2013 Audi A8 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 30, 2013

Peerless cabins, advanced connectivity, and athletic road feel give the 2013 Audi A8 a few weapons in its battle with the luxosedan titans.

It's a clubby atmosphere at the top of the auto industry. The number of large luxury sedans that chauffeur the world's premiers, presidents, and other less popularly elected leaders is a set of exactly two: the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7-Series. They may not like each other very much, but it's a duopoly neither wants to break up.

Keen on just that: the Audi A8, a flagship four-door that's been inching closer to accomplishing that feat with each generation. Built on a space frame made of aluminum, the A8 has some natural advantages in weight that it's now beefing up with design, technology and brio. Along the way, it's uncovered some Achilles' heels, and found some angles to play.

It may look conservative, less so now than in the past, the A8 has a cabin that's gushworthy. One of the best-detailed we've been in, ever, the A8's cabin is radiant across a range of trims and colors, from the luxury-framed walnut to the performance-tinged carbon trim. It's so carefully detailed in wood, leather, and aluminum, the headliner takes a long time to catch your eye.

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It's relatively lean at between 4,400 and 4,800 pounds, with standard all-wheel drive, and that lends the A8 a better set of manners than you'll find in its more protective, remote cousins. It drives with the verve of a smaller car, and that's only accentuated by some new powertrains for 013. We'd select either of the twin-turbo V-8s--with 420 horsepower or 520 hp in the S8--over the 333-hp supercharged V-6 if it were our money, but the W-12 seems indulgent even for a pricey car dedicated to being less conventional.

Fuel economy sets the A8 apart, as high as 28 mpg highway, mostly due to those new-generation powertrains and a well-tuned 8-speed automatic, and despite standard all-wheel drive.

All-wheel drive makes the A8 feel more surefooted in the corners yet not more cumbersome overall. It's light, but surefooted, and part of that is due to Audi Drive Select, the computerized godhead for steering, powertrain, and suspension feel. Drive Select alters the way those systems behave, according to the mode selected: Individual, Comfort, Auto, or Dynamic. It can bring out the best in the A8, firming up the steering for tight switchbacks or softening up the shocks for highway cruises.

Depending on the engine selected, the A8 comes in short- and long-wheelbase models. The long-wheelbase adds 5 inches of length between the wheels, which boosts rear-seat space. It's also the only model where you'll get the W-12 as an option. The growth spurt doesn't significantly change handling.

It does open the floodgates to extravagant rear-seat doodads like quad-zone climate control, power seat adjustment, a massaging left-side seat, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof.

Audi's infotainment interface, dubbed MMI, runs the secondary systems in the A8. This new generation code interprets commands from a touch-sensitive puck, from voice commands, from knob-driven clicks, all to direct navigation, phone, and entertainment. Google Maps beam into the car courtesy a live data connection (which requires a T-Mobile subscription).

Cost-no-object shoppers can pay a lot for a stunning Bang & Olufsen audio system with 19 speakers and more than 1400 watts of power. Pair it with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and two 10.2-inch screens and a fold-out tray table, and the A8 does a great impression of business-class airline service.

Prices range from $73,095 to $137,495.

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2013 Audi A8

Styling

Discreet on the outside, flamboyant on the inside, the 2013 Audi A8 gives no quarter to its luxosedan rivals.

Discretion is the better part of valor, and it's a major component of German executive luxury. Truly memorable looks don't come from the top end of Mercedes, BMW, or even Audi. Those honors are reserved for the coupelike up-and-comers: CLS, Gran Sport, A7.

The Audi A8 veers toward the conservative where the A7 reaches for glamour, but it's still handsomely drawn, and purposefully detailed. New in 2011, the shape's so clearly linked to the past and to Audi's A6 and A4 four-door sedans, it could give lessons in genealogy. The proportions are just a little different; the A8's nose is longer, to accommodate that massive W-12 engine, though the grille looks more ordinary than before. The cabin's given more room to lay back, especially on long-wheelbase models. The shoulders are broader, the effect longer and more infused with drama, the result more aerodynamic. Awesome detailing exists if you look for it, around the LED lamps in front and at the back.

