- Cockpit has real panache
- Styling's subdued, but not soporific
- Geeky in-car data services
- Stealthy S8's fabulous twin-turbo power
- All-day comfort from front seats--delivered 18 or 22 ways
- MMI requires training
- Google Earth, Bluetooth, voice: is it too much information?
- Knee room in relative short supply in SWB A8
- Dynamic mode's a bit hefty in feel
The Audi A8 gains standard LED headlamps, a more powerful twin-turbo V-8, and a more efficient diesel engine for 2015.
The Audi A8 has take the long road in becoming a legitimate competitor for the full-size Mercedes-Benz and BMW sedans. When it made its debut with an optional W-12 engine and its aluminum space frame, we were impressed--but it didn't yet have the allure for executive-class sedans built up over decades by vehicles like the S-Class and 7-Series.
But, it's the newest generation of A8 that truly stands out as a fully realized contender in the niche. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class still stands at the front of the line in the class, and the 7-Series isn't trailing far behind–but the A8 offers a set of interesting drivetrains and an abundance of technology to help sway shoppers toward the rings, rather than the star and roundel. It's a real player in the segment now–competing happily at virtually every level–and even winning some of the categories along the way.
For 2015, the A8 gains more attractive LED headlamps standard across the lineup, and more power with better efficiency amongst some of its drivetrains.
The A8 comes in standard-length A8 and extended-length A8 L models, depending on which drivetrain is specified. We'd recommend the A8 L and its five inches of additional wheelbase and overall length. Nearly all of it goes to rear legroom: you get a roomier rear seat, with easier entry and exit, and no significant sacrifice in maneuverability. Trunk space is abundant in both versions. Included in the W12 and available in V-8 models are lavish individual seats in back that might just be cause to get someone else to do the driving. Four-zone climate control keeps everyone comfortable, the rear seats are power-adjustable, and the right-side one includes a footrest while the left-side seat includes massage and recline functions. We'd also recommend you spring for the two-panel panoramic sunroof as it brightens the interior without interfering with headroom.
The Audi A8 comes with the latest version of Audi's MMI system, which is completely redesigned versus the previous generation. Once again, you get a rotating controller to scroll through menus, but the special new feature is MMI Touch--a scratchpad that makes address or info entry much easier by simply scratching out individual letters. Steering-wheel controls also let you see an abbreviated list of options, and a new Google Maps–based navigation system uses its own data connection to get live-updated mapping and routing information. That system and an integrated wireless hotspot have been made standard, though the data is on subscription from T-Mobile.
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. Also on offer in back is a rear-seat entertainment system with its own 20GB hard drive and two 10.2-inch screens, or—for the classic executive car need—a folding table.
With the A8, Audi's fielded a sedan with arguably less compelling looks than its own lissome A7 hatchback. But the job of a German full-size four-door isn't to draw stares, it's to avert gazes. The details do the talking: the LED running lights and taillamps are heirloom-quality, and there's not much other jewelry laid out for public inspection. It's inside where the Audi hides its wealth: the cockpit's lavish in a restrained way, with hides and wood and aluminum and even carbon fiber laid side by side, radiantly and so carefully, the sueded headliner takes some time to pick up.
The usual A8 lineup of V-6, V-8, and W-12 engines has been joined by a V-6 turbodiesel with outstanding economy and very good performance. It adds a useful dimension to the A8, a blast of 800-mile-per-tank, 36-mpg practicality to an $85,000 sedan that bolds and underscores Audi's commitment to diesels. All the other powertrains offer better acceleration and qualitative performance, outside of fuel economy: of them, we'd opt for the S8's revtastic twin-turbo V-8 and its 520 horsepower over the 333-hp supercharged six or the detuned 435-hp twin-turbo V-8 that both come in either wheelbase. There's also the patriarchal long-wheelbase W-12-powered car, with 500 hp, and it seems decadent in a car intent on being less conventional and more thoughtful.
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 buyback 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. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)
A well-calibrated eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard equipment on every A8, and the combination accent its surefooted feel. It's light to the touch until you make it not so via Audi Drive Select, the electronically calibrated, driver-adjustable system that governs powertrain, steering, and suspension feel. Drive Select gives drivers the choice of 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.
