ROAD TEST: Audi A8 L 4.2 TDI quattro
Johannesburg - Audi has given its A8 limousine a midlife makeover to remind well-heeled buyers there’s more to life then the headline-grabbing new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and that “this other German brand” is still a shining light in the luxury-car league.
And the shining light reference can be taken quite literally, as apart from the customary cosmetic nip and tuck to freshen up the A8’s exterior styling, Audi aims to dazzle prospective buyers with its new Matrix LED headlight technology.
A R38 180 option in the A8, these fancy new headlights consist of 25 light-emitting diodes that are individually dimmable and controlled by camera sensors that pick up other traffic. The system blanks out light that would otherwise blind other road users but continues to fully illuminate the other areas in between and alongside.
Another clever trick is that by using data from the navigation system, the cornering-light function starts responding shortly before the steering wheel is turned.
For another R28 500 you can specify your A8 with “night goggles” which use a thermal-imaging camera to locate pedestrians and larger animals by their heat signatures. Fitted to the test car I drove, it’s a very effective system that picks up foot (or paw) traffic long before you see them with the naked eye.
This Night Vision Assist requires you to constantly flick your eyes down to a digital screen in the instrument panel, however, and I feel it would work better as part of the head-up display at the bottom of the windscreen where it’s closer to your line of sight. The head-up display function is a new addition to the Audi A8 range.
Aside from its owl-like ability to see in the dark, the newly-revamped A8’s gained a few extra horses under the bonnet. The A8 line-up in South Africa comprises two petrol and two diesel engines, and the subject of this road test is the flagship diesel: the V8-engined Audi A8 4.2 TDI long wheelbase quattro tiptronic which has gained an extra 25kW and 50Nm.
SMOOTH V8 FURY
The resultant 283kW and 850Nm outputs are as lively as they sound, giving this 4.2-litre German limo the ability to swat aside a 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.9 seconds. This V8 engine’s all about smooth fury, gobbling distance with an effortless lope and a velvety growl that’s utterly unlike the tractor-like clatter that some people think diesels still make. For the size and performance, the 11.9 litres per 100km our test car averaged isn’t half-bad.
An eight-speed tiptronic auto changes gears with impressive swiftness and the car has five drive modes which can be changed between efficiency and dynamic, if you wish to change the driving characteristics from fuel-saving to eat-my-dust. No matter which setting is chosen, all stays very civilised and hushed in this sound-deadened cabin – apart from that underlying silky roar when you give it more throttle.
What I like about driving this car is that its lightweight aluminium body prevents it from feeling particularly oversized or unwieldy. For a car nearly big enough to have its own helicopter landing-pad, the driving characteristics are fairly quick and fleet-footed, without that lumbering, soggy feel of a jumbo-sized car. It’s not a vehicle that will be used to chase Porsches in mountain passes, but the quattro all-wheel drive and electronic sport differential ensure exceptional grip, particularly in the slippery stuff, and there’s not much body roll.
Where you do notice this A8’s size is during parking, where warning beeps sound frantically as parking sensors, along with the help of a reversing camera, guide you scratch-free into a bay. A useful option in our A8 test car was the Park Assist with Autonomous Parking, which allows this extra-long, nearly 5.3 metre sedan to steer itself into parallel parking bays; all the driver has to do is operate the brake and throttle.
While parking lots feel claustrophobic, it’s on the open road that this long-wheelbase Audi comes into its own with its plush ride and hushed refinement. The adaptive air suspension makes the car waft over rough roads in bump-soaking grace – even on those low-profile 20” wheels.
TRULY PLUSH INSIDE
Once you’ve shut the power-assisted doors with their double-glazed windows you’re in a quiet cocoon of luxury locked off from the noisy world, surrounded by rich-feeling burr walnut and leather cabin materials.
Front and rear passengers sit in plush seats (optionally with a massage function). Rear-seat occupants have oodles of leg-stretching space, an optional cooler box to keep the champagne cold, and a pair of LED screens on which they can watch DVDs using Bluetooth headphones. This Rear Seat Entertainment system, standard in all long-wheelbase A8s, also has a separate hard drive for storing music and video files.
Audi Connect including car phone is available as standard across the range, and passengers can browse the internet and e-mail via a WLAN hotspot. The navigation system delivers online services such as Google Earth and Google Street View.
Styling changes to A8 include a new bonnet, grille, front bumper and headlights. The LED tail lights are revised too, and feature cool new “dynamic turn signals” which sweep across the housing, instead of blinking like before. The rear bumper is new too, as are the various chrome strips in the bodywork and high-gloss black window frames.
In addition to ABS brakes and a flurry of airbags, safety systems available for the A8 include adaptive cruise control and active lane assist. As well stocked as it is, the A8 doesn’t offer some of the fancier toys found in the new Mercedes S-Class, including Magic Body Control which scans the road ahead and pre-emptively adjusts the suspension to suit.
The A8 may be midway through its life cycle but it’s still a formidable luxury car with the refinement and comfort to match anything in its class – as it should for this kind of money. Pricing (including a five-year/100 000km Audi Freeway Plan) is R1 592 000.
The new techno upgrades are cool enough to keep Audi’s luxury limo interesting in a market segment where wealthy buyers tend to insist on the latest and greatest.
Audi A8 L 4.2 TDI quattro
Engine: 4134cc V8 turbodiesel
Gearbox: Eight-speed Tiptronic
Power: 283kW @ 3750rpm
Torque: 850Nm @ 2000-2750rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 4.9 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Consumption (claimed): 7.4 litres per 100km
Price: R1 592 000
Freeway plan: Five-year/100 000km