- Cockpit has real panache
- Subdued but not soporific styling
- Geeky in-car data services
- Stealthy S8's fabulous twin-turbo power
- All-day comfort from front seats—delivered 18 or 22 ways
- MMI requires training
- Google Earth, Bluetooth, voice: is it too much information?
- No more short-wheelbase option
- Dynamic mode's a bit hefty in feel
For the 2016 model year, Audi's A8 focuses in on the big, sporty luxury it's good at and jettisons the short-wheelbase versions previously offered.
When Audi's A8 made its debut with an aluminum space frame and an optional W-12 engine, it dazzled critics that thought of Audi as a more mid-range brand.
Indeed, the A8 took the long road in becoming a legitimate competitor for the full-size sedans from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. But It's a real player in the segment now—competing happily at virtually every level—and even winning some of the categories along the way.
In its current generation, the Audi A8 truly stands out as a fully realized contender in the niche. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class still stands at the front of the line in the segment, and the 7-Series isn't trailing far behind. But the A8 offers a set of interesting drivetrains and an abundance of technology to help sway shoppers toward the rings rather than the star or roundel.
Changes for 2016 include the addition of a new trim level and the removal of the short-wheelbase versions, which were offered last year with the 3.0- and 4.0-liter gas engines. The new model, dubbed the A8 Sport, marries the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with a sportier appearance—new front and rear fascias that give it more of an S8 look for less.
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, all models now include full-LED headlights, 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.
A lineup of V-6, V-8 and W-12 engines had been joined by a turbodiesel V-6 that was pulled from dealers last year. Audi admitted that those cars intentionally cheated emissions standards and—while those cars are still legal to drive on the roads—voluntarily stopped sales until a fix is found.
All the other powertrains offer better acceleration and qualitative performance, outside of fuel economy: of them, we'd opt for the S8's rev-tastic twin-turbo V-8 and its 520 horsepower over the 333-hp supercharged six or the detuned 435-hp twin-turbo V-8. There's also the patriarchal W-12-powered car, with 500 hp, and it seems decadent in a car intent on being less conventional and more thoughtful.
A well-calibrated 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard equipment on every A8, and the combination accent its surefooted feel. It's 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 now comes to the U.S. only in extended-length A8 L models. It was our favorite anyway, as it offers five inches of additional wheelbase and overall length, most of which is aimed at rear-seat passengers. Trunk space is abundant as well. Included on the W-12 and available on 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.
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 1,400 watts of power. Also on offer in back is a rear-seat entertainment system with its own 20 GB hard drive and two 10.2-inch screens, or—for the classic executive car need—a folding table.
The Audi A8 comes with the latest version of Audi's infotainment 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 wireless hotspot have been made standard, though the data is on subscription from T-Mobile.
Base A8s sport a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with stop/start that's rated at 19/29/22 mpg. The A8 L can also be fitted with a twin-turbo V-8 that puts up ratings of 18/29/22 mpg.