Review: How the New Audi A8 Treats its Flagship Sedan Customers Right


Pros:

  • Quiet, plush ride
  • Sumptuous executive rear seats
  • Crisp infotainment

Cons:

  • Engine needs more power
  • Light, numb steering
  • Screens show fingerprints

The Audi A8L is a grande dame of a flagship sedan in a shrinking segment, but it knows how to treat its declining cohort of customers right.

Audi is known for its sharp, tech-forward interiors, and this elegant cabin doesn’t disappoint. The A8L has a mix of rich and soft materials, open-pore wood, glossy trim, black perforated-leather seats, and Alcantara in the doors and headliner, all beautifully finished. Wood panels slide up dramatically to reveal hidden air vents, and the steering wheel squares off at the bottom with a place to rest your thumbs on a long drive.

On the telematics side, surround-view camera images and graphics are crisp, and Google Earth pictures in the Virtual Cockpit screens are stunning. The infotainment system doesn’t bury controls deep into menus, it has wireless charging, and occupied USB ports and power outlets alert you if you’ve forgotten a device when you exit the vehicle. Thoughtful. Audi sweats the details.

The best seats in the house may be the executive lounge in the back. The seats recline almost flat with a single touch and the bottom cushion slides forward. The rear seats also offer myriad controls, body and foot massage, fancy screens, and a DVD changer. “Everything you touch and interact with oozes quality,” associate online editor Stefan Ogbac said.

The interior has a sense of timelessness and a “lot of subtle intellect,” former Jaguar design boss and guest judge Ian Callum said. To his designer eye, the A8L is perhaps the most attractive sedan in the segment (and yes, that counts his own outgoing Jaguar XJ).

However, there was a bit of disagreement in this aspect. Another guest judge, Chris Theodore, lamented that although the A8 may be perfectly executed, its heart is bland. Editor-in-chief Ed Loh was even harsher, saying it has “all the power, the authority, the sex appeal of Angela Merkel.”

The 335-hp, 369-lb-ft 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 is adequate, with the mild hybrid system ironing out the powerband. It comes well paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The A8L effortlessly accelerated to 120 mph with barely a peep from the engine. Once at speed, it felt like it was cruising on a boulevard. But this is a car that weighs almost 5,000 pounds. Why such a merely acceptable engine? Senior features editor Jonny Lieberman theorized the clout of the economy-over-performance Chinese market might hold sway over product planning decisions.

As for the A8L’s interior, the outside world barely registers in this cocoon. “It might be the quietest car in the world,” Theodore said. The suspension skims over any imperfections. But it also means light, somewhat numb steering, “a floating ride akin to a bygone era,” Theodore added. In city driving, it doesn’t come to a limousine stop and then accelerate smoothly away.

Executive editor Mark Rechtin initially described the A8L experience as “luxury without soul,” performing well but devoid of thrill. After more time in it, he admired its precise and calculating nature, labeling it “stealth luxury.”

Technical director Frank Markus appreciated the engineering behind the 48-volt active suspension but couldn’t detect it in action. Lane keep assist is easy to find and use, but, as Loh noted, it weaves like a drunk.

Perhaps Audi stretched the platform a bit too far for this car to be appropriately powerful and dynamic. But it fills the role of a comfortable and beautifully appointed cruiser or a chauffeured ride.

“This car is to be enjoyed and experienced, not hustled,” road test editor Chris Walton said.

Perhaps Theodore summed it up best: “I drove around as if I were a chauffeur trying to get away from the bad guys without spilling my boss’ glass of wine.”

2019 Audi A8L Quattro
Base Price/As tested $84,795/$123,045
Power (SAE net) 335 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 369 lb-ft @ 1,370 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 5.4 sec
Quarter-mile 14.0 sec @ 99.8 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 108 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.89 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 25.9 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 19/27/22 mpg




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