2014 Audi A8 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
March 7, 2014

With TDI range and captivating connectivity, the 2014 Audi A8 adds very long-distance touring to its considerable portfolio of talents.

A longtime rival of the big BMW and Benz sedans, the Audi A8 has taken a longer route to the executive class. Its aluminum space frame grabbed attention when it was new, as did a unique W-12 engine. But it's really only in the most recent generation where the A8 has truly arrived--a fully fleshed out entry in this uber-professional niche. The S-Class still holds an iron grip on the segment, with the 7er a close second, but the A8 now bristles with all kinds of interesting details--and drivetrains--to lure away seekers of high-powered, high-priced German iron.

The A8 can now pitch itself as a legitimate contender on almost every level, and a superior on some, including in-car connectivity.

Audi builds some stunning cars, but the A8 is just...fine. The big German sedans aren't charged with drawing stares, though. The A8's mission is to let its details do the talking on a simple silhouette with fine proportions. Those details are jewels: the LED lighting front and back looks heirloom, and there's nothing like fender vents competing for attention. The firepower's reserved for the cabin, where beautiful wood and patterned metal meet up with leather and suede to compose a restrained but lavish space.

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Audi fits four engines with five power outputs to the A8. At the top of the range, a 500-hp W-12 engine turns in quick acceleration and a waterfall of torque, but it's not the quickest model. That would be the 520-hp, twin-turbo V-8-powered S8, which drops 60-mph runs in 3.9 seconds. A 420-hp version of the same engine slots into the A8, and at the starting end of the lineup, there's a choice between a 333-hp supercharged gas-powered V-6, or a turbodiesel V-6 that later was implicated in Volkswagen's emissions-cheating scandal.

Audi fits all A8s with an 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Surefooted feel is its forte, but drivers can change its attitude with Drive Select, which modifies electronic mapping of its air dampers, throttle response, shift schedule, and steering heft. It brings out the best of the A8, giving it a better sense of mechanical harmony, than Drive Select has done in other models.

The A8 comes in two body styles, long- and short-wheelbase. The longer car stretches 5 inches more between its wheels for abundant rear leg room, without cutting into the A8's handling. There's room for massaging rear seats, extendable foot rests, power-recline seatbacks, and more on the long-wheelbase car.

MMI is Audi's infotainment interface, and it's been refactored this year. In addition to accepting voice and click-wheel inputs, drivers can use a finger to draw characters on a touch-sensitive puck. Google Maps pipes in live data from T-Mobile to generate the latest, most accurate maps. And of course, there are pure luxury touches. A DVD entertainment system for rear-seat passengers is nice-but it's even better filtered through a 1,400-watt, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced sound system.

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2014 Audi A8

Styling

Showy without excess inside, the Audi A8 is conservative without reading as dull outside.

Sedately styled, save for some fabulous LED details, the Audi A8 stores up its glamour for a knockout cabin.

Showy styling doesn't appear often on cars in the A8's class. BMW, Benz, Audi-they reserve the splashy designs for cars like the CLS, the Gran Coupe, the A7.

The A8 lets details do its talking. The silhouette is classic four-door luxury car, with a long, imposing nose that's big enough to house a 12-cylinder engine. At the same time it lends the plain-spoken A8 some elegance, helps absorb its long rear doors and broad shoulders. LED lighting back and front offer act like the most discreet jewelry. Could Lincoln ever draw something this subtle?

Audi saves up all that effusive design for the cockpit. It knits together wood, leather, suede, and aluminum in a knockout cockpit with awesome attention to detail. The materials would look at home in a Bentley-a fellow VW Group brand, no surprise-and they build up to a restrained but lavish effect that doesn't distract from the driving environment.

The details define this space. The transmission shift lever is modeled on the throttle from high-end powerboats, as is the sculpting of the upper dash. The optional Bang & Olufsen sound system has twin tweeters that rise like Whack-A-Moles out of the dash on power-up. S8 models get carbon-fiber trim and white-on-gray instruments.

