SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide
Audi has come back from near oblivion of the 1980's. From the "unintended acceleration" accidents that were actually caused by driver pedal error where drivers had their right foot on the accelerator pedal when they mistakenly thought it was on the brake, Audi has regained it's reputation of one of the world's premier auto marques.
They did it with advanced styling and impressive engineering. They did it with turbo performance and "Quattro" all wheel drive systems which now account for nearly 80 percent of their sales. They did it with new product such at the TT with Bauhaus styling that now runs through the beautiful A6 and 5 valve per cylinder engine designs.
In pursuing the goal of being an upscale luxury performance car, Audi introduced the A8 in 1996, a 4.2L Quattro luxury/performance sedan. It was powered by a 300 hp silky smooth V-8 driving all four wheels while incasing its passengers in a space age aluminum alloy frame and body. The extensive use of aluminum keeps the avoir du pois at a minimum. The new A8L tips the scales at 4,156 pounds, quite light considering the competing class of cars.
Audi has put safety at the fore front of this design. The frame is super strong, but with aluminum's ability to absorb energy better than steel, it offers superior safety characteristics. It offers increased torsional and bending rigidity. Shutting a door will bring visions of Fort Knox (especially after all the gold you parted with for the purchase). It is one solid automobile.
Audi also offers a plethora of air bags, eight in all, including a side curtain system to protect driver and passenger's heads. All seat belts are three point.
For 2000, Audi has stretched the frame and wheelbase by 5.1 inches with wheelbase now measuring 118.5 inches with an overall length up by a like amount at 203.3 inches. The body has received some minor freshening with reshaped bumpers, new headlamp assemblies, a sharper, larger grille and a new rear deck lid. The changes are subtle, so recognizing the differences will take some doing.
It's a good thing Audi didn't do anything else, because they could have ruined one of the best looking, more tasteful designs on the highway. When the A8 first appeared at the auto shows nearly five years ago, I thought it was the most beautiful luxury car on the market, with simple, elegant lines. Every curve or line had a purpose and blended so well. There are only an upper and lower ridge line. The lower line is broken by well defined and deeply flared wheel wells. In the L model the sleekness is accentuated by the lengthening of the cabin and upper window line. This car still remains on the top of my very short list when it comes to looks.
Since the A8 L is about extra room, the accommodations in the rear cabin area don't get any bigger. Valde Divac could use it as a hotel room. The leg room is gigantic. The seats are heated "soft-optic", butter soft "Valcona" leather. There is a power rear sunshade and manual door window sunshades. Speaking of rear door windows, they retract fully into the door. It's a rarity in today's automobiles where you can actually power the window fully into the door and hang your arm out or any other appendage that you desire. For safety reasons, I recommend keeping them all inside.
The rear of the center console has air vents, heater controls and a power outlet, in case you need to power up you lap top as your chauffeur drives you to your destination. Not. This is a car made for the driver.
The front seats are sumptuous, the door paneling luxurious. What's not to like. Since Audi has been design some of the best dashes in the world, the A8 is no exception. In the driver's binnacle are a large 8,000 rpm tach and a 170 mph speedo left and right flanked by a temp and fuel gauge with red on white lighting. The wide vertical stack has a multitude of clearly marked buttons controlling the front and rear fog lights, seat heaters and more. The radio and AC are digital electronic. Gorgeous wood is a plenty but not in excess.
The console shifter controls the five speed automatic with a Tiptronic manual shift gate. In normal driving it shifts smooth enough, but sometimes when abruptly called upon, there is a lag time or hesitation to shift with a corresponding delay from the engine. It may have been something peculiar to my particular sample which was probably thrashed by others before me.
The separate armrests have some storage, but not enough. Audi, we here is America carry more baggage and need more center console storage.
Storage in the trunk shouldn't be a problem. With 18.0 cubic feet of capacity and a an optional ski sack ($200), it can swallow about anything you'll need for traveling.
The A8 is another car with great door panelling. Not quite as good as the DTS, but better than about anything else I have seen. The inserts are soft suede with no hard plastic anywhere.
Under the hood is an aluminum alloy DOHC 4.2L, 40 valve V-8. It's the only V-8 besides Ferrari that uses five valve cylinder heads. It has three intakes and two exhausts. Power is up for 2000 to 310 hp at 6,200 rpm (1999 A8's produced 300 hp at 6,000 rpm). Torque is also up by 7 to 302 pounds at 3,000 to 4,000 rpm. The engine is wonderfully smooth and melodious.
One can expect copious power, and the Audi delivers. 0-60 takes only 6.93 seconds with several runs in the 6.7's. Passing performance from 50-70 mph is at super car levels with times averaging 3.60 seconds. A steep up hill run will only slow that time to 4.83 seconds. Yes this car is fast, and the factory claims a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds, but with 302 hp the S500 MBZ hustles to 60 is 6.1 seconds and the BMW 740 with an alleged 282 hp (I think its more) does it in 6.1 seconds as well. Nitpicking is allowed when your paying in the high 60's for your automobile.
