The Car Connection Audi A8 Overview
The Audi A8 is the automaker's biggest and most luxurious sedan. It competes against long-time stalwarts such as the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class—perhaps even against tonier sedans such as the Bentley Flying Spur and Rolls-Royce Ghost. The Audi relies on a hefty dose of technology to woo luxury buyers.
A new model arrived for the 2019 model year with a spate of new technologies. In 2020, Audi added new V-8, a plug-in hybrid, and the more-powerful S8 to the family. The 2021 model year gets only equipment changes.
MORE: Read our 2021 Audi A8 review
The new Audi A8
The new A8 features some of the latest tech, but it lacks self-driving hardware found in other countries due to U.S. regulations.
The latest A8 arrived with a look that's not much of a departure from the outgoing car. A wider front end, larger air intakes and slimmer LED headlights match up with taillights that span the width of the car, none of which disrupts its executive-sedan mission. Inside, the A8 has wiped nearly all the switches and toggles from the cockpit, and has replaced them with touchscreens that surround the driver. So long touch-sensitive control puck.
Audi has recast the A8's body and made it stronger by blending more materials in with its aluminum frame. The sedan now has some steel panels, some magnesium pieces, even carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic that all reduce weight.
Audi replaces that weight with motors and batteries. The new A8 is its first model line that's electrified. It gets a pair of mild hybrids and a plug-in hybrid. In the U.S., the A8 55 TFSI model features a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 with a belt-driven motor-generator and a 48-volt electrical system. It makes 335 horsepower. For 2020, the A8 60 TFSI model joined the lineup with a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, the motor-generator and 48-volt system, and 453 hp. A plug-in hybrid version of the turbo-V-6, dubbed the A8 60 TFSI e, was also added with 443 hp and 17 miles of electric driving range. For enthusiasts, Audi added the 563-hp S8 motivated by a more-powerful version of the 4.0-liter V-8.
The A8 offers an active suspension that uses camera data to predict and react to coming road surfaces. The system can also lift the side of the car in a side collision to better absorb the energy of the crash. The A8's all-wheel-drive system is available with an active rear differential. A rear-wheel-steering system can dial in as much as 5 degrees of opposite steer at speeds under 37 mph, for superior parking-lot maneuvers. These features are standard on the S8.
Audi Drive Select coordinates the steering, powertrain, and suspension with different preset modes and a programmable setting that allows the driver to control each component independently. The A8 feels more nimble than some of the vehicles in its class, but it's still tuned for the tastes of its buyers—not shocking, never abrupt, always collected and calm even when it's accelerating despite big power.
On the technology front, Audi's array of laser and radar sensors and cameras give the A8 Level 3 self-driving ability in some countries, which means the car will take control of steering and braking and acceleration indefinitely, until it senses higher road speeds, obstacles it can't correct for, or other more complex driving situations. Audi won't bring the system in the U.S. in this generation.
Numerous functions, from navigation to climate control, are operated on the A8's 10.1- and 8.6-inch central touchscreens, which have pressure-sensitive haptic feedback. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is also standard. High-end leather, wood, and premium audio round out the premium experience.
For 2021, the base A8 55 TFSI model added more equipment, including 22-way power-adjustable front seats that are both heated and cooled, a surround-view camera system, and the Audi phone box with wireless charging and a signal booster.
The third-generation Audi A8
In its third generation, the Audi A8 delivered strong performance and good looks, though it wasn't quite as dramatic as cars like the Jaguar XJ, the other aluminum-bodied vehicle in the class—or even the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The A8 went on sale in the U.S. in the 2011 model year, with a 4.2-liter V-8 rated at 372 hp, which accelerated from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. A W-12 engine option was added for the long-wheelbase model in 2012.
For 2013, a pair of new engines replaced the former V-8. The lower portion of the powertrain lineup included a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 333 hp, and a 0-60-mph time of 5.5 seconds; and a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 420 hp and a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds. Above them was the performance-oriented S8, which used a 520-hp version of the twin-turbo 4.0-liter and hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The most expensive was the W-12, a 6.3-liter that made 500 hp and was good for a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 was added for the 2014 model year, available only on the long-wheelbase model, and was rated at 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, according to the EPA. In 2016, the 4.0-liter V-8 was uprated to 450 hp.
In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buy back from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners.
The third-generation A8's subtle looks steered attention toward its rich finishes and high-tech features. Its infotainment system used Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI), including MMI touch, which allowed fingertips to trace out individual letters of destinations, for example. It had a built-in wi-fi hotspot capability and Google Earth 3D navigation-system data—the latter continues to bring some of the most detailed, attractive map interfaces in any car. For the fitting final touch, Audi offered a magnificent Bang & Olufsen audio system, with tweeters that rose from the dash surface when the system was switched on. The car's central display screen could also hide in the dash when not needed, for a cleaner look and an unobstructed view out the front.
For 2016, Audi nixed short wheelbase versions of the A8—only the S8 could be ordered with a short wheelbase. In addition to the longer wheelbase, Audi initially offered an A8 Sport (with the uprated V-8) that was made universal for 4.0T models in 2017. A sport exterior package that mimicked the look of the S8 was made standard for A8 models in 2017 as well. The A8 carried through into the 2018 model year with only minor changes, including an available Executive Package trim on V-6 versions of the car.
Audi A8 history
Preceded in sales by an 8-cylinder version of the A6 sedan called the V8, the Audi A8 was born after the automaker split off the special model and created its signature aluminum space-frame construction.
Audi sold the first-generation A8 from the 1998 model year through 2003. It heralded two firsts for the company: its first mass-produced vehicle with an aluminum space frame and its first car to offer six airbags. The A8 came to the U.S. with a V-8 and standard quattro all-wheel drive for most of that time, while other markets also saw 6-cylinder versions as well as a W-12 engine—a 12-cylinder layout that is basically a pair of V-6s joined side by side. Later in the first generation, Audi offered a high-performance S8 in the U.S.
In its second generation, which was sold from 2004 through 2010, the A8 returned with a 4.2-liter V-8 and a 6-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels. This A8 was offered in both short- and long-wheelbase models. Audi also brought back the W-12, now displacing 6.0 liters and making 450 horsepower. The second A8 was distinguished by its extra-large grille, which was part of the brand's signature at that time. When the second-generation A8's run ended in 2010, it had reverted to a V-8-only engine menu.