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2014 Audi A8

Performance

A large sedan with a more athletic feel than its rivals, the Audi A8 has an amazing range of performance as well, from TDI to S8.

Full-size luxury doesn't come without a cost--in price, or in weight. So while the Audi A8 weighs between 4,400 and 4,800 pounds, it's one of the lighter vehicles in the super segment it calls home. As with the Jaguar XJ, the A8's heavy use of aluminum lightens and brightens its entire performance, endowing it with assertive handling and relatively great gas mileage, and absolutely great fuel economy with its new turbodiesel engine.

This year the A8 offers up a handful of powertrain choices. Four different engines come in five different outputs.

With either long- or short-wheelbase cars, Audi offers a basic supercharged 3.0-liter V-6. It's scored at 333 hp and teams-as all A8s do-with all-wheel drive and an 8-speed, paddle-shifted automatic. With a little more vibration and noise than necessary, the V-6 pumps out prodigious low-end torque on its way to a 5.5-second 0-60 mph run and a top speed of 130 mph.

A new turbodiesel offers up 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque for 0-60 mph times of 6.4 seconds and initial EPA ratings of 36 mpg highway. This engine has been implicated in VW's emissions-cheating scandal, and Audi has set up a web site for owners who need more information about repairs and buybacks.

Back in the gas-powered spectrum, the A8 stuffs in a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 with 420 hp and 444 lb-ft of torque, adopting a more visceral feel and dropping 0-60 mph times to 4.7 seconds. The same basic engine twists out more turbo boost in the S8 for a total of 520 hp and a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds, as well as a 155-mph top speed.

Atop the A8 range is the luxuriant torque and odd cylinder arrangement of the W-12 flagship engine. The 6.3-liter 12-cylinder pumps out 500 hp and 488 lb-ft of torque, pushing the sedan to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

The A8's automatic is a joy. Audi's calibration ensures almost perfect shifts with smooth engagement, and fuel economy of up to 29 mpg highway in gas-powered cars. Multi-gear downshifts are a snap with either a heavy foot or a quick finger on its paddle shift controls.

The all-weather traction of its all-wheel-drive system is a big part of the A8's composed handling. Audi splits torque 40:60 front to rear, and the system can shift more power to the front (up to 60 percent) when traction slips at the rear. On the S8, a separate rear differential can move power side to side to help cornering and traction. The same diff can be had on other models in a Sport Plus bundle, packaged with adaptive dampers, summer tires, and variable-ratio steering.

Drive Select is Audi's way of saying "tune it yourself." The system toggles through various comfort, sport, and automatic modes to change the behavior of the car's steering, suspension, throttle, and transmission. It can't help, say, to introduce more feedback in the A8's steering, but it does help coordinate and tailor these systems so, for example, soft damping doesn't have to mean slow steering.

The S8 is our pick here. It's not truly a sport sedan, not at this size and not at 4,500 pounds on the curb. In its class it feels like a sprinter, one with a compliant ride and just enough body lean to blend its flagship mission with the ability to exit highway off-ramps at triple-digit speeds.

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2014 Audi A8

Comfort & Quality

The A8's interior is fabulous, with a few flaws--one of them being tight knee room on standard-wheelbase cars.

The Audi A8 may have a leaner frame than some of its rivals, but it doesn't trade off much interior space or refinement in the name of performance. The opposite is true on long-wheelbase models, which are some of the most capable long-distance machines we've driven this year, thanks to highly adjustable and form-fitting seats, lots of leg room, and ultra-high driving range in the TDI turbodiesel.

With the standard A8 seats come plenty of adjustment-18 ways, in fact. The seats are firm to the core, but have a soft layer of padding on top for excellent long-distance and touring comfort. You may not need the extreme upgrade to 22-way adjustable seats with massaging control and ventilation. With tilt/telescoping steering, it's simple to find a great driving position.

Short-wheelbase versions just don't have the interior space to qualify for this executive mission. Riding on a 117.8-inch wheelbase, the shorter car has family-sedan rear-seat leg room at best. On long-wheelbase cars, the 122.9-inch stretch between wheels doesn't incur a handling or penalty performance, and it liberates about 5 inches more space in back.

