Since its introduction in 2004, the Audi A8 has earned a reputation for being as much a luxurious limousine as it is a pure driver’s car. The reason is that it pampers its riders and yet when driven quickly it does not feel at all cumbersome. The arrival of the V10-powered S8 reinforced the notion.
The A8 is offered in a number of models – regular and long-wheel base versions of the 4.2L V8 and the range-topping A8L W12. As part of a mid-life refreshing all models, including the S8, have been massaged to produce a more refined car.
While the changes are subtle, they do make a difference. The A8s earn new grilles that now separate the models – the A8 (and S8) wear horizontally slatted grilles finished in a bright piano black and chrome, the W12 features handsome vertical slats. All also get new fog lights, rear tail light lenses and some interior trim upgrade as well as start/stop button to go with the smart key – it allows the driver to lock/unlock and start the car without inserting the key. The remaining changes bring more dynamism.
To begin with, this is one seriously quiet ride that wafts along on a sophisticated air suspension. As before, there are comfort, auto and dynamic modes, each of which alters the ride height and damping characteristics. Retuning the dampers brings a more refined ride all cases. The steering has also been reworked so it has a sharper feel in the twisties without becoming twitchy on the highway.
For those with a more sporting bias, the S8’s sport air suspension pumps up the handling side without giving up much in terms of comfort – it is an option on the A8. A big part of its ability to handle a fast corner comes from a 20-mm drop in the ride height. Throw in P265/35ZR20 tires (P275/35ZR20s are optional on the A8), keen steering, good electronic stability control system and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive and you have a seriously sporty ride. On the Autobahn it cruises along at 190 km/h without a care – you feel as though you can set the cruise and let the car do the rest. On the back roads around Munich it hunkered down obeying driver input exceptionally well. As I say, it makes a heavy (all 1,960+ kilograms) car feel very agile.
The only wish is for the European ceramic brake option (offered on the A8 W12 and S8). Not only do the ceramic brakes bring much faster stops (it’s racing technology at its finest) they drop unsprung weight, which furthers the handling cause. Many engineers spend long sleepless nights trying to shave grams from a car – the 5-kg ceramic rotors, which is about half the mass of a normal rotor, collectively remove 20-kg!
The powertrain also plays a big part in the 8’s personality. The A8 and its 4.2L V8 brings 350 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. When fired through a six-speed automatic with normal, sport and manual modes (complete with paddle shifters) it runs from rest to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds, which more than respectable. Move up to the W12 and things get much quicker. With 450 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque on tap, it drops the 0-100-km/h time to just 5.2 seconds. It also goes about its business in a quiet and unflustered fashion, even when gunned.
For the driver, however, the ride of choice is the S8. While it’s 5.2L V10 brings about the same power (450 hp) and acceleration (5.1 seconds) as the W12, the fact it delivers 90% of its 398 lb-ft of torque at just 2,300 rpm means it is never caught short. The exhaust and intake notes also make a massive difference. The V8 and W12 models have a refined sound that only begins to build when the driver is really pushing on – the S8’s guttural tone is glorious and speaks to its fury perfectly.
Inside, the opulence is there for all to enjoy. The A8 and S8 come nicely attired – everything from full leather to a suite of power toys and a decent sound system – the W12 is something else. It comes fully loaded and counts everything from a four-zone climate control system with sun and humidity sensors to 14-way front seats, power adjustable rear seats and a very good Bose audio package. In all, there are just a handful of options, including a personal fridge, and two packages (side and lane assist systems).
If you’re dropping $170,000+ for your ride, you might as well go while hog. In the W12’s case this means opting for the Bang & Olufsen sound system. At $7,800, it is not cheap. The 1,000+-watt output and dynamic noise reduction system (it counters the vagaries of wind, engine and road noise) make it sound the part (fantastic), the aluminum speakers and acoustic lenses that rise up out of the dash top it off. It is worth the money.
About a year ago, I tested the A8 W12 that was to have served as the late Luciano Pavarotti ride when his A Night to Remember – The Farewell Tour played in Toronto. That car impressed me; the revised version does so even more. True, the cosmetic changes are rather subtle; however the dynamic upgrades make an appreciable difference.