C&D Review - Audi A8 L.

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jul 19, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
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    For folks feeling a little aluminum.


    August 2003

    Do you feel a trifle heavy? Do you quiver in the presence of large magnets? Are your electrons leaving you when it rains? Perhaps what you need is more aluminum.

    The Audi A8 has been reducing the planet's ferrous consumption since the model was introduced in Europe in 1994 as the world's first all-Coke-can car to hit volume production. Asked what vehicles they personally found interesting that year, car engineers were at least as likely to answer the A8 as the Superior Crown Sovereign (it's a hearse, also featured prominently in our July 1994 issue).

    Sure, the A8's lightweight skeleton of aluminum extrusions, stampings, and castings crawled out of an engineer's steamy dreams, but the $67,480 base price of the first car we tested in January 1997 came from a dealer's polyester nightmare. The A8 was almost twice the price of the A6 and about $12,350 base to base more than a Lexus LS400, which we favored over the A8 in a November 1999 comparison.

    Worse, the A8's styling was about as electrifying as a 1040 long form and didn't really play up the aluminum angle. It didn't play up the four-wheel-drive Quattro capabilities, either. Or the fabulous handling. Or the fact that the A8 was a car and not a Sub-Zero freezer tipped on its side. At least not to potential buyers who walked away in herds. The old A8's biggest year in the U.S. was 1999. Dealers sold 2481 cars, or 0.01 percent of '99 new-vehicle sales.

    Alas, the new A8 looks more like a car and less like a restaurant appliance. Audi's stylists have pulled up the beltline and rounded off the roof. They've stretched the wheelbase by 2.6 inches to create the L (the only version sold in the U.S.) and shortened the front and rear overhangs. They have stuffed the fenders with more rubber and cast aluminum.

    In short, they've endowed the A8 with some of the styling tension of Audi's other models. So much so that a quick glance can leave uncertainty about which Audi is being eyed.

    Inside, the bland dash and the puffy Care Bear steering wheel have vamoosed. A compact four-spoke rim does the course control now while the speedo and tach look out through what appear to be the exhaust stacks of a tractor-trailer. Although airy and comfortable, the whole burl-laminated cockpit seems to snuggle in closer with lower seats and a higher center console that ramps upward to meet the dash. The back seat, meanwhile, has enough legroom for a passenger shaped like Shaq, although it lacks the rear-seat adjustments found on some Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-series models.


    The A8 continues the Volkswagen/Audi march toward perfect interior execution. Search every surface with your fingers; you won't find a single jagged mold partline, a gap that is thicker than a fingernail, or a trim piece that doesn't feel solidly planted, as if it had been milled right out of the background material. The switches glide to their positions on films of lubricant, the buttons click down with bolt-action precision, the knobs feel as if they were turning pocket-watch cogs. Even the rear coat hooks swing down from the roof on damped hinges.

    The centerpiece of this ergonomic opus is the knurled knob that controls the dashboard's hidden seven-inch LCD screen. At the tap of a button it pops out like a jack-in-the-box to serve up navigation, radio, and car-system information like BMW's iDrive superknob.

    For people accustomed to driving regular old cars, Audi's approach with its Multi Media Interface, or MMI, is a little more intuitive, a little easier on the cranial processor than BMW's. The Audi's various subject menus, such as navigation, telephone, and radio, are accessed by large, dedicated buttons around the control knob rather than by swishing the knob around, as with the BMW.

    A roving thumb and forefinger quickly memorize the layout of the Audi's buttons. Better still, many of the most important functions still have their own buttons, including the radio seek (thumb wheels on the steering-wheel spokes allow you to change volume and roam among the presets), the electronic stability control, and the climate control. The latter retains a dedicated panel on the console that looks and behaves like a conventional automatic climate system.

    There are annoyances. Every time the car or the MMI system is switched on, a polemic from Audi's lawyers must be answered by entering "I Accept." We don't accept such dunce-oriented design, common though it may be across the industry. Also, the multicolor screen doesn't always return to the right window after startup. If you are following your route on a navigation map and stop for gas, the LCD returns not to the map but to the route-programming screen, as though it can't remember what it was doing.

    To turn on and adjust the seat heaters, press the seat-heater button to call up the thermostat display on the LCD. Whoops, it's not the center control knob you should be turning now but suddenly the climate-control knob
    (and what a Rube Goldberg-style improvement it is over Audi's old finger-wheel seat-heater control).

    We did try the car's voice-command system with an order to change the radio station. The car promptly called OnStar to report an emergency, so we gave up.


    Gamely, we moved on to the air-spring suspension control in the MMI but found it didn't provide much relief from the A8's fairly brittle ride. Press the button marked "car" on the console, and the LCD lights up with an image of the A8 and the four air-suspension modes: lift, comfort, automatic, and dynamic. Lift raises the car about one inch above the 4.7-inch static ground clearance; dynamic mode drops it an inch. Problem was, the computer kept switching itself back to the automatic mode.

