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Audi A8 4.2 Quattro Review

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2005 Audi A8

A Genteel Luxury Cruiser
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Audi

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” goes the old adage. The A8 made a great first impression. We only get these test cars for about a week and must develop impressions rather hastily sometimes. This Audi was still impressing me when I had to give it back.

Stepping into this Audi for the first time was a pleasure. The driver’s compartment is inviting with generous leather seats, classy-looking trim and no apparent excess of knobs, gages and controls. It seems simple and uncomplicated until I turn the key, watch the control screen swing out from the center of the dash and begin to look around. The usual annoying disclaimer comes up on the screen warning against distracted driving. Dominating the center console is a control knob surrounded by buttons with a lesser knob nearby. Five minutes of fiddling, fussing and exploring revealed the basic operations of the 12-speaker Bose sound system with 6-CD changer, access to the climate control and other functions. Not bad for a German system. Learning the navigation system was another matter. More on that later.

The first evening I drove the car after dark I was pleased to see that upon opening the driver’s door the interior lights came up gently, not all at once. I then began to notice other small design nuances that give it that air of gentility.

This A8 4.2 Quattro is the bottom of the line, if you can conceptualize a $75,000 ($68,800 base) car being that. The next step up is the A8 L (long wheel base) at $72,810, then the top-of-the-line A8 L W12 with the exotic 12-cylinder engine in a W configuration for $118,910. Stay tuned and we’ll explain that one when we get the W12 for a test car. It better be something special for a $46,000 premium.

Make no mistake; this is a full-size luxury car. Lighter than its competitors at 4,288 pounds Audi pioneered the use of aluminum for structural components because of both light weight and recyclability. Virtually the entire substructure of the A8 is aluminum alloy and this is the third generation of that platform. Audi claims a 60% increase in rigidity over the original. Each generation has brought upgrades in alloys, construction processes and bonding techniques.

The A8 has plenty of power with the all aluminum 4.2-litre, 335 horsepower V8 engine, DOHC, with 5 valves per cylinder, 317 lb-ft of torque, variable valve timing and all the electronic controls it takes to make it all work. With an eleven to one compression ratio we would expect a “premium only” fuel requirement but the book just recommends premium, indicating performance would be better if one stays away from the lower octane options. I observed between 17 and 25 mpg with 91 octane depending on conditions and speed. Performance was criticized by one of our Australian colleagues but I thought the grunt was more than adequate. In fact, at full throttle it was downright invigorating.

Transmission is a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic. In manual shift mode the shifts are leisurely. Bump it to up shift and, like a teenager bouncing the ball in the house, there is a defiant hesitation before it obeys. Most luxury car drivers let the car shift for them though, I suppose. The Audi is smart enough to adjust itself to each driver’s style. I found that when I was just moping around town it tended to shift through first second and third too quickly. But I suppose since I was driving like and old lady it treated me like one.

Suspension is as sophisticated as the rest of the car. Fully independent front and rear it seemed to me to have just the right balance between stiffness and suppleness. Of course, that too is adjustable. The adaptive air suspension has four settings and changes spring rates, ride height and damper settings

Perhaps the most significant innovation in the A8 is the oldest – Quattro. Brought to market in March of 1980 the all-wheel-drive Quattro system, designed by Ferdinand Piech (grandson and namesake of Ferdinand Porsche), dominated rally racing in Europe and came to dominate SCCA’s Pro Rally and Trans Am competitions is the US. This fourth generation all-wheel-drive system features three differentials (front, center and rear) that, with electronic sensing and voodoo, distribute power to the wheel with most traction. I’m disappointed to report that I did not have the opportunity during my week with the A8 to adequately test the system.

The trunk is deep but not wide with 14.6 cubic feet of volume. On one side is the navigation system’s CD reader tucked behind the fender panel and on the other some other hidden treasures. My golf bag would not fit across the back but had to be inserted lengthways. I didn’t measure its depth but the golf bag nearly disappeared. The trunk capacity is the same for the “L” versions as well, which means all the L’s extra length is dedicated to passengers.

Now, as promised, a word about that navigation system: Does it really need to be so complex? I really don’t want or need all that technology so I suppose I’m a bit short of patience when trying to figure it out. I thought I had managed about two-thirds of the functions without having to read the instructions. And I suppose a youngster conversant with today’s electronic gadgets may intuit his way through the whole system, so maybe two-thirds isn’t bad for an old guy. But one function – keeping the map oriented with north at the top - was still defeating me after a week. Even a trip to the manual didn’t enlighten me on that one. I expect the Audi folks could put me straight but they shouldn’t have to.

The A8 also comes standard with adaptive cruise control, which I still find a bit disconcerting at times. Although adjustable for response distance it takes a bit of getting used to. An indicator between the tach and speedo alerts the driver to the system being engaged. The system was fooled once by a car exiting in the deceleration lane making the Audi brake rather hard in right lane traffic without my input.

This Audi and I spent about 800 miles together including a good four-hour-each-way road trip, so we became well acclimated. I carried some large passengers (my golf pals) who took turns in the back seat. They agreed that the A8 is an exceptional automobile. These are pretty big fellows and they were comfortable back there as long as we front seaters didn’t have ours all the way back.

If you’re one of those lucky folks in the market for a premium full-size sedan like the 7-Series BMW, Mercedes S-Class or the big Lexus you might want to take a close look at the A8. It’s a class act. And, it’s recyclable.