- Styling's subdued, but not soporific
- Cockpit has real panache
- All-day comfort from front seats--delivered 18 or 22 ways
- Knee room in relative short supply in SWB A8
- Dynamic mode's a bit hefty in feel
- MMI requires training
With TDI range and captivating connectivity, the 2014 Audi A8 adds very long-distance touring to its considerable portfolio of talents.
A longtime rival of the big BMW and Benz sedans, the Audi A8 has taken a longer route to the executive class. Its aluminum space frame grabbed attention when it was new, as did a unique W-12 engine. But it's really only in the most recent generation where the A8 has truly arrived--a fully fleshed out entry in this uber-professional niche. The S-Class still holds an iron grip on the segment, with the 7er a close second, but the A8 now bristles with all kinds of interesting details--and drivetrains--to lure away seekers of high-powered, high-priced German iron.
The A8 can now pitch itself as a legitimate contender on almost every level, and a superior on some, including in-car connectivity.
With the A8, Audi's fielded a sedan with arguably less compelling looks than its own lissome A7 hatchback. But the job of a German full-size four-door isn't to draw stares, it's to avert gazes. The details do the talking: the LED running lights and taillamps are heirloom-quality, and there's not much other jewelry laid out for public inspection. It's inside where the Audi hides its wealth: the cockpit's lavish in a restrained way, with hides and wood and aluminum and even carbon fiber laid side by side, radiantly and so carefully, the sueded headliner takes some time to pick up.
With a trio of new powertrains last year, the A8 could have carried over a year for rest. Instead, the lineup of V-6, V-8, and W-12 engines is joined by a V-6 turbodiesel with outstanding economy and very good performance. It adds a useful dimension to the A8, a blast of 800-mile-per-tank, 36-mpg practicality to an $85,000 sedan that bolds and underscores Audi's commitment to diesels. All the other powertrains offer better acceleration and qualitative performance, outside of fuel economy: of them, we'd opt for the S8's revtastic twin-turbo V-8 and its 520 horsepower over the 333-hp supercharged six or the detuned 420-hp V-8 that both come in either wheelbase. There's also the patriarchal long-wheelbase W-12-powered car, with 500 hp, but it's rare, not much quicker than the 420-hp eight, and seems indulgent in a car intent on being less conventional and more thoughtful.
A well-calibrated eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard equipment on every A8, and the combination accent its surefooted feel. Its light to the touch until you make it not so via Audi Drive Select, the electronically calibrated, driver-adjustable system that governs powertrain, steering, and suspension feel. Drive Select gives drivers the choice of 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.The A8 comes in standard-length A8 and extended-length A8 L models, depending on which drivetrain is specified. We'd recommend the A8 L and its five inches of additional wheelbase and overall length. Nearly all of it goes 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 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. That system and an integrated wi-fi hotspot have been made standard, though the data is on subscription from T-Mobile.
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.