    Turned loose on the freeway, the A8's big wheels and tires send shockwaves through the suspension that keep your internal Richter scale constantly twitching. It's a stiff ride for such a lavish luxury liner, but one that doesn't come with terrific body control. The A8 actually shivers side to side as the car clomps over broken pavement, a slightly more disconcerting feeling in a new $74,090 German autobahn inhaler than in, say, the 1953 Ford Mainline we recently drove across Mexico.

    Nor does the A8 feel terrifically quick even with the rumbling 330-hp V-8 clearing its throat and singing the high notes. Displacing 4.2 liters, the Audi engine is smaller than the BMW 745i's 325-hp, 4.4-liter V-8 and the Mercedes S500 4MATIC's 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8, but it's more potent on paper. On the track, the A8 is sucking high-octane exhaust from both the Benz and BMW at the 60-mph mark, by 0.4 and 0.3 second, respectively.

    Even with Z-rated summer tires (figure a set of all-season tires or snows into your A8's sticker price if you live in the North), the speed limiter kicked in at a dawdling 128 mph, slower than a Subaru Forester 2.5XT tested the same day. Audi says all U.S.-bound cars will be so limited regardless of the rubber.

    In fact, the A8 feels best when all its 4491 pounds are hurled at mandatory-court-appearance speed into a corner. The rear end shifts, squats, and settles in against the increasing pull of g-forces while the front tires claw the asphalt. Audi has weighted the spoked steering wheel toward the light side, but communication through the column is unimpeded.

    The sticky Pirelli front tires chirp and squeak their way toward a progressive dissolve into understeer, a circuit breaker that is surprisingly deep into pucker speeds for such a big car. All the while the body remains stable, as if the computer had read the inputs, pumped the air suspension into four bowling balls, and screwed down the dampers into rods of rebar.

    Even so, several drivers expressed their preference for the more placid ride and capable handling of the Mercedes-Benz S500 4MATIC. The big Merc is an all-wheel-driver in the same vein but with a base price $16,730 higher. Despite its mostly steel body, the S500 4MATIC manages to weigh 62 pounds less than the alloy Audi.

    Where do the A8's extra pounds come from? The addition of six new airbags and a computer-controlled air suspension help explain the L's 471-pound gain over its predecessor. And the A8 at least undercuts the 4580-pound rear-drive BMW 745i. But no question the car is portly for its aluminum construction.

    We'll put all these cars—the new aluminum-bodied Jaguar XJ, and more—into a comparison test before you can say Ingolstadt backward. Meanwhile, your aluminum is now served.




    Take your pick of all the reasons the Audi A8 has not thrilled American audiences. Big and ponderous and overpriced, for openers. To me, it's never had a luxurious look, outside or in. An A6 looks sharper. If the idea of a stretch-only A8 in this country is to appeal to big-hitter suits as a limo, score one for Audi. The back seat rivals the Maybach 57's for legroom, the freeway experience is elegantly quiet and smooth, it's as solid as a bank vault, and you can't beat this sound system. Audi still needs to dump the institutional, battleship-gray interior. (The Design Dept. is using Prozac?) Hint: Peek inside an S-class or Range Rover. —Steve Spence

    I didn't even know Audi was planning to make a limousine version of the A4. I know it's a subjective matter but, man, have Audi's recent designs been staid. From Bauhaus to boring. If we assume, as Audi clearly does, that the full-size, full-buck luxury crowd is a conservative bunch, then they won't be disappointed by the looks. They might, however, be peeved that the A8L can't match the ride quality or agility of the BMW 7-series. The A8 needed to be a more compelling piece to stand apart from the XJ, 745i, and S-class (to say nothing of the VW Phaeton). It used to be that Audi offered the most avant-garde handsome car in each class. No more. —Daniel Pund

    In the Volkswagen corporate brandscape, Audi has been assigned the task of doing battle with BMW, and VW is supposed to compete with Mercedes-Benz. Audi, at least, stands a decent chance, what with the company's history of leadership in turbocharging and all-wheel drive, its rally and endurance racing victories, and its mastery of posh interior execution. This new A8L delivers on that last front, but the big Audi never encouraged me to hurl it into an entrance ramp or grapple with a winding back road. The A8L is a chic, sophisticated, and comfortable luxury machine. Just don't expect much sporting succor from it. —Csaba Csere




    ACCELERATION: (Seconds)
    Zero to 30 mph: 2.1
    40 mph: 3.4
    50 mph: 4.9
    60 mph: 6.4
    70 mph: 8.4
    80 mph: 10.7
    90 mph: 13.2
    100 mph: 16.0
    110 mph: 19.7
    120 mph: 24.2
    Street start, 5-60 mph: 7.0
    Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph: 3.4
    50-70 mph: 4.3
    Standing 1/4-mile: 14.8 sec @ 96 mph
    Top speed (governor limited): 128 mph

