2012 Audi A8 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 8, 2012

The 2012 Audi A8 models might still be fighting for the most prestige among flagships, but they're in the top tier from inside, thanks to their impeccable cabin, innovative cabin tech, and a lean, athletic driving feel.

Audi's flagship A8 sedan had already been inching closer to the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class with each iteration, and with its major redesign last year it's finally surpassed those other flagships in many respects. A new set of aluminum body panels, revised space-frame structure, broad spectrum of drivetrain choices, stunning interior design, and new, more intuitive MMI interface altogether make the current A8 a standout for those who want more than just a large luxury car.

While on the outside the 2012 Audi A8 is a bit conservative--especially when parked next to the swoopier A7 fastback--it has an interior that's truly worth gushing over. It's one of the most stylish, best-detailed cabins we've seen, ever, and it's carefully trimmed in wood, leather, aluminum and plastic, with a sueded headliner and rich colors throughout. 

At just 4,400 pounds, the A8 is one of the lightest large luxury sedans, and that key attribute--along with some carefully done electronic controls--helps it drive like an even smaller, lighter sedan. 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, and the quattro all-wheel drive system makes the A8 feel more surefooted in the corners yet not more cumbersome overall. Gas mileage is actually quite impressive, at 18 mpg city, 28 highway.

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One of the keys to the A8's light, surefooted feel is Audi Drive Select, a series of electronic vehicle controls for powertrain, steering, and suspension feel; with it, you get Dynamic, Comfort, Auto, or Individual modes. Overall, it's an excellent setup that brings out the best in this big sedan, whether you're in tight switchbacks or cruising on the highway. The only letdown is that the steering feel (or lack thereof) leaves enthusiasts much to be desired.

For 2012, the A8 and A8 L have now been joined by an A8 L W12 model. With a much higher price ($133,500), the much more exclusive W12 packs a 6.3-liter, twelve-cylinder engine, making 500 hp and capable of getting to 60 mph in less than five seconds. It also comes with an eight-speed automatic.

The V-8 Audi A8 comes in standard-length A8 and extended-length A8 L models; and without hesitation we'd recommend the A8 L to nearly all U.S. shoppers. With five inches of additional wheelbase and overall length--nearly all of it going to rear legroom--you get a roomier rear seat, with easier entry and exit, and no significant sacrifice in maneuverability. Trunk space is abundant in both versions. Included in the W12 and available in V-8 models 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. We'd also recommend you spring for the two-panel panoramic sunroof as it brightens the interior without interfering with headroom.

The 2012 Audi A8 comes with the latest version of Audi's MMI system, which is completely redesigned versus the previous generation. Once again, you get a rotating controller to scroll through menus, but the special new feature is MMI Touch--a scratchpad that makes address or info entry much easier by simply scratching out individual letters. Steering-wheel controls also let you see an abbreviated list of options, and a new Google Maps–based navigation system uses its own data connection to get live-updated mapping and routing information. For 2012, that system and an integrated wi-fi hotspot have been made standard.

Serious audiophiles will want to go for the top Bang & 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. Another new option for 2012 is a special 'Audi design selection' interior package, offered in Balao Brown.
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