At this level of executive-luxury realness, you expect the Audi A8 to deliver more than just the basics. It has it handled, with a flourish of digital awesomeness that brings a little of the desktop and handheld computing experience to the cockpit.
But first, those basics can't be ignored. All Audi A8 sedans, short and long, get a full complement of luxury features just to gain entry in this superset of chauffeur-ready four-doors. Leather is standard; so is navigation. The audio system sports satellite radio, Bluetooth voice commands and streaming, Bose speakers, and a USB port. Everything that moves is power-operated, and the climate control's zoned off for front and rear passengers. Quattro all-wheel drive is also standard, as are power rear seats and a sunroof; in addition, long-wheelbase models get a power-closing trunklid.
The universe of infotainment is under the thumb--and forefinger--of Audi's Multi Media Interface, or MMI. The system consists of a rotating knob on the console that scrolls through menus and clicks to select various phone, audio, climate, and navigation functions. Voice commands can also direct the system through most functions. Then there's the numbered touchpad near the driver's knee: on the A8, that MMI Touch pad mimics the old Palm Pilot, allowing text entry for some features with a fingertip. Steering-wheel controls are yet one more way to fine-tune your way through the system's vast capability--or to get yourself lost in it. Like all its competition, there are some gaps in MMI's moderately agreeable architecture--you can't click forward a track on Bluetooth-streaming audio from the steering wheel, for example--but we've come to grips with MMI over time with less fear than with iDrive and COMAND.
Front and center, on the awesomeness scale, in MMI is Audi Connect. The service patches in 3G data piped in from T-Mobile's networks to render the A8's navigation maps right from Google Earth, resulting in lush, incredibly intuitive displays. The results are delivered to a beautiful high-resolution eight-inch screen that's easy to read from a wide range of angles. Audi Connect also includes an integrated wireless hotspot for up to eight devices. The only catch? The data service commands a monthly subscription fee.
Other options bend toward the luxury vein. On A8 sedans powered by six- or eight-cylinder engines, Audi offers option packages for ventilated seats, sport tires, and leather console and armrests. Stand-alone options including night vision, rear-seat entertainment, and full LED headlights. 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.
On the new TDI turbodiesel, the options are only slightly reconfigured; one Premium Package includes those 22-way power front seats with ventilation, LED headlamps, and blind-spot monitors, but nothing that can't be found on other models.
As for the performance S8 edition, it comes only in short-wheelbase form. In addition to the A8's equipment, it gets sport trim, including carbon-fiber and aluminum details inside and out; 21-inch wheels and tires; a surround-view camera; an Alcantara headliner in coordinated colors or in black; ventilated front seats; Nappa leather; and parking sensors. Options include blind-spot monitors; a four-spoke steering wheel; heated rear seats; and five-spoke 21-inch wheels, as well as the Bang & Olufsen system, the entertainment system, and night vision.
Almost everything is standard on the W12 model, including twin LCD screens mounted on the front-seat headrests and Bluetooth headphones. Options come down to a new Sport package shared with the A8, which includes a sport-tuned suspension, differential, driver-selectable steering, and summer tires. There's also an available Executive Rear Seat package with a reclining seat, footrest, and seat ventilation, and a cooler box. Bang & Olufsen audio is a $6,300 option; night vision can be ordered; a package bundles adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitors; four years of satellite radio can be prepaid at purchase; and a five-seat layout is available.