touchpad system, night vision, and high-end Bang & Olufsen audio cement the A8's geek appeal as well as its exclusivity.

The 2011 Audi A8 is a certainly a luxury car, but technology seems to rank first and foremost on this German super-sedan's list of bragging rights. All A8s will come with a leather interior, power everything, navigation, Bose audio, satellite radio, and of course quattro all-wheel drive.

Where it starts getting interesting is the interface. A lot of real estate—maybe too much—is devoted to knobs and buttons, though many drivers will be happy for the level of redundancy. Directly in front of the driver, in the gauge cluster, is an abbreviated screen based display that's easy to scroll through with the steering-wheel controls, then more extensive screens are on offer through the main multi-media interface (MMI) screen, which still takes a little while to get used to, but it's been completely redesigned and reconceived here compared to the previous model. The eight-inch touch monitor is beautiful and easy to read from a wide range of angles, and a new Google Maps–based navigation system uses its own data connection to get live-updated mapping and routing information.

The A8 will be the first Audi to use a new interface that allows drivers to use their fingertips to direct the Multi-Media Interface—via a touchpad that's a lot like touch-screen controls for a smartphone. It recognizes alphabets from English to Mandarin to Cyrillic, and rests in a convenient location, beside the driver's knee. We weren't able to master, let alone become fluent with in such a short time, but the system is said to make destination and phone number entry much easier.

Audi has made an effort to provide redundant controls for the audio system and climate control; if you don't want to work through the screens, for many primary functions it's just a matter of hitting a button (and unless you're very new to the vehicle, you'll know where it is); the automaker has also included a physical volume knob.

Available as part of a safety-minded driver assistance package ($3,000) is adaptive cruise control, which will now bring you to a complete stop and restart automatically, plus lane assist and side assist. Also available is a night vision system that will help spot and identify pedestrians.

Although a Bose sound system is standard on the A8, both true audiophiles along with everyone else who simply wants to have the best will go for the Band & Olufsen Advanced sound system, which has 19 speakers, including small tweeters at the front of the cabin that emerge at startup, along with more than 1400 watts of power.

While the standard-length version of the A8 is intended more as personal sport sedan, the A8L plays the chauffeur-worthy part well. Also on offer in back is a rear-seat entertainment system with its own 20-gig hard drive and two 10.2-inch screens, or—for the classic executive car need—a folding table.

7

2011 Audi A8

Fuel Economy

For those who care about fuel economy and their carbon footprint but want a big luxury flagship, the 2011 Audi A8 is quite impressive.

Fuel economy ratings for the 2011 Audi A8 are probably a bit better than you might think. Thanks to its light weight, aerodynamics, and efficiency-minded engineering in general, the A8 achieves an EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 27 highway. That's really impressive, and actually better overall than the BMW ActiveHybrid 750Li.

From what we—as well as other auto critics—have seen, the A8 returns those kinds of numbers in real-world driving, too. In nearly a hundred miles of mostly lower-speed stop-and-go commute-style driving in an A8 L, we managed more than 18 mpg.

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April 14, 2015
For 2011 Audi A8

Like the car better after 3 years than when I bought it

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Wonderfully car which balances performance with comfort. Lots of little things seem well thought out/engineered and lead to satisfaction. Sport transmission mode is fun and eco mode gives EPA 16 in city and... + More »
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