2004 Audi A8L

The hardest part of this reviewer’s job is to remain objective about a vehicle being tested and to screen your impressions though the economic filter of what price category the vehicle resides in. What if price was no object? Well read on.

Introduced last year as a 2004 model, the all new Audi flagship model A8L occupies the top rung on the corporation’s product ladder. With a starting price of just over $98,000, it certainly limits the prospective suitors. That being said this top end luxury market has been growing in recent years and Audi has never really made any serious effort to penetrate this market.

With the A8L, there is more of a familial resemblance with the A4 than with the A6 and that is by no means a negative factor. The A8L has a handsome, streamlined profile and clearly projects a seductive Audi styling effort. The A8L at first glance appears smaller than it actually is. The only reason I can figure is that the roof line curving, combined with relatively short overhangs at the wheels, give the vehicle a more compact appearance.

Once inside the vehicle you immediately realize how you have been mislead about the vehicle’s external proportions. The rear seat is perhaps the largest I have ever seen out side that of a Bentley, Rolls Royce or Maybach sedan. I actually fell over trying to put my kids into their car seats, as the front seats were too far away from the rear seats to brace myself against.

It is less of a living room feeling in the front seats and more like a cockpit, albeit a comfortable and relatively spacious one. Both the front and rear seats are clad in fine leather and the rest of the vehicle’s interior is awash in wood and aluminum trim. A centre console that houses a multitude of the vehicle’s controls, most notably the Multi Media Interface (MMI) dominates the front seating area. This system utilizes a rotary knob on the console that relays information to one of any of the 43 onboard computers in the A8L. The Multi Media Interface (MMI) uses a neat LCD video screen, that folds into and out of the dashboard, to be covered by a luxurious wooden panel (and yes its real wood not plastic).

The MMI controls such mundane functions as audio settings, CD controls, radio tuner, but it also controls the onboard Navigational system, the Adaptive Air Suspension and the climate controls systems. At first the system required a serious sit down to familiarize yourself with the various features and functions but once comfortable with the system, it was a breeze to use and perhaps less distracting to use while driving, due to the large LCD display mounted high up in the centre of the dashboard.

Power for the A8L is provided by the 4.2 litre V8 engine, producing 330 HP @ 6500 RPM and 310 lb/ft of torque at 3650 RPM. This engine is a worthy power plant for a vehicle in the price category. It provides gobs of power in a civilized and smooth manner. The Audi engineers have tuned the exhaust note coming from the dual Stainless Steel exhaust pipes, to provide an understated growl, just enough to let the driver and any other occupants know that this car is not only about pure luxury, but that it also has the right stuff to thrill the soul of any sporting driver out there.

The 6 speed Tiptronic suspension manages to extract as much or as little from the engine as the driver deems fit. Simply by choosing regular “D” on the shifter, you are provided with a pleasant and spirited driving experience. Choose “S” for sporting and the vehicle is transformed into a road rocket with instantaneous acceleration and shifts being held till the 7000 RPM redline. The suspension of the vehicle was every bit as willing as the engine and that is quite surprising given its size and weight. Even though the body of the A8L is crafted out of light weight aluminum, it still weighs in at 1995 KG’s.

Part of the Audi’s on road prowess is due to the Active Air Suspension. The system allows the driver to tailor the vehicles suspension response and even its ride height to the road conditions or road speed. In Dynamic mode the A8L will lower a full 0.71 cm on roads where the vehicle has traveled at a speed of 121 K/hr for over 30 seconds. From its lowest setting to the highest extension, the system allows for a full 5 cm’s of travel in the ride height.

The weather during the period of our test drive was perhaps some of the most brutal winter weather seen in the Toronto area in recent memory, bone chilling lows, blustery winds with lots of snow and ice. I could think of no more opportune time to test the standard Quattro All Wheel Drive system. The Quattro system is linked with an Electronic Stability Control system that provides a high level of road handling that was thought impossible in years gone by. The system can brake an individual wheel when slippage is detected and can retard engine power if needed. The whole system integrated together provides the driver with a level of confidence that cannot be accurately described, even when driving a $100,000 car in the middle of a raging snowstorm!

Audi has blended much of their technical innovation into what may well be a serious contender for the perch occupied for years by another German luxury car manufacturer. Judging from the attention this car garnered over the week that I had it, Audi is clearly doing something right. There is significant discussion on the street about this vehicle that it appears to have infiltrated the psyche of North American buyers in a short space of time. The previous incarnation of the A8 was hardly a sales success; however I think with this model, Audi has laid down the gauntlet at the feet of BMW 7 series and Mercedes S Class.