Audi saves its best for the cockpit. The A8's cabin gives the impression that Audi designers don't miss a trick. Aluminum, wood, leather and suede, it's all here, assembled in a way that shows Audi knows how to appeal to ultra-luxury buyers.

It's all in the details. The transmission shift lever resembles the throttle on a powerboat. The audio system start-up cycle is marked by tweeters that rise up out of the dash. The effect of all its subtle engaging tricks isn't distracting, it's exciting.

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2013 Audi A8

Performance

An aluminum body, new turbocharged engines, and an eight-speed automatic give almost every Audi A8 a relatively lithe, athletic feel.

The A8 has aluminum at its core, and weighs as little as 4,400 pounds. That makes it one of the lighter luxury four-doors-believe it or not-and it gives it a more nimble feel than its rivals.

This year, a set of new powertrains ratchets performance up and betters gas mileage. In the order of number of cylinders and output, the engines now rank from a supercharged six, to a pair of twin-turbo V-8s, to the carryover W-12. Each has a distinct mission in mind, and we have our favorites, for sure.

The 3.0T gives Audi more reach at the bottom end of the A8 lineup. It gets its power from a 3.0-liter supercharged six-cylinder that nets 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. As the entry-level replacement engine for the former 4.2-liter V-8, it's a flexible powerplant with more muted response than we've heard from it in other Audis--and it's still capable of 0-60 mph times pegged at 5.5 seconds, and a top speed of 130 mph. All things considered, those are reasonable figures at its price.

A more gripping option is a new twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8. The base version rates at 420 hp and 444 lb-ft of torque, and pushes the sedan to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. That's much better-until you consider the high-tune S8 and its 520-hp version of the same engine. With that configuration the S8 drops the 60-mph run in 3.9 sec and hits a top end of 155 mph. The only thing the S8 doesn't do better is space: it's only offered in the short-wheelbase body.

At the ethereal W-12 level, the 6.3-liter engine pours out 500 hp and a waterfall of 488 lb-ft of torque. It hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph. We've spent the least time with this powertrain, but have driven related iterations of it extensively in other sedans and coupes. We'd predict its appeal goes deeper than the 12-cylinder badges, but we'd probably cut that corner if it were spending money on our own fleet.

All A8 sedans sport an 8-speed automatic transmission that's sure to become an industry standard. The calibration is perfect. The 8-speed smoothly engages the perfect gear every time. In the A8 it nudges the sedan to 29-mpg fuel-economy highs. It's an early gear-changer in Auto and Comfort modes; in Sport or with a heavy right foot, it'll snap off gearchanges quicker than you can flap the steering-wheel-mounted paddle controls.

Audi's all-wheel-drive system gives the A8 a sure-footed sense of the road. The system doles out torque with a 40:60 rear bias, but can flip that script if the front wheels have more traction. S8 sedans have a rear sport differential that can move power from left to right, and vice versa. The same device can be had on a Sport plus package, where it's bundled with summer tires, dynamic steering, and air dampers.

All these options give the A8 extraordinary range. A base A8 3.0T with all-season treads can come off the same configurator as a W12 with summer tires, or an S8 riding on 21-inchers.

That's where Drive Select comes in, to impose some logic on all the adaptive systems and configurations. Drive Select acts as a godhead for the adjustable steering, suspension, transmission, and throttle. With a click of a switch, drivers can choose from comfort to sport modes or come up with a custom configuration. It hasn't been as successful in other models, but the A8 it helps the car get a better sense of mechanical coordination.

Among all the models, the S8 is an easy favorite. It's too heavy and long to be a pure athlete, but against a big 7-Series or S-Class, it feels positively youthful. There's enough ride compliance and body lean to leave its luxury credentials in place, but it's also perfectly happy to lead the charge off an exit ramp at a hundred-mile-per-hour clip.

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2013 Audi A8

Comfort & Quality

Long-wheelbase Audi A8 sedans have excellent leg room and multi-adjustable seats; fit and finish are to be envied.

