At just 4,400 pounds, the 2012 Audi A8 is one of the lightest large luxury sedans, and that key attribute--along with some carefully done electronic controls--helps it drive like an even smaller, lighter sedan. 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 V-8 is already a sweet engine, but Audi simply nailed the calibration of the eight-speed automatic transmission, too, so it always seems to quickly grab the right gear and simply (and smoothly) go. 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.
And the quattro all-wheel drive system makes the A8 feel more surefooted in the corners and not at all cumbersome. In regular driving, it 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.
One of the keys to the A8's light, surefooted feel is Audi Drive Select, a series of electronic vehicle controls for powertrain, steering, and suspension feel; with it, you get 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--even though it has a little too much heft dialed into Dynamic mode.
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.
For 2012, the A8 and A8 L have now been joined by an A8 L W12 model. With a much higher price ($133,500), the much more exclusive W12 packs a 6.3-liter, twelve-cylinder engine, making 500 hp and capable of getting to 60 mph in less than five seconds. It also comes with an eight-speed automatic.