Malaga, Spain – Audi’s approach in the luxury car market has always been conservative, favouring a less typical style. This helped the A8 fly under the radar without attracting too much attention, unlike the 7 Series or the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Basically, the simple A8 was the luxury car of choice for those who didn’t want to draw attention to themselves or their wallet. However, with the new 2011 model, Audi chose to give the A8 a look that is both sportier and more aerodynamic, more like the brand’s other models. The front grille has been revised with the addition of eight chrome horizontal bars and headlights that pivot and “follow” the road according to the information transmitted by the navigation system. The new A8’s tail end looks a lot like a big A4, and this luxury sedan gives the impression that it’s a lower vehicle. This is confirmed by its drag coefficient of only 0.26, although it’s longer and wider than its predecessor and its main rivals from Germany.
Under the hood, the new A8 has a reworked version of the 4.2-litre V8 that features 372 horses and 328 foot-pounds of torque. But it isn’t enough to help Audi claim top spot in the category, as the A8 is slightly behind its immediate competition in terms of power. However, Audi is announcing a 15% reduction in fuel consumption compared to the previous model because it has paired the eight-speed ZF transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel and the quattro all wheel drive that has become synonymous with the Ingolstadt-based brand. For the European market, the A8 can be equipped with a pair of turbocharged diesel engines, either a 3.0-litre V6 or a 4.2-litre V8 that may be offered in North America within the next two years.
Like before, the engine is still situated in front of the axis of the front wheels, which isn’t ideal for weight distribution and often leads to a tendency to understeer in aggressive driving. For the new A8 however, Audi has chosen to borrow the active sport rear differential developed for the S4 and the S5. Whether you’re turning the steering wheel or accelerating out of a turn, the torque is transferred to the exterior wheel and pins the sedan in the turn thanks to this additional support. Right away, this system counteracts any tendency to oversteer or understeer. On the mountainous roads of southern Spain, this active differential proved very effective in enhancing the A8’s dynamic qualities, including the Audi Drive Select system that helps the driver select the firmness of the adaptive air suspensions, the throttle response time, the gear shifting points as well as the speed of the steering.
Switching the setting from “comfort” to “dynamic” has an immediate effect, specifically on the steering, which goes from “light” to “heavy” at the simple touch of the MMI system controller. The Audi Drive Select system thus helps the driver personalize the car’s handling in order to attack curves with confidence or to adopt a more relaxed ride on the highway. All of this makes the new A8 more agile and more capable of a sporty ride than its predecessor. It also has the tendency to make you forget that it’s a full-size luxury car that weighs more than two tonnes and has all-wheel drive – except when it comes time to brake sharply as you approach a tight turn, then the A8 will remind you exactly what type of car it is.
Typically, Audi continues to create the most meticulously designed interiors in the industry while adding new high-tech functions like the optional night vision system or the adaptive cruise control, which are now musts in this category. Another addition is its new touchpad interface that helps the driver trace the letters and the numbers to program a destination in the navigation system (instead of using a tracking ball). The factory-standard sound system includes 14 speakers and a 600-watt amplifier, while there’s an exceptional 1400-watt Bang & Olufsen system 19 speakers offered on option.
The 2011 A8 will be available in Canada in the fall of 2010, but its price is as yet unknown and will only be announced by Audi shortly before it’s put on the market. With its hi-tech content, the new A8 is becoming more dynamic and sporty while its luxury continues to win people over.