The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2011 AUDI A8L 4.2 FSI Quattro Review by Steve Purdy +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Audi A8L

Lithe Luxury

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

You may recall we reviewed the new Audi A7 a few weeks ago calling it “a wonderful car.” The good folks at Audi have smitten us again with an amazingly good, though mighty expensive, high-tech, luxury car, the A8L. The “L” is for long-wheel-base and A8 designates the top-of-the-line, full-size sedan.

   SEE ALSO: Steve's Audi A7 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Audi A8L

As it happened, our week with the Audi A8L corresponded with the Krasl Art Center’s Concours on the Bluff in St. Joseph, MI, an invitational classic and collector car show on whose organizing committee I sit. My responsibility for the day was to shuttle car owners from the lot where they parked their trailers to the show grounds – just a matter of a few miles, but time enough to talk about the car. The A8L was immediately the topic of conversation, and if the comments I received from my shuttlees are any indication, this car is a winner.

The third-generation A8 comes in three iterations: the 4.2 quattro starting at $78,750, the L 4.2 quattro beginning at $84,700 and the L 6.3 quattro with the sweet W12 engine starting at $133,500. (These are 2012 prices, though our test car is the 2011.)

Watch the Audi A8 promo video

First brought to the US market in 1997 the Audi A8 pioneered the use of an aluminum, monocoque space frame as its substructure. Co-developed with Alcoa they were able to achieve a remarkably light-weight and structurally rigid chassis around which to wrap a beautiful luxury sedan body – which also uses plenty of aluminum pieces. The “L” is just 5 inches longer than the lesser A8 but those few inches go a long way to making the rear seating area feel cavernous.

The exterior design is striking. The extra length is obvious on first glance particularly the rear doors. The extra length is primarily dedicated to the pleasure and comfort of rear passengers – a limo, I suppose we could call it. LED driving lights, a Hella masterpiece, punctuate the front view flanking the deep, dramatic grill along with xenon headlights to burn away the dark. Big, 19-inch alloy wheels with 10 slotted spokes fill the wheel wells and add a hint of drama to the smooth, conservative profile. The rear view, while conservative is understated and elegant without gimmickry.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Audi A8L

Inside is where we’re struck by the feeling that we’re piloting something special. Copious leather covering most surfaces shows beautiful stitching and simple but elegant design. The MMI Navigation Plus screen tucks away into the dash when we turn the car off and emerges gracefully when we turn it on. Control knobs, rollers, switches and buttons are everywhere in this uber-complex cockpit but even I, the guy for whom superfluous technology is a bane, had little trouble figuring out the management of what I needed, and a few features I didn’t know I needed. My only criticism is the electric shift that I found awkward to manage. Even after a week with the car I still found myself bumping it on slot beyond where I intended. I’m not sure it is an improvement over a conventional shifter.

Seating and trim in our test car are what Audi calls “Nougat Brown,” a rich, almost Hereford-colored brown. Interior space up front is generous but the rear, as we said earlier, is cavernous. A potentate would feel right at home being chauffeured in the A8L. I had many back seat passengers this week and every one grinned ear-to-ear when settling in back there. Facing the rear and mounted to the back of each front seat are individual screens so that everyone can have their own entertainment.

Watch the Audi A8L Luxurious Experience video

Powering this lithe, 4,400-pound (remarkably light for its size) Audi is a remarkably strong 4.2-liter, DOHC, direct injected V8 making 372 horsepower and 328 pound-feet of torque. The EPA rates mileage at 17-mpg in the city and 27 on the highway using the required premium fuel. (The 2012 ratings gain 1 mpg on both ends.) During my time with the car I was always well over 20 mpg approaching the 27 mpg figure on my long highway drives at only slightly extra-legal speeds. With a 23.8-gallon fuel tank we have a range of nearly 500 miles in mixed driving. While not the most powerful engine in its class, the sound and feel of that relatively small V8 is gratifyingly smooth and harmonious.

Audi’s simple and effective quattro all-wheel drive system behind a wonderfully smooth 8-speed automatic transmission gets the power to the road efficiently. Fully independent, multi-link, air adjustable, electronic, smart suspension adjusts to driving style and road conditions.

The driving experience is something quite special. First impressions behind the wheel are of a large, luxurious, sophisticated car and things only get better from there. The Audi A8L is equipped with all the forward-looking driving dynamics we can imagine, plus a few we hadn’t thought of. On my first drive to town I immediately noticed the lane departure warning system that puts a subtle vibration in the steering wheel whenever it senses lane markings. Then, the blind spot indicator tells us when a vehicle is on our flank, and flashes frantically if we trigger our turn signal with a car in the blind spot. Adaptive cruise control, adjustable to three distance settings, allows us to drive along in traffic without touching brake or accelerator in most circumstances.

It was not long ago I would have been mighty skeptical of any of those systems, but no more. After adjusting to having these driver’s helpers I’ve become quite fond of them all.

Safety systems include lots of airbags (front and rear side airbags along with two front knee airbags) and chassis dynamics (ABS, stability control, roll-over sensors) - all the wizardry we expect from German luxury cars today).

This 2011 Audi A8L starts at $84,000 with no extra charge for the Phantom Black paint or that beautiful brown premium leather interior. The Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System adds $6,300 to the sticker and the rear seat entertainment system another $3,000. We have the Driver Assist Package (adaptive cruise control, lane assist, side assist, Audi pre sense plus and special steering wheel with lots of functions and paddle shifters) adding $3,000 and the $2,300 night vision assist. Full LED headlight cost an extra $1,400 and solar sunroof another $790. Dual-pane acoustic and security glass adds $600. All this with the $875 destination charge adds up to an astounding $102,265. Comparing the A8L to long-wheel-base competitors like the Jaguar XJL, Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series, this one is right in the sweet spot.

Audi’s new car warranty covers the A8L, including drivetrain, for 4 years or 50,000 miles.

I’m asked often, as are most reviewers, about our favorite cars. I always come back with the admonition that it is much too broad a question with so many great cars in so many categories. In the big, luxury sedan category this Audi A8L shares the top of my list with the faster Jaguar XJL Supercharged, though I haven’t reviewed them all yet.

Watch the complete introduction of the Audi A8L at the Beijing Auto Show

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved