2011 Audi A8 Performance

On Performance
In the tightly competitive class of large, high-tech luxury sedans, the 2011 Audi A8 is different in one key attribute that affects, for the better, how it performs: At about 4,400 pounds, it's quite likely the lightest of any large luxury sedans—especially those with all-wheel drive. Just as its predecessors, the A8 is built on an all-aluminum space frame that helps keep the heft down—which in turns makes the 372-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 feel a lot peppier than you'd think when you put your right foot in it.

The other key to making that modest V-8 move the A8 in truly quick fashion is the excellent eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi simply nailed the calibration here, and it's one of the best-calibrated automatic transmissions at any price. While you can flick through the gears manually, you most likely won't even feel the inclination to do so; if you're in its Comfort or Auto modes, the transmission doesn't mess around and shifts early—just short of lugging the engine, likely one of the reasons for this big sedan's excellent fuel economy—while if you squeeze the accelerator, say, halfway, the transmission very rapidly downshifts a gear or two. Floor it and it's just as quick, only you end up going from, say eighth to third, in a dramatic and quick rush of passing power.

In regular driving, the A8's quattro all-wheel drive system sends about 60 percent of power to the rear wheels, while up to 60 percent can be sent to the front wheels when needed. For enthusiasts, there's also an available sport differential system that brings an active torque split from left to right as well.

Thanks to its lightweight aluminum underpinnings, the 2011 Audi A8 feels more athletic and responsive than other big luxury sport sedans.

Audi also tuned the feel of the steering just right for high-speed cruising, and it's a responsive setup that shines on high-speed sweepers. While the A8 is surprisingly deft at quick changes in direction and can be flung around tight hairpin corners with ease, there's very little steering feel. Just on center, the steering feels secure and settled, almost with the sort of lightened heft of older Mercedes-Benz models; however yank the steering just a bit away from center and the ratio's a lot quicker than it lets on.

But like any good German-engineered product, the A8 gives you an at-times overwhelming array of possibilities if you wish—highlighted in an Audi Drive Select system, with Individual settings and the opportunity to separately select attitudes for the powertrain, suspension, and steering. Dynamic mode gives you much more heft, but no more road feedback—at least on the coarse, somewhat undulating roads where we pushed the A8 a little harder. The steering in Dynamic mode, especially in lower-speed hairpins, is just short of too much; it'll give your shoulders a workout.

If this is all a little overwhelming—as it was for us on an admittedly short drive—you can simply leave the A8 in its default Intelligent mode and for normal driving, it does just fine with respect to

We like the nice, linear throttle; even in Sport mode it avoids the touchy feeling altogether. And thanks to the suspension, there's nearly no lift under hard acceleration or nosedive under hard braking—adding to the sophisticated, uber-composed yet athletic feel of the A8.

Late in the model year a new direct-injected, 6.3-liter version of the company's 'W12' engine will be available in the A8, now making 500-horsepower and capable of getting the A8L to 60 mph in less than five seconds.

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