SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide
In Audiís method of naming its cars, "A" stands for "Audi". In the case of the top-of-the-line A8, it may as well mean "aluminum". Extensive use of this lightweight metal is a technical edge that makes the A8 significantly lighter than its competitors and improves road manners, fuel economy, and even ecological impact.
The A8 competes with the worldís premium luxury automobiles. Most such cars are large, powerful, and heavy. The A8 is different. It is as large and as luxurious as most of its competitors, but uses smaller, more efficient powerplants because of its lighter weight. Two models are offered, named for the size of their V8 engines. The A8 3.7 is a front-wheel drive design - an Audi specialty since the 1930s. The A8 4.2 Quattro uses Audiís Quattro all-wheel drive system.
All A8s are built with a unique space frame made of die cast, extruded, and sheet aluminum alloys. Developed in conjunction with American aluminum producer Alcoa, it is an innovative design, employing seven new aircraft-grade alloys and some new fastening methods to join the parts. The Audi Space Frame (ASF) is 40 percent lighter and 40 percent more rigid than comparable steel chassis structures. The aluminum alloy outer skin is more dent-resistant than steel. And, yes, at the end of its life, the aluminum in the A8 is recyclable.
I sampled the A8 3.7 for a week recently, and found it to be a premium luxury car that liked to be driven. It was smooth, comfortable, and quiet, and as agile and quick as a mid-sized sports sedan.
APPEARANCE: The A8 is deceptive in appearance in that it looks smaller than it actually is. All of the familiar Audi styling elements are present: the trapezoidal grille, inset with the companyís 4-ring logo and bordered by chrome trim, the raised area around the grille, extending into a bulge in the hood, and a graceful balance between gently rounded masses and corners and crisp crease lines on the flanks. The sleek shape is very similar to that of the smaller A6, but longer, leaner, and a bit more elegant. The A8 is an understated luxury car that whispers its presence. Massive 5-spoke wheels proclaim the performance potential, and attention to detail results in low aerodynamic drag for quiet, secure high-speed operation.
COMFORT: The interior of the A8 is Teutonically trimmed with the usual Nappa leather seats and door trim, and walnut burl inlays on the doors and instrument panel. And then there is the subtle hint of aluminum. The inside door handles, parking brake, console area around the shift lever, and cupholder bottoms are matte-polished aluminum alloy. The 14-way power-adjustable memory front seats help keep the driver and front passenger relaxed and alert. Rear-seat passengers have plenty of support and space. Typically of Audi, the steering column has a convenient profusion of control stalks. Important instruments are shaded from glare and easily legible; auxiliary controls are placed in the center of the instrument panel and on the console. All are well-marked and easy to use. My test car had both the warm-weather and cold-weather option packages. While expensive, these add such luxuries as heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, power rear window shades, and a sun/moon roof among other conveniences.
SAFETY: The Audi Space Frame is designed for controlled deformation in a crash, so it serves as a safety cell around the occupants. Side airbags are mounted in all four doors, and supplement the dual frontal airbags. All outboard 3-point safety belts are height-adjustable. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard equipment.
ROADABILITY: The A8 is designed for safe, stable high-speed running on the German Autobahn, so it is somewhat underemployed in this country. The strong, rigid chassis provides a good platform for the supple suspension. Although it is softer and has more body motion than a sports sedan, the A8 3.7 settles right in and sticks tenaciously in the corners. It is a driverís luxury car, no chauffeur necessary. Good aerodynamics mean low levels of tiring wind noise and stability in crosswinds. The stiffness of the chassis and judicious use of soundproofing make for a quiet interior. This is a great car for a long-distance journey.
PERFORMANCE: The dual overhead cam, 32-valve, aluminum alloy V8 used in the A8 3.7 is not the most powerful in its class, but it has less mass to move than any competitors. This results in economical performance - the A8 is no slouch and relatively fuel-efficient. "Excellence without excess", as Audi literature puts it. Audiís 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission is a gem, and matches the engineís power characteristics perfectly. Its "Dynamic Shift Program" software selects shifting strategy from over 200 possible maps, and shifts smoothly, quickly, and appropriately.
CONCLUSIONS: The Audi A8 is a unique, innovative combination of luxury, performance, and technology.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 56,900 Price As Tested $ 62,470 Engine Type aluminum alloy V8, 32 valves, dual overhead cams Engine Size 3.7 liters / 226 cu. in. Horsepower 230 @ 5500 Torque (lb-ft) 235 @ 2700 Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 113 in. / 198.2 in. Curb Weight 3682 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16 Fuel Capacity 23.7 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires 225/60 HR16 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent 4-link with coil springs & gas shocks / trapezoidal link with coil springs & gas shocks Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17/26/21 0 to 60 mph 8.3 sec ľ mile (E.T.) 16.5 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.29