- Styling's subdued, but not soporific
- Cockpit has real panache
- All-day comfort from front seats--delivered 18 or 22 ways
- Stealthy S8's fabulous twin-turbo power
- Geeky in-car data services
- Knee room in relative short supply in SWB A8
- Dynamic mode's a bit hefty in feel
- MMI requires training
- Google Earth, Bluetooth, voice: is it too much information?
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.
Audi builds some stunning cars, but the A8 is just...fine. The big German sedans aren't charged with drawing stares, though. The A8's mission is to let its details do the talking on a simple silhouette with fine proportions. Those details are jewels: the LED lighting front and back looks heirloom, and there's nothing like fender vents competing for attention. The firepower's reserved for the cabin, where beautiful wood and patterned metal meet up with leather and suede to compose a restrained but lavish space.
Audi fits four engines with five power outputs to the A8. At the top of the range, a 500-hp W-12 engine turns in quick acceleration and a waterfall of torque, but it's not the quickest model. That would be the 520-hp, twin-turbo V-8-powered S8, which drops 60-mph runs in 3.9 seconds. A 420-hp version of the same engine slots into the A8, and at the starting end of the lineup, there's a choice between a 333-hp supercharged gas-powered V-6, or a turbodiesel V-6 that later was implicated in Volkswagen's emissions-cheating scandal.
Audi fits all A8s with an 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Surefooted feel is its forte, but drivers can change its attitude with Drive Select, which modifies electronic mapping of its air dampers, throttle response, shift schedule, and steering heft. It brings out the best of the A8, giving it a better sense of mechanical harmony, than Drive Select has done in other models.
The A8 comes in two body styles, long- and short-wheelbase. The longer car stretches 5 inches more between its wheels for abundant rear leg room, without cutting into the A8's handling. There's room for massaging rear seats, extendable foot rests, power-recline seatbacks, and more on the long-wheelbase car.
MMI is Audi's infotainment interface, and it's been refactored this year. In addition to accepting voice and click-wheel inputs, drivers can use a finger to draw characters on a touch-sensitive puck. Google Maps pipes in live data from T-Mobile to generate the latest, most accurate maps. And of course, there are pure luxury touches. A DVD entertainment system for rear-seat passengers is nice-but it's even better filtered through a 1,400-watt, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced sound system.