Hello Oppo. I have a problem. I'm addicted to higher end luxury cars. It used to be an affordable hobby. I started innocently enough with a 2002 Infiniti Q45 which I loved dearly but then that evolved into an Audi A8 and that evolved into an E60 M5 which evolved into a BMW 550 with a 6 speed manual (M5's reliability ruined me), a nearly 500 horsepower BMW 535 and yet another A8.
I'm constantly on the hunt for my next car and through a combination of frequent traveling, friends that are car dealers and dealers that want to sell me a car, I generally get a decent amount of seat time in a particular vehicle well before I pull the trigger on purchasing it.
And so I've become accustom to reviewing the cars I drive and sharing them with the regulars on a local car forum. This is one entry out of many reviews. If there's interest in this I'll post more. So without further delay, join me as I drive the Audi A8.
2012 Audi A8 Review
If you're looking for a short and concise review: the car is awesome.
I managed to get my grubby paws on a 2012 A8L for about 18 hours to see if I could manage to live with it. Yes, "live with it". I know, you're pulling out your tiny violins right now, ready to play me the saddest song but but I'm a guy that likes to be engaged and in many of the areas that are important to me (handling, overall power) the A8 comes up well short of my current car, a 470hp BMW 535. Lucky for me, my current car is so far above the threshold of fun that I'm pretty sure I could spare a hundred horsepower and a few g's on the skidpad in exchange for a back massage in traffic.
I've had a couple A8's: a 2004 limousine and currently another 2007 limo. They are amazing cars, though underpowered and with so much understeer that you quickly give up the notion that you'll be driving them in any kind of way that resembles performance. Now my 2007 is a sport model and improves upon the 2004 drastically however it's still no sports car. They are luxury cruisers and as a luxury cruisers they were way ahead of offerings from either Mercedes and BMW for the time at least with respect to where you spend the most time: the interior. But by 2010 Mercedes had caught up and BMW had surpassed the A8 with the new twin turbo V8 750li, finally correcting a problem that people seemed to be happy to ignore in exchange for driving a giant sedan with the BMW roundel on it: a garbage interior. Yes, by 2010 what was once new was now old and Audi was left with an underpowered, poor handling luxo-barge. Thank goodness for 2011.
Exterior- It's an understated elegance that doesn't scream "look at me!". There's no over-use of chrome and LED running lights like the S550 and it's not nearly as sporty looking as the 750. Some say it looks like a big A4. Some also say it didn't sell very well because it looked like a big A4. Some might be right. Me, I don't care. It looks good. It looks classy. Much like the car it replaced, it's almost timeless. You can tell this is a car that will age gracefully. Have you seen a 2004 A8 recently? You might not know it because they've aged so well that they don't stand out as an old car.
Interior- I used to have a 2004 Grand Prix. In comparison to the 1997 - 2003 Grand Prixs the 2004's interior is like a Bentley. The seats are thicker, the dash soft to the touch and they didn't have to stick fabric stickers between the plastic panels to keep them from squeaking (yes, this really was a think with GM). It felt like you were in a different class of car. So in 2008 I took my older brother out to go look at cars. We drove a few BMW's and an Audi S4. I remember getting back into my Grand Prix after leaving the dealer, completely satisfied with it's interior right up until that point, and thinking to myself "this is shit". I had a similar experience this morning when getting back into my BMW. How BMW ever managed to convince anyone that the interior of the E60 5 series or last gen 7 series was a luxurious place to be is beyond me. Apparently the world finally realized that a well built interior doesn't equal a well designed, luxurious interior and BMW was finally forced to reconcile with that.
Everything in the Audi is soft. The doors are lined in leather, the dash is covered in leather, the steering wheel, the seats, the center console and when it's not leather it's alcantera: a deliciously soft faux suede that lines the doors, the roof and other assorted panels. You sit in this interior and can't help but to notice every single small attention to detail. There's the map light that hits you with two separate lights from two separate indirect locations, the gear selector that doubles as a wristpad so that your hand conveniently finds it's way to the touchpad controls, the door sills that light up when you open them, not to mention the doors themselves which require no effort to close. Just let them fall into place and they pull themselves in the rest of the way. The last generation A8 was the benchmark of the class but by comparison it seems just... cheap. That's how good the new interior is.
Drivetrain- If you're not out to be a speed demon it's plenty sufficient and I would even say, a bit exhilarating. It's just not "fast" but it is quick and you're never lacking for power. 0-60 ticks by in 5.1 seconds and I believe the 1/4 mile passes in 13.4 seconds so it's no slouch. Even more impressive is the fact that this 372hp 4.2 L V8 only has 22 more horsepower than the last generation's 4.2 yet manages 0-60 and 1/4 mile times that are 1.4 seconds quicker. In fact, this base V8 is as fast as the outgoing A8's top of the line W12 and just as fast to 60mph as the same vintage twin turbo V8 BMW 750. Audi has also replaced this engine with a 3.0L Supercharged V6 that is a tick slower and a 4 liter twin turbo V8 that is a lot faster. Faster to the tune of 3.8 seconds to 60 and 12.4 seconds through the 1/4 mile. And if you need more the S8 will get you through the quarter in 11.8 seconds.