2015 Audi A8
The Audi A8 is conservatively styled outside, but a jaw-dropper inside.
The Audi A8's best assets are kept on the inside, but we're particularly fond of the new LED headlamps and tail lights, which are standard on all A8 models for 2015.
All the energy conserved on the exterior is reserved for the interior. Excuse us while we gush over one of the most stylish, best-detailed cabins we've seen, ever. The A8's cockpit, no matter how it's layered--wood, leather, aluminum or plastic, or all of the above--gives the impression that it hasn't missed a single detail. It's finished in materials that typically show up in even pricier brands, and though there's certainly a fair share of lines and surfaces and textures and knobs, the cumulative effect is exciting, not distracting.
On closer look, it's some of the details that really enforce the wow factor. Audi has modeled the throttle lever after those in yachts and powerboats (though it's a bit like a golf putter), while on startup, two tweeters rise almost silently from the dash. It's especially compelling inside the S8, where carbon trim and white-on-gray gauges muster a sense of occasion in a car that really doesn't need one.
In the executive-luxury class, there's little room for showy looks. The truly memorable shapes seem to be reserved for the more coupelike creations sized and priced a tier below the top offerings from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes--cars like the A7, Gran Coupe, and CLS.
The A8 isn't as sleek as the A7, but its details are still finely honed, its sheetmetal still handsomely bent. It has much in common with the smaller A6 and A4 sedans, with proportions that reach for more of the long-nose drama that characterizes most classic sport sedans. Here, it's necessary to fit the A8's relatively compact 12-cylinder engine, but it's leveraged to give the A8 a drawn-out elegance that works well with its broader shoulders and especially, with the long-wheelbase model's longer rear doors. The LED lamps front and rear are awesome bits of detailing, but the grille's less a standout than before.
2015 Audi A8
From the S8 to the TDI, the Audi A8 has an amazing, enormous range of performance personalities.
The Audi A8 is on the lighter side of the segment–thanks to its aluminum space frame–but that isn't saying much for a category filled with two-ton sedans. That said, the frame helps improve the car's handling and save a little fuel in the process–or a lot of fuel, if you choose the turbodiesel engine.
Quattro all-wheel drive delivers sure-footed feel to the A8, even though the complexity of its suspension and wheel-and-tire offerings require a patient hand and Microsoft Excel license. (It's a German thing.) Quattro splits torque front to rear at a 40:60 ratio from takeoff, shifting power to a maximum of 60 percent front if the myriad sensors determine it need be so. On the S8, an active torque split from side to side comes into effect with the sport differential; it's now an option on other models as part of a Sport plus package, along with dynamic steering, adaptive air suspension, and summer 265/40 tires.
And therein lies the complexity. It's possible to configure an A8 3.0T with 19-inch all-season tires, or to opt an A8 L W12 up to Sport plus with summer tires, or to crank up the S8 to 21-inchers. The spectrum is broader than you think, particularly with Audi's Drive Select system on tap.
Drive Select is the electronic godhead that controls the A8's powertrain responses, steering weight, and suspension feel. It's set up with Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual modes, the last one of which can be programmed by the driver. It's a system that's gotten better in its current iteration, as Audi's switched over to electric power steering; the rack itself doesn't have much feel, but the disparate sensations across the systems in older Audis has been overcome, and Drive Select gives a more coordinated set of responses between throttle, ride, and shifts.
Maybe there's a little too much heft dialed into Dynamic mode–which includes adaptive steering for 2015–but that choice exists for the few enthusiasts who'd choose this model over an A7. But in all, the A8 is nicely tuned. There's barely any lift under hard acceleration or nosedive under hard braking—adding to the sophisticated, composed feel of the A8.
Of course, you can play tantric games with Drive Select too--put the S8 into Efficiency mode, or dial the W12 into Dynamic--but like real tantric moves, it's more enjoyable in theory.
The high-water mark of the group is set by the S8, of course. It's not a pure athlete, not at 4,500 pounds, but compared to some of its rivals, it feels like a sprinter. It's still blessed with enough body lean and ride compliance to feel less like an outlier in the A8 family--but also, to feel completely natural charging out of an exit ramp at triple-digit speeds, utterly composed thanks to variable-ratio steering and outstanding brakes.
