THE A8, all of 17 years old, is an Audi flagship model that has been setting the pace.
It was the world’s first car to be equipped with six airbags and the first of its kind to use an all-aluminium body to keep weight down.
And as flagships go, the A8’s single frame grille has now become the signature style for the entire Audi line-up.
Malaysia gets the long wheelbase version and from the looks of it is kitted out rather nicely.
We have been waiting to try it out since its launch in March.
Soon enough, the chance came to get acquainted with this embodiment of “progressive” technology.
The frontal and rear view of Audi’s flagship model doesn’t show off its size until you take a few steps back and look at its side profile, and you go - Whoaaa! - this is one long luxo barge.
Measuring a little over 5.2m in length, it’s 13cm longer than the standard A8, and it’s all the better to make the boss sitting at the back feel more comfortable as he is being driven around town on business or pleasure hops.
The back doors have also been made longer for more convenient entry.
Audi has designed the A8 to have a sleek and understated look, with a slim side profile.
If the outside of the A8 looks good, the interior packaging is just as appealing.
There are a few things to absorb from the A8’s immaculate cabin which continues to hew to Audi’s clean design cum quality.
The multi-info display screen glides silently out from the dash.
There’s also a scratchpad that allows phone dialing and navigation instructions to be delivered by writing on the pad with a finger.
|No navigation system as standard. The screen shows the view from the reversing camera here.
The integration software recognises the character or numeral and then offers a voice confirmation before accepting the next character.
Apart from that, the car has adaptive air suspension, a three-choice ambient lighting for the interior, parking system with rear camera, adaptive Xenon headlights and 19-inch alloys.
The RM658,800 (OTR without insurance) flagship model also has double glazing and electric window blinds for greater privacy.
Audi’s MMI multi-function menu does a good job of allowing easy access to most controls - such as stereo, air suspension and other settings - via a centrally located knob-and-button set-up.
The sound quality was pretty good as is.
But for those who want more than what the Bose surround sound system. with its 14 speakers can offer, Audi is offering an optional upgrade to Bang & Olufsen.
The Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System is said to have “sparkling brilliance, detailed resolution and broad, finely differentiated frequency range.”
Audi says the Danish sound wizards used a proprietary algorithm to generate reflections like those that occur in a concert hall.
The Advanced Sound System puts the music on a virtual stage, with the passengers of the A8 sitting in the front row.
The newly designed ambient lighting adds new meaning to luxury. Produced by light emitting diodes and controlled by complex electronics, the ambient lighting turns on when the A8 is unlocked remotely.
Beginning at the driver’s seat, it spreads through the cabin like a wave.
As soon as a door is opened, it focuses on that area.
The ambient lighting comprises LEDs that illuminate the tunnel, the door pockets, and the doorsill strips; the centre console appears to float in the effective lighting.
Light guides are installed in the doors; light strips are installed in the headlining.
Many of these LEDs are two-coloured or three-coloured – the driver can use the MMI to choose between the colour schemes of white, ivory, polar, or ruby/polar, and adjust the brightness in four zones separately or as a whole.
All of the A8 models get Audi’s latest quattro all-wheel-drive technology to ensure the surest of footings on the road surface and optimum distribution of power.
The gearbox is an 8-speed tiptronic with Drive or Sport shift programmes that can be operated manually through the wheel-mounted paddles.
The Audi Drive Select system is a technological marvel, adjusting damper settings and other parameters to deliver the optimum ride/handling compromise depending on whether Comfort, Auto or Dynamic mode is chosen.
It works in conjunction with the A8’s air-suspension system to provide comfort of limousine proportions.
In addition, the climate control system has two rear zones to accommodate the preferences of both rear seat occupants.
It also offers the usual limousine features like electric motors that shut partially closed doors and tailgate.
Piloting the car
The supercharged 3.0-litre TFSI engine produces 290hp (4,850-6,500rpm) and 420Nm (2,500-4,850rpm) of torque,
which is quite enough to propel this car forward without its owner thinking it’s a sluggard despite the car’s weight of nearly 1.9 tonnes.
Audi offers more powerful engine choices in this segment of course.
Euromobil may also consider bringing in the V8 A8 later if there’s strong demand for it.
Audi introduced the W12 A8 to South Korea last month but there are no plans for this supercar-league engine spec locally.
Neither will Euromobil even think of importing the diesel option until Malaysia’s diesel quality improves.
You, the driver, are always reminded of the A8 L size with the wide expanse of sheet metal in front but then it surprises with its drive and handling.
It’s not overtly sporty but it leans in that direction once you start pitching it everywhere on the open road and dastardly bends to see how far it will stretch.
The V6 engine produces a nice build-up of power as you progressively floor the accelerator.
There is all the refinement at speed and isolation from just about any noise intrusion that you expect from a true luxury vehicle.
It feels quiet even at 150kph, while wind noise starts to intrude a little past that. In this respect, the interior is more serene than the 7 Series but it still loses out to its S-Class rival.
The enjoyment of the drive is helped in no small part by the aluminium construction and power split through the quattro system that leans towards the feel of a rear-wheel drive giving the confidence to tip the car into even the tightest of corners with the capability of balancing it on the throttle.
Despite the air suspension, the car still manages to achieve a balance of ride quality and connection with the road.
There are four drive modes to play with that determine whether the drive is highly comfortable or sporty and taut.
With the MMI the driver can change the characteristics of these modules between the comfort, auto, and dynamic modes at any time via the “Vehicle settings” menu.
You can also compose your own “individual” mode – within certain reasonable limits – corresponding to your own personal ideal by choosing settings from the portfolio..
Whatever the driving mode, the eight-speed tiptronic gearbox is silky-smooth and fast. A kickdown is possible by shifting directly from eighth gear into fourth.
The ride and handling - somewhere between the 7 and S-Class - are quick to impress. At low speeds, steering is very light, but once up to speed the steering firms up as it should be.
The ride comfort is cushion-like and going over bumps is uneventful.
There is a significant sharper steering and throttle response and well-controlled body roll through bends while remaining its agility.
The grip is strong and the car remains planted and secure through all manner of turns.
Having said all that, nothing’s perfect.
This model doesn’t get satellite navigation. When queried, Euromobil said it does not offer a navigation system as standard in any of its model because of “low map accuracy.”
We feel the Start/stop button should be mounted on the dashboard instead of next to the gearshifter, as it’s more ergonomic.
Even after three days of use, we were still subconsciously seeking out the ignition button on the dash.
Moreover, the coupe-like roofline means headroom for tall people sitting in the rear will be limiting.
On the plus side, knee and legroom are plenty.
A big car has a definite disadvantage when it comes to climbing confined spaces such as multi-storey car parks.
We were leery of parking the car in one such place in PJ New Town, knowing full well that it would be a tortuous maneouvre with nicks and dents as possible outcomes – or worst.
But as we have indicated, these are issues that do not distract from the general excellence of the A8 L.
One wit described this Audi as being for the bosses who like to drive.
It’s an apt description of a car that has managed to achieve a rare feat – hitting the mark in balancing style, luxury and driveability.