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First Look at Audi's 2011 A8 Luxury Sedan - VIDEO ENHANCED

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By Marty Bernstein
Senior Editor
The Auto Channel

SEE ALSO: Audi Buyers Guide

One of the cultural jewels of Detroit is the $60 million Max M. Fisher Hall, an elegant part of the Detroit Symphony’s home auditorium. This past Thursday night Audi premiered its new 2011 A8 luxury sedan to a select group of auto journalists in this musical venue as if it was previewing a new symphonic composition of major importance to the company … and it is.

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While not a musical composition, it was an automotive gala scored to establish a fine pastiche of design, engineering, technology, materials, craftsmanship, styling, luxury, elegance, athleticism and panache in the rarified, highly competitive world of luxury cars. In the former hometown of the US auto industry, Audi sent a powerful message to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, its fellow German manufacturers: we are serious about becoming the leading brand in the luxury car category.

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Audi is on a mission: To be the number one selling luxury car brand in the world. It's difficult to argue with their ambitious goal and what better place to start than aiming the new, fourth generation A8 at the top of the line flagships of BMW's 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz's S-Class sedans. The new A8, I predict, will cause seismic reverberations in the hallowed corporate halls of Munich and Stuttgart.

Here are a few of the evening highlights of an interesting conducted tour of the new A8 though eight different displays with special cut-a-way models, displays, videos and interactive modules that showcased Audi’s newest technological innovations, features, creature comforts, materials, audio along with tactile and visual and sensory attributes.

The Foundation
Audi first pioneered all-aluminum Space Frame chassis in the second generation of A8’s and has significantly improved the newest generation. A 25% increase in torsional rigidity and new welding techniques lead to improved fuel consumptions and better handling. The new chassis is weighs 40% than a comparable steel structure while providing special ‘crumple zones’ for added safety should the vehicle be involved in a serious collision.

Exterior Design
The A8 from every angle has an attitude, an attitude of contemporary sophisticated style and elegance that combines with an in-your-face aggressiveness that includes optional wheels up to 21” wheels. The rear is less distinctive, but the overall result is a strong visual statement of sporty luxury that can be summarized in one word: stunning. Two models will be sold, the so called normal A8 with a 117.8” wheelbase and the more popular in America long wheelbase version with a panorama roof which is 4” longer for a wheelbase of 121”. Standouts include:

• A8’s front grill of horizontal 8 horizontal chrome bars with a black background and the iconic ring logo design

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• Audi’s logo light strip, emulated buy never equaled, now includes the industry’s first optional full-LED front headlamps with high and low beam (think daytime brightness), DRL, cornering lights and turn signals all in LEDs.

• Outstanding fit and finish including difficult matching of up to four different body parts

Click PLAY to watch the 2011 Audi A8 promo video

Under the Hood
Specs for the US include Audi’s 4.2 liter V8 engine with direct fuel injection that produces 372 horsepower and 328 lbs of torque. 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds. A 12 cylinder engine will be available in Spring 2011. EPA fuel mileage numbers not available at this time, estimated to be 15% better.

On the Road
All wheel drive is standard with Quattro, Audi’s name for its rear-biased torque split 40/60 has an 8-speed automatic transmission. There is an optional sports differential. Results of my test drive of the normal wheelbase A8 will be forthcoming which will include what the company has called Drive Assistance Systems and Audi Pre-sense. Some of these features of each include:

Driver Assistance Systems
• Drive select allows driver to determine the preferred of four driving modes: Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. Each has specific settings for suspension, steering, accelerator, transmission, sport differential, adaptive light and seat belt tensioner.

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• Adaptive cruise control with stop and go function

• Night vision assistance with pedestrian detection

• Lane assist

• Side assist

• New generation ESP

• Brake disc cleaning and pre fills when accelerator is released abruptly

• Braking guard in combination with cruise control

• Automatic emergency braking in case of unavoidable collision

Pre-sense safety features
– computer systems categorize driving situations and when necessary implement safety actions for prevention of occupants and/or to reduce collision impact.

• Automatic, reversible belt tensioners hold passengers in seating positions

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• Seats automatically adjust to optimal seating position

• Sunroof and side windows close automatically to shield passengers

• Air suspension shocks adjusted to improve braking and performance

• Activation of two-stage braking

• Automatic activation of hazard warning signal lights

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Inside the A8
While other German luxury car interiors have a certain utilitarian functionality without much character, Audi’s interiors have style, elegance and panache and have made it the benchmark for automobile interiors. The new 2011 A8 raises the bar again for spaciousness, harmonious colors, beautiful materials and incredible fit and finish coupled with amazing technological innovations. A few of the clean design highlights are:

• Surfaces are covered in a variety of materials including leather, aluminum, wood and plastic. While the surfaces are different there is a harmonizing or colors to create a pleasant, calming atmosphere that says quality. Great examples of craftsmanship are everywhere.

• I particularly liked the use of piano black accents, and applaud the limited use of highly polished woods which remind me of the top of my grandmother’s breakfast table.

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• The primary instrument cluster of speedometer and odometer are done in, what artists call bas-relief, their surfaces are raised which makes viewing easy with great typography in white on black background. Between the meters is the driver information display for data, graphics and information that is not overloaded with detail but very useful and functional.

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• Leather seats in harmonizing colors are fully adjustable to 18 positions and are heated and air conditioned. Even the door panels pick-up the primary accent color for the look of haute couture runway coordination.

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• All buttons that are pushed, turned or pulled have a special tactile feel and are in easy reach by the driver.

• Interior lighting is very special. There’s a choice of three different ambient colors, white, ivory and red to add to the atmosphere of the interior.

To the luxurious interior ambiance add state-of-the-art technology and technological innovations known by the initials MMI for Multi Media Interface that reside on the center stack and console, which by the way seen to float.

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• The large navigation screen rises from the dash smoothly and quietly from a recess.

• The new shift-by-wire gearshift lever in the style of a yacht throttle lever works smoothly and effortlessly with also serving as an ergonomic hand rest for operating the MMI which allows the driver’s fingertips full control.

• An amazing ‘MMI touch panel’ recognizes handwriting for entering letters and numbers for navigations destinations and recognizes a mini-UN in the number of languages it recognizes.

• There’s a number pad for radio functions which can also be used to scroll lists in the MMI.

• A Bang and Olufsen audio system with special speakers was designed in cooperation with Audi rather than as just an add-on.

In the near term I will be driving the A8 for an extended period of time and will provide a first impressions report on the newest entry in the race to be number 1 in the luxury car category. Stay tuned.