Audi recently turned in the A8's old V-8 powertrain and adopted three new ones--or two, depending on how we'll count them. The group of four included a new supercharged six, a twin-turbo V-8 tuned to two different power outputs, and the carryover W-12 engine. Last year, to make things very interesting, the A8 gained a 3.0-liter turbodiesel six-cylinder that posts major EPA highway numbers without too great a sacrifice on the stopwatch.
All the variants of the A8 have their own mission, and picking a favorite is simpler than it seems. If you're seeking entry into the segment and need to keep things on the spare end of the spectrum, the A8 3.0T is the choice you'll make. It's available in either wheelbase, both powered by Audi's supercharged 3.0-liter V-6. Output settles in at 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and it's coupled to an eight-speed automatic and quattro all-wheel drive, both of which are standard on all A8 variants. It's not as free of vibration as the V-8 was, and when it gets vocal it's unmistakably a V-6, but it's fast and responsive to inputs, the net of the low-end torque of the supercharger and the very well spaced gears of the paddle-shifted ZF eight-speed. Zero to 60 mph times of 5.5 seconds and a top end of 130 mph are respectable numbers at a respectable price point.
Next up is the turbodiesel in the A8 L TDI. Also a 3.0-liter V-6 unit, it posts the usual low diesel horsepower numbers and the gobstopping torque figures--in this case, 240 hp and 406 pound-feet of torque. With tires optimized to goose fuel economy, the TDI's estimated at 6.4 seconds in the 0-60 mph sprint, but doesn't dissolve into a heap of sluggishness by adding that nine-tenths of a second. If anything, the diesel's fantastic driving range of more than 800 miles on a tank absolves it of the drivetrain and tire noise that's lightly layered into the cabin on acceleration. The 36-mpg EPA highway rating is easily attainable, too--we nailed it in 80-mph jaunts over an 800-mile weekend, without much effort or thought.
Those fuel-conscious alternatives aside, the other A8 models power ahead with more cylinders and far more horsepower. Audi's new 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 pulses with an altogether more visceral brand of power than either the gas or turbodiesel six. In standard issue, it now produces 435 hp. Which is fine until you consider the same engine in a more advanced state of tune turns in 520 hp in the Audi S8, and delivers 60 mph in 3.9 seconds along with a top speed of 155 mph. The former comes in either body style, the latter only as a short-wheelbase sedan. No matter which you choose, disappointment isn't an option.
At the zenith of the A8 lineup, there's the unusual flagship engine, a W-12 of 6.3 liters and 500 horsepower. Those unconventionally arranged cylinders develop 488 pound-feet of torque, and shove the A8 L to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and to a 130-mph top end. We've driven this powertrain more in other VW Group products than we have in the A8, and frankly, given the configuration options and performance of other versions, we'd probably opt for one of the other entries anyway.
No matter the power source, every A8 shares the same eight-speed automatic--and Audi simply nailed its calibration. It always seems to grab the right gear quickly, and simply, and smoothly. It's also one of the reasons the A8 scores such impressive fuel economy numbers (up to 29 mpg highway with the 3.0T). If you're in its Comfort or Auto modes, the transmission shifts early; if you press intently, it's happy to fire off multiple downshifts before you can click the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. Even in the six-cylinder long-wheelbase models, an eighth-to-third downshift brings about a rush of meaty passing power.
2015 Audi A8
Comfort & Quality
Knee room can seem tight on standard-wheelbase cars, but the Audi A8's cabin is otherwise flawlessly modern.
Don't mistake the A8's clean, somewhat anonymous exterior lines as a reflection of the car's interior. It's the exact opposite–especially in long-wheelbase models–which are some of the best road tripping machines we've driven in a while, thanks to the TDI's long range, and the exceptional comfort of the form-fitting seats.
