Change is coming to Germany--more precisely, to Ingolstadt--as Audi prepares to launch the fourth generation of its flagship A8 sedan. The 2011 A8 hits showrooms late next year, with a new set of aluminum body panels, a broad spectrum of drivetrain choices, and a new MMI system that goes the iPhone route for fingertip navigation. With a base price of about $75,000 and a top price over $100,000, the new Audi A8 competes with the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and will have the 2011 Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS also in its sights--and, Audi hopes, will vault its name and its four-ringed logo forever into the elite ranks of luxury sedans.
The 2011 Audi A8 will come in two flavors, the shorter of which--dubbed "Normal Wheel Base (NWB)"--was unveiled in November 2009 in Miami. The long-wheelbase version will be revealed next year. The new look is all high-tech and sleekness, with bright full-LED headlights giving a dramatic accent to the car's front end and LED taillights at the rear end. The flowing lines and smooth surfaces reflect the car's mechanical goals as much as its aesthetic. Drag is low at just 0.26 coefficient of drag, roughly equivalent to that of the Toyota Prius--quite a feat for a large luxury sedan. Inside, the cabin's been upgraded with wood, leather, aluminum and plastic trim, a sueded headliner and rich colors. The shifter is patterned after a yacht throttle, and all the A8's controls have been styled and finished for a dramatic, tailored appearance. A note of whimsy--the pop-up Bang & Olufsen speakers that mushroom up in the corners of the dash.
From launch, American versions of the 2011 A8 will be powered by a direct-injection V-8 engine. The 4.2-liter engines is rated at 372 horsepower, and Audi promises that it will push the A8 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, to a top speed of 155 mph (limited electronically). In other markets, Audi will offer a six-cylinder gas or diesel engines, and a diesel V-8, any of which may eventually come to the U.S. A hybrid edition is planned, likely for the 2012 or 2013 A8. With high compression (12.5:1), variable cams, low internal friction, and special oil pumps, the 4.2-liter V-8 should get 15 percent better fuel economy than today's car. The sole transmission is an 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic controls, teamed to Audi's hallmark quattro all-wheel-drive system. Drive Select is also standard; it allows the driver to choose settings for suspension and ride, steering feel, transmission shifts and throttle feel. Audi will make an electronic limited-slip differential available; it will vary torque sent to left and right rear wheels, to help the A8 corner more effectively. An adjustable air suspension will be offered.
Targeting the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series, the Audi A8 has grown in many ways. Still, light weight is a linchpin of its aluminum space frame design. Accordingly, Audi says the car is about 50-200 pounds lighter than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and 200-400 pounds lighter than the BMW 7-Series, depending on whether the cars are fitted with two-wheel- or all-wheel-drive systems. Unmentioned is the largely aluminum 2011 Jaguar XJ, however, which presumably comes in as light as or lighter than the A8.
At 202.0 inches long in short-wheelbase form, the Audi A8 has a wheelbase of 117.8 inches, sits 76.7 inches wide and 57.5 inches high. Audi says the A8 thus outranks its primary competitors in size, in most dimensions--save for the Benz S-Class, which is only sold in the U.S. in long-wheelbase form, and the BMW 7-Series, which even in short-wheelbase form has a longer wheelbase than the junior A8. The extra space has been dedicated to passengers, with more shoulder and head room than before, and opulent amounts of leg room in the back seat. Seating comfort will be a focus: 12-way front power seats are standard, while 22-way adjustable seats with ventilation and massage functions can be fitted. Trunk space is 18 cubic feet, with a pass-through for skis into the rear cabin.There's every reason to believe the 2011 Audi A8 will carry the safety standard for the brand, with side and curtain airbags for front and rear passengers, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and a host of new systems that take safety to the next vanguard. A Braking Guard system clamps down if it senses an accident is about to happen, to warn the driver; another automatic emergency braking system will apply full braking if the lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control systems determine a crash is imminent. Night vision is also fitted.
With standard features by the dozens, the 2011 Audi A8 will have few options to choose. All A8s will come with a leather interior, all power features, DVD navigation, Bose audio, satellite radio, and the V-8/all-wheel-drivetrain. The A8 will be the first Audi to use a new interface that allows drivers to use their fingertips to direct the Multi-Media Interface--a la the iPhone (or the Palm Pilot, for the oldsters in the audience). It recognizes alphabets from English to Mandarin to Cyrillic. Audi still supplies redundant audio and climate controls, and for a third way of operation, keeps the MMI's control knob on the center console. A lot of real estate--maybe too much--is devoted to knobs and buttons. Among the A8's options: a rear-seat entertainment system with its own 20GB hard drive and DVD player, and a Bang & Olufsen 1400-watt audio system with 19 speakers and 19 channels of sound.
The 2011 A8 will arrive late in 2010 in the U.S. Pricing hasn't yet been released; Audi says it will be in the same range as today's car, which puts its base price at about $75,000. Long-wheelbase cars with all the options will easily exceed $100,000.
- 2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class
- 2010 BMW 7-Series
- 2010 Jaguar XJ
- 2010 Lexus LS
The 2011 Audi A8 has big visions for its own future. It will have to reconcile them with the titans in the segment, the S-Class and 7-Series. Fresh from a 2010 update, the Benz S-Class spans the range of powertrains from S400 Hybrid to twin-turbo S65 AMG. It's also the foundation for the Maybach sedans. The BMW 7-Series was new for 2009, and since then has added six-cylinder models, an ActiveHybrid gas-electric version, and a V-12 edition, all working perfectly with its de-Bangled style and its improved iDrive controller. The 2011 Jaguar XJ / XJL will be dramatically reworked, with a body more like the smaller XF than the dowdy aluminum panels it wears today. Finally, the Lexus LS range spans short-wheelbase Sport models to long-wheelbase hybrid LS 600h L versions, and it's an impossibly smooth vehicle to operate--though even with sport add-ons, it's still the least engaging of these sedans to drive.