SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide
Audi has a long history of technical innovation. It was an early maker of front-wheel drive cars, starting in the 1930s. It has used light alloys in construction even longer. Audi's flagship A8 utilizes and exemplifies this heritage. Its revolutionary aluminum alloy Audi Space Frame makes it lighter, more efficient, and more responsive than other large luxury cars. It uses front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive for all- weather traction in a class where rear-wheel drive is the norm. It promised, and delivered, "excellence without excess, elegance without arrogance, and class without mass."
Two models are offered in the A8 line, the front-wheel drive A8 3.7 and the all-wheel drive A8 4.2 Quattro. Both are powered by a V8 engine made largely of lightweight aluminum alloys. A 3.7-liter, 230-horsepower version is used in the A8 3.7, while a 300-horsepower 4.2-liter version is found in the 4.2 Quattro.
Although only in its second model year, the current A8 has some important additions for 1998. Tiptronic shifting is now standard equipment. Audi's five-speed automatic transmission is already one of the best in the industry. Tiptronic, developed by and licensed from Audi corporate cousin Porsche, adds to the automatic transmission's flexibility by allowing the driver to easily and quickly shift gears for increased performance, control, and driving enjoyment. And, make no mistake, the A8 is designed for enjoyable motoring.
My week with an A8 3.7 was certainly enjoyable, but not only for its performance and handling. The A8 3.7 is every inch a luxury car, with spaciousness, comfort and quiet expected.
APPEARANCE: Like a finely-tailored European suit, the Audi A8 is very understated, with no flashiness to call attention to itself and its occupants. Its lean, elegant shape is a graceful combination of gently- rounded angles and soft curves. It is more conservative than other current Audis, but recognizably an Audi. The four-ring Audi corporate emblem emblazoned on the trapezoidal grille, and the raised area around that grille continuing into a "power bulge" in the hood see to that. A long passenger cabin proclaims interior space; five-spoke alloy wheels hint at the performance abilities available.
COMFORT: In the A8's category, first-class accommodations are expected. No disappointment. Its interior is fashioned with the same understated elegance as its exterior. The expected soft Nappa leather upholstery and burled wood trim plays against aluminum highlights on the door sills and handles, parking brake, around the shift lever, and at the bottom of the cupholders. But the aluminum brightwork is low- key, not flashy. The front seats are power-adjustable, in 18 different ways, and superbly comfortable. The driver interacts with the car through a thick-rimmed, leather-covered steering wheel that is power- adjustable for both tilt and reach. The instrument panel is functionally- designed, with clearly visible instruments and well-marked controls that are back-lit with a red color for less eyestrain at night. A high- grade Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system and very good dual- zone climate control system add to comfort. There are plenty of climate control vents front and rear. The rear passengers have first- class room, and optional features including power lumbar adjustment and seat heaters can increase rear comfort levels even more. The A8's cavernous trunk is the largest in its class.
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 now lower-powered dual frontal airbags. All outboard 3-point safety belts are height-adjustable - the front ones are power-adjustable.
ROADABILITY: The Audi A8's rigid aluminum space frame construction allows for a supple, compliant suspension tuning. Ride comfort and handling are both very good, and the A8 is very quiet on the road thanks to its rigidity, excellent soundproofing, and clean aerodynamics. Torque steer can be a major problem in high- horsepower applications. Not in the A8. Audi has been making front- wheel drive automobiles for well over 60 years. Its Front Trak front- wheel drive system uses a carefully-designed four-link independent front suspension to eliminate torque steer and provide very responsive steering and handling, and the winter benefits of front-wheel drive. An electronically-controlled automatic locking differential and full-range traction control also enhance the A8 3.7's all-weather ability.
PERFORMANCE: The Audi A8 is a long-legged touring machine. The 3.7-liter, 230-horsepower aluminum alloy V8 in the front-wheel drive car is at its best at midrange engine speeds, and strong enough at all speeds for fast response. The smooth, efficient five-speed automatic transmission uses sophisticated electronics to adapt to the driver's needs and is prefect left in "Drive" most of the time. But, when conditions or driving enthusiasm require, simply move the shift lever over to Tiptronic mode for easy manual control.
CONCLUSIONS: The Audi A8 is a most unusual, technically- advanced luxury car.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 57,400 Price As Tested $ 62,600 Engine Type dual overhead cam, aluminum alloy V8 Engine Size 3.7 liters / 226 cu. in. Horsepower 230 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 235 @ 2700 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic with Tiptronic shifting, dynamic shift program, and hill detection capability Wheelbase / Length 113 in. / 198.2 in. Curb Weight 3682 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.0 Fuel Capacity 23.7 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (92 octane) for best performance Tires P225/60 R16 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent 4-link / independent trapezoidal link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 26 / 20 0 to 60 mph 8.3 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.2 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.29 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Pearlescent white clearcoat $ 600 Audio Package - includes: Bose premium sound system with subwoofer, 6-disc CD changer $ 1,400 Electronics Package - includes: auto-dimming outside rearview mirrors, power headrests and lumbar support for rear seat outside positions $ 700 Warm Weather Package - includes: Power rear and manual side rear shades, Solar sunroof, insulated glass $ 2,000