Step into the back seat--please, ma'am, we'll get your bags--and you'll see firsthand why the long-wheelbase car is such a grander execution. The standard backseat setup has long cushions good for lankier passengers, but there's simply not enough legroom for tall passengers, or for a car of this stature. The A8 L does have the space, and longer doors, so unless you're tight on parking space, it's worth the small premium. Multi-zone climate control keeps everyone comfortable, the rear seats are power-adjustable, and the right-side one includes a footrest while the left-side seat includes massage and recline functions. Available on the A8 L (and included in all W12 versions) are lavish individual seats in back that might just be cause to get someone else to do the driving.
Also on offer in either model is a two-panel panoramic sunroof that makes the interior considerably brighter without interfering with headroom.
In either form, the A8 has plenty of trunk space, though at 13.2 cubic it's not objectively large--it's that the rather long trunklid allows a wide opening. Interior storage is fine for smaller items, and the cabin is a very quiet, refined place, and while you won't hear much wind or road noise, you will hear the tires on the S8 and TDI models somewhat during acceleration and moderate cornering, enough to blot out some of the finer notes coming from the must-have Bang & Olufsen audio system.
However, short-wheelbase models aren't quite as equipped for executive-shuttle duty. Their wheelbase checks in at 117.8 inches, while the long-wheelbase model (which you can't have on the S8, and which is the only choice on the W12 and TDI models) has a 122.9-inch wheelbase. Where there's a choice, we say go long: there's virtually no penalty in handling or performance and only a small cut in fuel economy. What's to gain is almost five inches more rear-seat leg room.
On either sedan, the A8's standard seats hardly lack for support or adjustment, what with 18-way power controls, a firm foundation and a soft layer of padding just beneath luscious perforated leather. Extreme road trips are no problem in these, or in the upgraded versions, which come with 22-way adjustments and ventilation and massaging controls. You can tailor a driving position that's ideal for a wide swath of body types, between the seats and the telescoping/tilting steering wheel and the relatively compact dash structure.
While we're on it, we've adapted easily to Audi's power-seat controls. It's a clever way to control all those 22 adjustments: a lever orbiting a seat-mounted wheel lets the passenger flick through various sets of cushions for inflating or deflating, all of it displayed on the A8's big LCD screen.
2015 Audi A8
Crash-test data is missing for the Audi A8, as it usually is for the most expensive cars.
Like many expensive luxury cars, the Audi A8 hasn't been subjected to crash tests by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). We don't expect it will be, either, since it sells few examples each year.
On the technology front, the A8 comes with standard parking sensors, but shockingly, omits the rearview camera on the A8 3.0T unless you spend $3,000 for an option package. More expensive models make up for that omission with a surround-view camera that's an excellent tool for parking in tight spaces.
The A8's more exotic safety technologies are sold as options bundled in packages. They include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability in traffic and full brake ability at speeds of under 19 mph; blind-spot monitors; lane-keeping assist; and night vision.
The Audi A8 has the bone structure for excellent passenger protection. It's built on an aluminum space frame, for lightness as well as strength, and it has extra airbags above and beyond the mandatory ones--at the front passengers' knees and at the sides of the rear passengers.
It's also fitted and programmed with electronic systems beyond the usual stability control, all in the name of preventative safety. The brakes clamp down when the car senses an impact is imminent, and the seatbelts tighten. Then there's the standard all-wheel drive--one of the earliest passive-safety measures we can name.
2015 Audi A8
It's a geek limousine: the Audi A8 has wireless internet, night vision, and Bang & Olufsen sound.
At this price point, you'd expect to see more than just the basics in a car. The A8 delivers everything you'd expect and then some, especially in the realm of handheld technology integration.
Front and center, on the awesomeness scale, in MMI is Audi Connect. The service patches in cellular 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 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.
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.
2015 Audi A8
The Audi A8 TDI gets excellent 36-mpg highway fuel economy; the W12, not so much.
The relatively lightweight frame and eight-speed transmission help in the fuel economy department, but the real fuel-saver for the A8 is its available TDI engine.
At the bottom the barrel, 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 14/22 mpg, or 17 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.
The most recent addition to the A8 lineup, last year's 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.
Base A8s sport a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with stop/start that's rated at 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 22 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 18/30/22 mpg, while long-wheelbase V-8 sedans are pegged at 18/29 mpg, or 22 mpg combined.
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