There's lots of performance in the Audi A8's aluminum-framed body, but passengers don't lose out to cubic inches or g forces. It's the opposite, in fact, particularly with the long-wheelbase car. Both A8 body styles can be counted among some of the best long-distance cruisers available today, thanks to ample space, multi-adjustable seats, and some thoughtful touches that rise above some of the busy lines of the cockpit.

You can have the A8 in either standard- or long-wheelbase form (117.8 and 122.9 inches between the wheels, respectively), with some clarification. The S8 sport sedan is short-wheelbase only; the W12 is long-wheelbase only. Where you have a choice in footprints, we'd recommend you choose the A8 L. That extra five inches goes almost entirely to rear-seat leg room, and though it makes for longer rear doors and slightly less nimble road manners, neither are major enough to cause acid reflux or assorted agita.

No matter which model, the A8 provides lovely, supportive, 18-way adjustable front seats that combine soft-touch cushions with firm understructure for excellent support during very long-distance drives--think 600, 700, 800 miles. Mid-back support is excellent, and Audi's headrests don't force the driver's head too far forward. An option for 22-way comfort front seats bring in ventilation and massage functions. Audi's seat-control interface works inventively: a wheel on the side of the seat is orbited by a lever. Flick the lever and it brings up a screen menu that displays which cushions you're inflating or deflating. No bladder mysteries here.

The standard-issue back seat offers swell support for lanky passengers, but there's not enough leg room. The A8 L is the way to go, and not just because it piles on exotica like multi-mode climate control, power rear seats, an extending footrest and a massaging seat function. With either body, we'd buy the panoramic glass roof that opens up the cabin to a flood of light without trimming head room much.

The A8 doesn't do well in other measures. The 13.2-cubic-foot trunk is small. The cabin is quiet and refined, but more sporting models generate a fair amount of tire noise.

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2013 Audi A8

Safety

There's no crash-test data, but the A8's aero-like structure and reams of safety technology give it a higher than usual baseline.

Like many expensive luxury cars, the Audi A8 hasn't been subjected to crash tests by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). We don't expect it will be, either, since it sells few examples each year.

Still, the A8 has the basics for exceptional crash safety, from its aero-inspired construction to its extra airbags at the front passengers' knees, down to standard all-wheel drive and an advanced stability control system. There are ancillary systems programmed into it that mitigate crash severity, too--emergency braking assistance, Pre Sense adjustments for the seats and seatbelts in anticipation of a crash.

Parking sensors are also standard on all models, but it's a bit surprising to find that a rearview camera is part of a $3,000 option package on the A8 3.0T. On other versions, a surround-view camera is either available or standard. The A8's more exotic safety technologies are sold as options bundled in packages. They include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability in traffic and full brake ability at speeds of under 19 mph; blind-spot monitors; lane-keeping assist; and night vision.

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2013 Audi A8

Features

It's an order-sheet geekfest: the Audi A8 offers up touchpad input for its nav system, wireless internet, night vision, and Bang & Olufsen sound.

Like many expensive luxury cars, the Audi A8 hasn't been subjected to crash tests by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). We don't expect it will be, either, since it sells few examples each year.

Still, the A8 has the basics for exceptional crash safety, from its aero-inspired construction to its extra airbags at the front passengers' knees, down to standard all-wheel drive and an advanced stability control system. There are ancillary systems programmed into it that mitigate crash severity, too--emergency braking assistance, Pre Sense adjustments for the seats and seatbelts in anticipation of a crash.

Parking sensors are also standard on all models, but it's a bit surprising to find that a rearview camera is part of a $3,000 option package on the A8 3.0T. On other versions, a surround-view camera is either available or standard. The A8's more exotic safety technologies are sold as options bundled in packages. They include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability in traffic and full brake ability at speeds of under 19 mph; blind-spot monitors; lane-keeping assist; and night vision.

 

Conclusion There's no crash-test data, but the A8's aero-like structure and reams of safety technology give it a higher than usual baseline.

FEATURES | 10 out of 10

Flagship sedans bristle with luxury and infotainment features no matter which country they hail from. German sedans have their own internecine battles to fight, with Audi the new challenger to Mercedes and BMW--so it goes above and beyond on the technology front, to woo executives into the seats of the A8.

