ASPEN, Colo. — Audi is clearly a car company with a big future, and that big future is exemplified nowhere better than by its biggest car, the new A8L. The capital L in its title signifies that this is the long-wheelbase, long-rear-door model, a car designed to transform the A8 line from a wannabe to a real European luxury car (that’s because Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar all offer long-wheelbase versions of their big sedans, and you can’t play in their league without one).
The Audi A8 is already the quickest and fastest of the V-8 luxury cars, with its four-cam, five-valve-per-cylinder 4.2-liter V-8 thundering to the tune of 310 horsepower, well above anything else in the 4.0-liter luxury class. When you add in the famous quattro all-wheel-drive system and an electronic stability program, and then you add in the five inches of extra rear seat legroom and door length, you are cooking up a recipe for success in the big leagues.
With its all-aluminum welded body and subframe construction, all-wheel-drive system and its beginnings as a front-drive platform, the Audi is as different from the other luxury players as chalk is from cheese. But in terms of its performance, handling, spaciousness, luxury touches and build quality, the A8L is as good as any of the rest of them and better in many areas.
It is, according to Audi, the quickest and fastest of the big cars, capable of 0-60 mph times in the 6.8-second range. At 4156 pounds, it is also the lightest car in the segment, which is a huge handling plus. With an EPA rating of 104 cubic feet, and an 18-cubic-foot trunk, it has more interior space than the BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes sedans.
2001 Audi A8 L
2001 Audi A8L interiorEnlarge Photo
Luxury cars are more and more built on the number of standard systems and accessories offered to the buyer, and in that regard, the A8L and the smaller A8, for that matter, are filled to the brim with the kind of electronic systems and others that luxury buyers feel they simply must have to keep up with the well-to-do Joneses. Where BMW and Mercedes-Benz offer electronic stability control that constantly monitors the car’s attitude in corners and brakes individual wheels to keep the car going on its intended path, the A8L starts off with permanent 50-50 all-wheel-drive and adds ESP to that. Where some luxury cars offer GPS navigation systems as options, it is standard on the A8L (and optional on the A8). And the list goes on and on, matching BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes item for item, from the 200-watt Bose stereo system with both single-play and six-disc changer to a power rear window shade.
On the safety front, the Audi A8L makes no apologies to anyone, boasting front airbags, front and rear side airbags, and new Sideguard curtain airbags that come out of the headliner on both sides and stay inflated from front to rear for five seconds during a heavy impact, giving the last full measure of occupant protection. ABS brakes and traction control are, of course, standard equipment.
Driving this $70,000 luxury sedan is not the exercise in isolationism that luxury cars used to be. It’s quiet and serene inside, of course, and the leather smells and feels wonderful as you blast along the highway, but the car is connected to the road at all four of its 225/55-17 tires, and the steering feel is much more acute than in most luxury cars. Acceleration is not at all brutal, just efficient and quick. The brakes are very linear in their behavior in everything from Aspen mountain passes to flat highways and town traffic.
2001 Audi A8 L
Interior colors are deliberately muted, and the feel of every surface to human fingertips has been looked after very carefully, from wood to leather to buttons and wands. Interior design is familial to the other Audi sedans and wagons, but there are more switches and controls to learn, naturally, from the steering wheel’s new controls to the Tiptronic automatic transmission.. Within two drives, we were comfortable with all of the frequent-use systems and knew where most of the rest were located. There are enough adjustments — 14 in all, in the driver’s seat, 15 if you count turning the heater on — to make anybody comfortable for any distance, and there are four memory buttons for seat, wheel and mirror adjustments.
Although we are accustomed to testing from the left front seat, we allowed ourselves to be driven so that we could flop our gangly 6’4" frame into the capacious rear cabin for a while, and we found it almost ineffably roomy back there, with nearly equal seat comfort and another set of seat heaters. For passengers built like us, this is heaven.
Audi stands behind its products to the tune of a three-year, 50,000-mile warranty, with three-year, 50,000-mile no-charge maintenance, three-year roadside assistance coverage and a 12-year limited warranty against corrosion perforation (which is pretty easy when your car is all aluminum).
In all, with the optional polished wheels ($1000), xenon gas headlamps ($500), the ski sack ($200) and the sonar parking system ($700), our cashmere-grey test car came in at $70,825 including $525 destination charge, enough to buy a modest house in a good neighborhood. And, yes, it’s worth every penny to those who can afford such a car (although about 75 percent of these cars will be leased). Audi will only have about 3500 of these to sell this year worldwide, so if extra room and an upwardly mobile personality are on your short shopping list, better move quickly.
|2001 AUDI A8L Base Price: $67,900
Engine: 4.2-liter V-8, 310 hp
Transmission: Tiptronic five-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 118.5 in
Length: 203.3 in
Width: 79 in
Height: 56.6 in
Weight: 4156 lb
Fuel economy: 17 city/ 24 hwy
Major standard equipment:
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