But those other two marques lack something only the Audi gives in super high performance luxury sedans, all wheel drive. It helps in handling as well as inclement conditions. When a car is thrown into a corner, there is a weight transfer to the outside of the corner and a weight reduction to the wheels on the inside. Along with all the electronic stability programs that these new sedans come with, all wheel drive transfers power to the wheels with the most traction preventing those wheels with lightened loads from spinning when power is applied when exiting a turn, nevermind not having a chain requirement when in light snow.
Fuel consumption is EPA rated at 17/24 mpg city/highway. I averaged about 19 mpg in very hard driving. Expect about 20-21 mpg overall in El Dorado County style driving and 24-25 mpg on the highway at legal speeds. Remarkable for a very high performance all wheel drive. With a fuel capacity of 24.2 gallons, range will extend out nearly 600 miles, easy to do comfortably in this puppy, just bring along a motorman's friend.
In the twisties, all wheel drive will enhance the handling. In my previous experience with A8's, the handling was razor sharp, near cutting edge sports car like. But the A8L feels softer. The handling is still excellent, but more body roll can be felt. It has tenacious grip and goes around corners accurately, but its less relaxed than other Audi's.
Ponderosa road posed no problems for the sophisticated state of the art mulltilink front and rear suspension, little road disturbance is allowed in the cabin. The washboard becomes smooth pavement. In the two 90 degree corners, the Audi held its line perfectly at speeds I rather not report.
Green Valley Road, Highway 49, Bass Lake and Latrobe Road were looked to with anticipation. Even though it may be a luxury car, it's most fun in the twisties, using the Tiptronic five speed tranny to its fullest advantage. My test vehicle had the optional 8X18 inch wheels with 245/45 high performance tires. It's still not quite as sharp as the S4, A6 2.7T or even the short wheelbase A8, but that's like comparing an F14, F15 and F16 to an F4.
The highway ride is perfect. Nothing outside is let into to the cabin. Only when you dip into the delicious throttle is anything heard, and then the sounds are beautiful. The sound system is the best I have heard in any car. It is a Bose set up that sounds as crisp, clean and clear as a movie theater or concert hall. It's that good.
The problem is sticker shock. Base for the A8 L is $67,900 plus $525 for destination. My test car has five options, including a magnificent pearl white paint job for $1,200. The 18 inch wheels and tires will set you back $1,500, the Xenon high intensity headlights are $500 and is the only option along with the $200 ski sack that I would recommend. The acoustic parking system is $700.
The parking system will beep as you approach an object either from the front or rear. The closer you get the quicker the beeps until at one foot it becomes a solid tone. It works but it can be annoying so there is a switch to turn it off. Just remember when its off or you might start bumping into things thinking that its working and there is no tone, the on indicator light is difficult to see.
The total ticket for the A8 L as equipped was $72.525. A standard A8 stickers for $62,000 and probably a better buy unless your rear seat passengers routinely have inseams of 40 inches or more. The rear seat legroom of the "short" wheelbase A8 is quite generous and could easily handle six foot sixers. Also the "shortie" is a schosh quicker and a little sharper in the twisties. Highway ride is the same, phenomenal.
I have a buddy who owns a 97 A8 with 75,000 miles on it and it drives and looks as good as my test car, if not a little better in the performance and handling department. It is still as tight Scrooge McDuck. It "only" has the 300 horse engine. He doesn't miss the 10 extra horses.
But another consideration is the A6 4.2 which uses the same engine with 10 less hp. I guarantee you won't miss the ten, either and it bases for under $50,000. You will like the extra $20K in your pocket. It may be the best luxury car buy in its class.
Niello Audi has a selection of Audis to check out. It is the ultimate in luxury 4X4's. There must be a bevy of these in downtown Aspen.
Specifications Price (A8 L) $67,900 to about $73,000 Engine 4.2L, DOHC, 40 valve V-8 310 hp @ 6,200 rpm 302 lbs-ft of torque 3000-4000 rpm Transmission Five electronically controlled automatic with Tiptronic Configuration Longitudinal front engine, all wheel drive Dimensions Wheelbase 118.5 inches Length 203.3 inches Width 79.0 inches Height 56.6 inches Weight 4,156 pounds Turning Circle 40.2 feet Track (f/r) 62.8/62.4 inches Ground Clearance 5.7 inches Tires 245/45X18 high performance Wheels 8X18 inches Weight Distribution (f/r) 58/42 % Performance 0-60 6.93 seconds 50-70 3.60 seconds 50-70 uphill 4.83 seconds Top Speed Electronically limited to 130 mph Fuel Economy EPA rated 17/24 mpg city/highway Expect about 20-21 mph in El Dorado County, 24-25 mpg on the highway at legal speeds.