Every Audi A8 sedan comes with the luxury necessities, things like power everything; leather seating; navigation; satellite radio; USB port; Bose audio; and multi-zone climate control. In the A8, there's also standard all-wheel drive, a sunroof, and power-adjustable rear seats. On long-wheelbase models, the trunklid closes itself at the touch of a button.

Audi's MMI controller maintains order over the universe of climate, audio, phone, and navigation systems. As before, it features a rotating knob on the console that scrolls through menus, but with this generation of the A8, it's added MMI Touch, a touchpad with text entry via fingertip like the old-school Palm Pilot. Steering-wheel controls provide yet another way, along with voice controls, to run various functions to varying degrees, though there are some gaps in MMI's moderately agreeable architecture--you can't click forward a track on Bluetooth-streaming audio from the steering wheel, for example.

Undoubtedly, the centerpiece of the A8's center stack is Audi Connect, a new system that uses its own data connection to get Google Earth maps, live updates and routing information. It's displayed on an eight-inch screen that's beautiful and easy to read from a wide range of angles. It and an integrated wireless hotspot for up to eight devices have been made standard, but there's a monthly subscription fee.

Other options bend toward the luxury vein. On A8 sedans powered by six- or eight-cylinder engines, Audi offers option packages for ventilated seats, sport tires, and leather console and armrests. Stand-alone options including night vision, rear-seat entertainment, and full LED headlights. 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.

As for the more pricey models, the performance S8 edition comes only in short-wheelbase form, and in addition to the A8's equipment, it gets sport trim, including carbon-fiber and aluminum details inside and out; 21-inch wheels and tires; a surround-view camera; an Alcantara headliner in coordinated colors or in black; ventilated front seats; Nappa leather; and parking sensors. Options include blind-spot monitors; a four-spoke steering wheel; heated rear seats; and five-spoke 21-inch wheels, as well as the Bang & Olufsen system, the entertainment system, and night vision.

Almost everything is standard on the W12 model, including twin LCD screens mounted on the front-seat headrests and Bluetooth headphones. Options come down to a new Sport package shared with the A8, which includes a sport-tuned suspension, differential, driver-selectable steering, and summer tires. There's also an available Executive Rear Seat package with a reclining seat, footrest, and seat ventilation, and a cooler box. Bang & Olufsen audio is a $6,300 option; night vision can be ordered; a package bundles adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitors; four years of satellite radio can be prepaid at purchase; and a five-seat layout is available. Conclusion It's an order-sheet geekfest: the Audi A8 offers up touchpad input for its nav system, wireless internet, night vision, and Bang & Olufsen sound.

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2013 Audi A8

Fuel Economy

The Audi A8's gas mileage bests almost all its competition--and there's a turbodiesel to come.

The Audi A8 made its name long ago for its aluminum space frame. It shaves some weight, which helps give the big Audi a gas-mileage edge over its rivals, even before it launches a new turbodiesel A8 TDI for the 2014 model year.

For 2013, the A8 gains a trio of new powerplants, each one more efficient than the one it replaces. There's a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with stop/start, and a twin-turbo V-8 with cylinder deactivation; both are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Thanks to the combined technologies across the lineup, those versions of the A8 achieve some impressive EPA ratings. The 3.0T sets the tone: it's pegged at 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined, better overall than the BMW ActiveHybrid 750Li. Both the V-8s aren't far behind, whether in 420-hp standard output or the 520-hp S8 tune. The short-wheelbase V-8s are rated at 17/28 mpg, or 21 mpg combined; with the long wheelbase, the A8 checks in at 16/26 mpg, or 19 mpg combined.

It's only with the 500-hp W-12 engine where the fuel-economy numbers take a nose dive. In its sole configuration, as a long-wheelbase model, the A8 L W12 is rated at 13/21 mpg, or 16 mpg combined, figures we'd associate with a large luxury SUV at first glance. That's why you'll see a $2,100 gas-guzzler tariff applied to its sticker, on top of its $134,500 base price.

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