Climb in back, and the long-wheelbase car has the space for lanky passengers we'd expect in this price class. The long doors make entry and exit painless; once inside, the back seats can be power-adjusted, reclined, heated, and they can be fitted with an extending footrest and a tray table for an airline-style business-class environment.

With a 13.2-cubic-foot trunk the A8 doesn't have as much luggage space as some very inexpensive family sedans. In-car storage is good, though, and the only noise that cuts into the cabin is that from the bigger tire sizes. It's easy to drown out with the B&O audio system.

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2014 Audi A8

Safety

An aluminum frame and high-tech safety gear give the A8 a higher than usual baseline for safety, though no crash tests have been performed.

The A8's aluminum space frame, its rear-seat side airbags and front-seat knee airbags go above and beyond the call of safety. But as of now, neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has crash-tested one, so data is lacking.

The A8 also has a pre-crash system that tightens seat belts, and all-wheel drive is standard.

A rearview camera still is an option, almost inexcusable in a car this expensive, but parking sensors come standard. On pricey models a surround-view camera system shows how it's done in the ultra-luxury class.

An expensive bundle of technology adds night vision to the A8, as well as blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. The cruise system can stop the car from speeds of up to 19 mph, if the car senses an impending collision.

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2014 Audi A8

Features

With night vision, wireless internet, and Bang & Olufsen sound, the Audi A8 is a rolling geekfest.

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.

Every A8 gets standard power features, cruise control, leather, a sunroof, navigation, and an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming, a USB connectivity kit, and Bose premium speakers. Front and rear climate control systems also are standard, as are power-operated rear seats and a sunroof.

The infotainment system is governed by MMI. Audi's interface accepts inputs by voice, by steering-wheel switches, from a knob controller, and from fingertip gestures "written" on the controller's touch-sensitive surface. MMI has its significant pitfalls, but its command structure seems more intuitive than iDrive from BMW, or COMAND from Mercedes.

It's superior, too, since it can pipe in data from the T-Mobile network to deliver Google Earth maps, rendered in intuitive, lush graphics on the central screen. It means a monthly subscription fee for your car, but it also means up to 8 devices can connect to an in-car hotspot.

Option packs ladle on more equipment. A8 sedans with V-89 and V-6 engines can be topped off with 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.

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2014 Audi A8

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy rockets with the A8 TDI's 36-mpg EPA highway rating; the W12, it taketh away.

An aluminum body and a fancy eight-speed automatic can get you far in life, not to mention on the open road. But to go for the best fuel economy, big luxury sedans gun for either hybrid drivetrains or diesel engines.

In the 2014 Audi A8, it's the latter that drives its EPA numbers into a whole new realm. The newest addition to the A8 lineup, the TDI, comes with a turbodiesel engine with 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. It's the least quick performer of the lineup, but it's the one with the biggest payoff in range. Audi says its A8 L TDI is EPA-rated at 24 miles per gallon city, 36 miles per gallon highway, and 28 miles per gallon combined. We've recently driven one, and saw 35.6 mpg in a 700-mile trip made up of mostly interstate miles.

The TDI complements a pair of engines new for the 2013 model year. Base A8s sport a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with stop/start that's rated at 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined, while both the short- and long-wheelbase models also can be fitted with a twin-turbo V-8. Short-wheelbase V-8s settle in at 17/28 mpg, or 21 mpg combined, while long-wheelbase sedans are pegged at 16/26 mpg, or 19 mpg combined.

Gas mileage takes a nose dive with the 500-hp, 6.3-liter W-12 engine. As a long-wheelbase model, the A8 L W12 is rated at 13/21 mpg, or 16 mpg combined, figures we'd associate with a large luxury SUV at first glance. That's why you'll see a $2,100 gas-guzzler tariff applied to its sticker, on top of its $134,500 base price.

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Styling 8
Performance 9
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 10
Fuel Economy 7
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