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New Car Review

1998 Audi A8 Quattro

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            4.2-liter aluminum V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 300mhp @ 5,500 rpm/295 lb-ft @ 3,300 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 17.2 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         113.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    198.2 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    56.7 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     74.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,902 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     23.7 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  18.0 cu. ft.
TIRES:             225/60R15
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, fuel management computer, 
                   digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette and in-dash CD, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual front air bags, 
                   four seat-mounted side air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $68,700

The legions of players in the luxury car field just got a new entrant. It's the Audi A8, with four-wheel drive and enough wood and leather to make the most devoted S&M fan happy (or unhappy, it's hard to tell with those folks).

Audi has built luxury cars in the past. The one that springs immediately to mind is the 5000, which had aerodynamic lines and great performance. I still feel the Audi 5000 was the inspiration for the design of the original Taurus, especially in wagon form. But the 5000 was saddled with the ridiculous "unintended acceleration" charge that was never proven, but almost destroyed the company.

Now Audi has come back, and the four interlocked circles of the Audi grille ornament grace a fantastic machine that is capable of doing everything the 5000 did but with greater style, grace and luxury.

Powering the A8 (there are also A4 and A6 models with engines of those approximate engine cylinders) is an all-aluminum 32-valve 4.2-liter engine that is rated at 300 horsepower. That puts it in the same league as the Cadillac Seville and way in front of the Lexus. An "entry level" A8 is also available with a 3.7-liter engine but testers around the country agree that for the approximately $7,500 difference in price, the 4.2 is the way to go. And in that atmosphere, $7,500 is pocket change.

The engine is hooked up with all four wheels through Audi's quattro system that gives the car better balance than the front-wheel drive base model. Also, the five-speed automatic downshifts more responsively with the 4.2.

We discovered on our morning commute that we were able to maneuver pretty well around slower traffic and still had the acceleration necessary to get on the highway with no fears and reach speeds that are ticketable offenses in every state of the union. I was particularly impressed with how quickly the Audi A8 accelerated to the speed of the traffic on the highway when I entered.

Inside, the interior is trimmed in leather and wood, with power seats and all the accessories necessary to make driving the car as comfortable as possible. Front and rear legroom are excellent, as passengers in either compartment won't feel cramped. The A8 is listed as a five-passenger sedan and the rear easily accommodates three passengers.

Front passengers sit in leather seats with very good side support, capable of holding them in no matter how aggressive the driver gets. Front seats have 14-way power controls (are that many really necessary?). Even the back seats have an optional power lumbar support.

Among the wood trim on the A8 are tastefully placed bits of aluminum; on the bottom of the cupholders and on the gear selector, for example. These tend to give the A8 a unique look that doesn't detract from the luxuriousness.

Out back is a huge trunk with an expandable ski bag that gives owners the option of carrying skis or long objects inside the car.

It's tough not to like a $68,000 car. The Audi A8 was luxurious and offered great performance, everything a young boy would want in a car.