    70-0 mph @ impending lockup: 167 ft
    Fade: light

    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.84 g
    Understeer: minimal

    EPA city driving: 17 mpg
    EPA highway driving: 24 mpg
    C/D-observed: 20 mpg

    Idle: 42 dBA
    Full-throttle acceleration: 72 dBA
    70-mph cruising: 67 dBA

    Price as tested: $74,090

    Type: V-8, aluminum block and heads
    Bore x stroke: 3.33 x 3.66 in, 84.5 x 93.0mm
    Displacement: 255 cu in, 4172cc
    Compression ratio: 11.0:1
    Engine-control system: Bosch Motronic ME7.1.1 with port fuel injection
    Emissions controls: 3-way catalytic converter, feedback air-fuel-ratio control
    Valve gear: belt- and chain-driven double overhead cams, 5 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters
    Power (SAE net): 330 bhp @ 6500 rpm
    Torque (SAE net): 317 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm

    Redline: 6800 rpm

    Transmission: 6-speed automatic with lockup torque converter
    Final-drive ratio: 3.32:1

    Gear ... Ratio ... Mph/1000 rpm ... Max. test speed
    I ... 4.17 ... 5.9 ... 40 mph (6800 rpm)
    II ... 2.34 ... 10.5 ... 71 mph (6800 rpm)
    III ... 1.52 ... 16.1 ... 110 mph (6800 rpm)
    IV ... 1.14 ... 21.4 ... 128 mph (5950 rpm)
    V ... 0.87 ... 28.3 ... 128 mph (4550 rpm)
    VI ... 0.69 ... 35.5 ... 128 mph (3600 rpm)

    Wheelbase: 121.1 in
    Track, F/R: 64.1/63.6 in
    Length: 204.0 in
    Width: 74.6 in
    Height: 57.3 in
    Frontal area: 24.9 sq ft
    Ground clearance: 3.7-5.7 in
    Curb weight: 4491 lb
    Weight distribution, F/R: 56.3/43.7%

    Fuel capacity: 23.7 gal
    Oil capacity: 8.0 qt
    Water capacity: 12.2 qt

    Type: unit construction with 2 rubber-isolated crossmembers
    Body material: welded and riveted aluminum stampings, extrusions, and die-castings

    SAE volume, front: seat 53 cu ft
    rear seat: 54 cu ft
    luggage space: 18 cu ft
    Front seats: bucket
    Seat adjustments: fore and aft, seatback angle, front height, rear height, lumbar support, thigh support
    Restraint systems, front: manual 3-point belts; driver and passenger front, side, knee, and curtain airbags
    rear: manual 3-point belts, side and outboard-curtain airbags

    General comfort: poor fair good excellent
    Fore-and-aft support: poor fair good excellent
    Lateral support: poor fair good excellent

    F: ind; 3 diagonal links and 1 lateral link per side; 3-position cockpit-adjustable, self-leveling air springs; anti-roll bar
    R: ind; unequal-length control arms with a toe-control link; 3-position cockpit-adjustable, self-leveling air springs; anti-roll bar

    Type: rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
    Turns lock-to-lock: 2.8
    Turning circle curb-to-curb: 41.0 ft

    F: 14.2 x 1.3-in vented disc
    R: 12.2 x 0.9-in vented disc
    power assist: vacuum with anti-lock control

    Wheel size: 8.5 x 19 in
    Wheel type: cast aluminum
    Tires: Pirelli P Zero Rosso, 255/40ZR-19 100Y
    Test inflation pressures, F/R 35/32 psi


  2. jaydub

    jaydub Every calling is great when greatly pursued.

    Mar 14, 2000
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    That is just bonerriffic.
  3. Jeebus

    Jeebus Well-Known Member

    Sep 27, 2000
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    beautiful fucking car :cool:
  4. Mr.Fusion

    Mr.Fusion feast upon my magnificence

    Mar 20, 2000
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    very nice :cool:
  5. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
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    Sounds like it has the same problems as the old A8, which was not a nice car. Neither was the S8.

    A big slow car with a horrible ride, bad handling, and a lot of wind noise around the doors, windshield, and plenty of loud tire clopping on the freeway.

    Decent styling, a nice interior and AWD doesn't make up for huge shortcomings like that when the car costs over 70 large.
  6. infury

    infury Guest

    they drive like shit
    and yes I've driven one...4 of them infact.
  7. T-T

    T-T Born Into Retirement

    Apr 5, 2002
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    London - Montreal
    This thread sounds similar to the Bentley thread :o
  8. Dr. Woo

    Dr. Woo Guns don't kill people

    Apr 27, 2002
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    Virginia Beach
    If I'm spending 70 thousand dollars, you be damn sure I'm not buying a luxo-cruiser. :down:

    But I really can't take this review seriously when only a few threads down is a review that is the exact opposite, trumpeting the A8's high-quality ride, great feel, and responsiveness.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2003

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