By: Jesse Adams
Johannesburg - It can be fun to sometimes pretend you’re someone you’re not. Motoring writers get to, no.... have to do it a lot. Time and again we slip on our make-believe costumes and assume the roles of certain vehicular target markets. In the space of a month I’ve been a minivan driving soccer mom, a khaki-clad farmer, and an overtly arrogant racing driver. Some parts come more naturally than others.
But last week I was forced into a juxtaposition of fantastical proportion, when Audi South Africa delivered a specimen so crepuscular it’d give Teletubbies Lala and Dipsy chills. Yup, a big black limo. But not just any big black limo. This here’s a R8.9-million (the most expensive test car we’ve driven) bank vault on wheels. A long-wheelbase luxo-ship so secure that Fort Knox called and wants its front-door keys back.
I could bore you with all the technical specifics of ballistic protection standards (this car’s rated at VR7 level if you really need to know), and how it takes 450 hours to incorporate a battleship’s worth of armouring into this otherwise unsuspecting sedan’s body; but what you need to know is that buried limpet mines and Dragunov sniper rifle-wielding bad guys are non-events while aboard this extremely special A8. Joburg smash and grabbers? Pffft.
Its official name is the Audi A8 L Security W12 6.3 quattro Tiptronic, but we’ll call it the armoured Audi for short. Notice I didn’t say bulletproof – a word carmakers of this nature avoid like the plague. Nothing, except maybe Superman’s leotard, is actually bullet “proof”. Resistant maybe. Shoot something enough times and a hole will eventually appear in it.
From the outside it doesn’t look like much. Of course, anonymity is a strong defence mechanism, just ask any trenchcoated spy. But look closely and you’ll see there’s something not quite right with the side window frames and tyre profiles, and for good reason. The windows, which can be raised and lowered by request (a R93 600 option, per door!) are made of multiple laminations 6.5cm thick; and the puncture resistant rubber, which is inflated to almost 5 bar, can be driven on at speeds up to 80km/h even with grenade holes in them.
Other optional extras on this car include a self-sealing petrol tank and armoured battery box (R65 000), a fire extinguishing system that sprays into the engine compartment and wheel arches (R221 000), and an emergency exit system that will blow the doors off with pyrotechnic charges in the hinges should the normal opening mechanisms be rendered inoperable after a crash or blast (R182 000). I can’t begin to tell you how tempting it was to test this, but we promised Audi SA we wouldn’t.
A HEAVY BEAST
All this protection does take its toll on kerb weight, though. The doors alone weigh 360kg, and gas pressurised assisting struts do little to disguise their mass. I suppose the types who require this level of safe-keeping will have burly men in black suits to wrestle the doors opened and closed. Armouring around the cabin weighs 720kg, and the whole car tips the scales at over 3.7 tons. That’s almost four and a half Citigolfs, folks. However, even with an optimised air-suspension system to compensate, it feels and sounds like a haunted pirate ship creaking and groaning and rocking and rolling on the high seas from the wheelhouse. A performance car this is not.
Audi’s 6.3-litre W12 engine feeds a quattro AWD system, but the 368kW and 625Nm on offer are also beaten into submission by the extra bulk. Still, the Panzer-spec A8 works its way from 0-100km/h in a semi-respectable 9.7 seconds and across the quarter-mile in 17 dead (certainly no pun intended) according to our Vbox test equipment. By our records this makes it capable of out-running an army of Hemi-powered Jeep Grand Cherokees ... but only just.
Out of interest, we tested an identical car without armouring in 2011 and recorded respective figures of 5.7 and 13.7 seconds. Seems Newton was onto something with his laws-of-motion spiel.
Real world fuel consumption figures in this titan were also clouted from 15.6 sans armour to 22.5l/100km with all the padding.
It all makes for an eerie feeling though. On one hand it’s a jol to cruise around with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring (not that we did on public roads, that would be illegal) with a feeling of invincibility. There’s also a loudhailer operable by a spiral-corded, CB radio-style mouthpiece in the cubbyhole that could provide countless hours of fun at McDonalds drive-through windows. It’s motoring entertainment at its very finest.
But on the other hand, there’s a sinister air surrounding a car like this. It exists only because of evil forces. It’s designed to protect people from harm, whether the evil’s targeting passengers from outside or sitting within the car’s confines themselves. I got the shivers from time to time just thinking about it.
While on test I was playing the part of a very important person (or at least their chauffeur), and while this pretend power at times became addictive, I was also relieved to hand the armoured Audi back knowing that nobody has a rifle pointed in my vicinity. I’d love to have the means to afford an absurdly expensive and special car like the A8 Security. But I’d hate the responsibility, liability and insecurity that goes along with those means.
They say to never drive with a handbag or cellphone visible on the seat. They say to be aware of your surroundings and to treat red robots as four way stops at night. They say South Africa is dangerous. Obviously “they” have never driven Audi’s armoured A8. With this car you can rest easy. Take that shortcut through a dodgy suburb. Use a little more expression with that unruly taxi driver. But, at this price 99.9 percent of us will never know the feeling.