Bahnstorming in Audi's slick new A8
By: Jason Woosey in Düsseldorf, Germany
The 2014 Audi A8 doesn't have the same kind of 'bowl-me-over-and-bedazzle-me' factor as, say, another new German competitor that now claims to be the best car in the world. Yet in its typical, and somewhat subtler, pursuit of excellence, Audi has crafted a mid-life update with enough enhancements to fill a wordy romance novel - and the thickness of the brochure really does attest to that.
Most of the differentiating factors are more than skin deep, which is why it takes a discerning eye to point out the similarly-shaped-but-flatter new Matrix LED headlights with their playful LED pattern or the A8's more sculpted single-frame grille, reshaped rear spoiler lip and the new chrome line that connects the redesigned LED taillights.
These subdued aesthetic upgrades mask a multitude of under-the-skin developments that keep Audi's aluminium-bodied saloon at the cutting edge; yet while we're still on the subject of aesthetics it would be appropriate to mention its snazzy new Matrix LED headlights that are a brand new option across the range.
To allow drivers to keep their high-beam lights permanently activated when driving through rural areas at night, the Ingolstadt boffins have concocted 25 LED diodes that can be dimmed individually as needed. When the navigation system and built-in cameras detect an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian, it dims the light path in that exact direction to avoid any dazzling, while continuing to bathe the surrounding areas in a stadium's worth of bright light. Morpheus would be amazed.
The system can also detect (and warn the driver about) pedestrians and animals in the way, while the final show-off-piece is the indicator LEDs that illuminate successively in the direction that the driver is about to turn.
The dazzling continues inside with (optional) LED ambient lighting in three colour choices and a more comprehensive palette of seat trims, inlays and colour themes. The wraparound command centre houses an automatically retractable eight-inch colour screen with 3D graphics, and there's a new head-up display system that conveys information of the driver's choice and appears to float 2.5 metres in front of the windscreen.
Electric seats are standard up front and those opting for the long-wheelbase models can order the individual rear seating package, which replaces the bench with two individual, electrically-operated and reclining 'couches' that will also give you a massage if you push the right buttons.
Keep that chequebook open and Audi will treat you to a fridge, fold-out tables, rear seat entertainment package and a high-end Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The A8 also follows its rivals in offering a suite of driver assistance systems that includes adaptive cruise control with stop & go function, active lane assist and park assist with 360-degree display.
Some tinkering in the engine bay results in efficiency improvements of up to 10 percent in the new A8 and more power in some cases. South Africa will get five engine options when the new range goes on sale in April 2014.
The 3-litre TDI gets a 6kW upgrade to offer 190kW and 580Nm, but the big talking point here is its 5.9 l/100km claimed average consumption. The new 4.2 TDI V8 consumes 1.5 l/100 more, but makes up for that with brawn to the tune of 283kW and 850Nm (25kW more than before), allowing a 4.7 sec 0-100km/h dash.
Also beefed up, by 15kW, is the 3-litre TFSI petrol engine, which is good for 228kW and 440Nm. From here Audi brings out the big guns with the S8 and W12 L. As the sportier of the two, the S8 is powered by a 382kW/650Nm twin-turbo V8 that gets it to 100 in 4.1 seconds. The long-wheelbase W12 is more about luxury and prestige, however, its 12-cylinder motor pushing 368kW and 625Nm, enough to whisk it to 100 in 4.7 sec.
In every Audi A8, power is channelled to all four wheels via Quattro and an eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox. Adaptive air suspension is standard, along with Audi's Drive Select gadget with five settings that range from 'comfort' and 'dynamic'.
I drove some of the new models in the surrounds of Düsseldorf in and what stood out most was the level of driver satisfaction on offer. The steering is communicative and the gear-changes are smooth but meaningful. Yet even with comfort mode dialled in, the ride lacks that plush, floaty feel of some limo rivals - which could be a good or bad thing depending on how soft you like your asphalt served up. The ride is still comfortable enough, just a little firmer than you might expect. Road holding, on the other hand, is impressive for a saloon this size, particularly in the S8.
The 368kW sporting flagship delivers its power so smoothly that it'll push you back in your seat without you realizing it. Also impressive for those seeking a more pragmatic limo is the 3.0 TDI, which offers smoothly-delivered, satisfying performance without the thirst.
It reinforces the A8's image as a pragmatic yet somewhat sporty executive sedan that you might want to drive rather than be driven in.
Given that it's not an all-new model, it may not cause a stir among the corporate main-manne and blue light flaunters when it arrives on our shores in April, but it could offer some good value given that Audi does not expect any major shift in pricing - and the current model (R1 011 000 to R1 751 500) already undercuts its Stuttgart rival by a hefty margin.