- Conservative looks that will last
- Fabulously flawed cabin
- Seats have long-distance comfort
- Twin-turbo V-8s are choicest powertrains
- Audi Connect is Tomorrowland for car geeks
- Short-wheelbase car short on knee room
- Steering feels heavy in Dynamic mode
- Audio's multiple, confusing controls
- Interface overload?
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.
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.