So what's it's like to drive? It's amazingly smooth and always has power when you need it. The 8 speed transmission's shifts are almost undetectable but surprisingly firm and quick in sport mode where the car will hold the gears for longer, re-map throttle response and even rev-match on downshifts. The engine also sounds amazing... it's decidedly quiet during normal driving but when you start winding it up it makes a beautiful noise that only a naturally aspirated engine can. I think my only complaint is that the manual paddle controls are of the dumb variety. The BMW will let me hold a gear and bounce it off the rev limiter for as long as I'd like. The A8 will auto-shift for you and always assumes that you only wanted manual mode for about 15 seconds at which point it takes back full control until you hit the paddle again. Despite that, the car is surprisingly quick. The twin turbo V8 found in the newer A8's would be nice but with a $30,000 premium over a used naturally aspirated 4.2, it's not worth it. You could buy a nice used Porsche for the difference in price.
Handling- My 2004 A8 was a pig. It was agile for a 4400lb car but that's kind of like saying that fat person runs fast for a fat person: yeah you're speed racer compared to other fatties but you're still slow. The previous generation A8 handled well for a barge but still handled relatively poorly compared to everything else. Plus Audi likes to stick the engine in front of the front axle which puts a lot of weight up front and leaves you with a car that has mass amounts of understeer. I really took pity on my tires when entering a turn quickly in that car. You could feel the front end fighting to hold it's track only to eventually lose the battle and end up plowing straight ahead. It was a predictable experience that your average Camry driver might even call "safe" but for the rest of us it kind of sucked. My 2007 sport package is significantly better but still not sporty per say.
I'm happy to say that by and large, the understeer is gone. I won't go so far as other people that say the car feels half it's weight because it just doesn't but it's incredibly agile and does things no 4400lb car should be able to do. I had it up on Mulholland Drive last night (see red line on map) and it was both predictable and poised. If you push it to it's limits it will still plow but it's limits are so high for the type of vehicle that it is that no reasonable person would ever get there... Well I guess I would but there's so much fun to be wrung out of it before you get there. Whereas my 535 handles uncannily well and will swing it's ass out on demand, the A8 is all work and no drama. It's not a sports car but you won't care.
Audi let's you taylor the experience too. Put it in comfort mode and the steering stays relaxed, the ride sublimely soft and the shifts early and undetectable but slide the dial over into dynamic mode and the air suspension lowers the car, firms up the ride, stiffens up the steering and holds each gear longer. If ever a limousine could be a visceral experience, this is it.
Sound & Tech- I'm coming from a Harmon Kardon system in the BMW which has subs under each seat and a ridiculous amount of speakers in the cabin. I've yet to hear anything that has sounded as wonderful as my 535 and after hearing the A8's stock Bose system I can confidently state that that's still the case. It's not bad; in fact it's very good but it lacks just a bit in bass for my tastes. To be fair, my Harmon Kardon system is optional and the Audi's system was the base setup. $6000+ gets you a Bang & Olufsen system that is apparently regarded as the best system available in any car and then there's the motorized tweeters that pop out of the dash, arguably worth the price of entry all by themselves. If it's anything like the Bang & Olufsen system in my 2007 A8 it is hand crafted by God.
Other than sound, attention to detail is a theme that is again repeated with interior ergonomics. Audi has found a way to simplify everything and even manages to get multiple uses out of the same buttons in a way that's intuitive. For instance, the side shades on the rear windows don't have separate buttons. Instead you hit the rear window switch in the up position to raise it and down to close it. Hit down again and the window opens. The seat controls are just a front and a back for basic controls and then a knob system for everything else. Just look at the center display and the seat is easily adjusted. Trying to dazzle a prospective client in the passenger seat? No need to tell them how to control everything; you can simply commandeer their seat's controls from the menu and set them up with a massage without ever having reach over them to tell them where the buttons are. Seriously, everything has been thought of.
Then there's the actual features, the stuff you buy a luxury barge for... The LED headlights are incredibly white and bright. They would overtake the headlights of the car in front of me and cast a shadow where the car's body was. In my 2007 A8 the massage function is simply a bladder of air in the seat continually filling and emptying. It feels like someone is constantly engaging and disengaging the lumbar support. There is nothing therapeutic about it. In fact, the first time I used it I thought the seat was broken. But now? Now you have 5 different areas of massage and they work. A wave massage pulses up and down your back and all of the sudden you don't care that it's been 30 minutes and you've only managed to make it a mile down Santa Monica Boulevard. Having all the features is great but having a car that makes them easy to use and discover on your own is awesome.
My only real complaint, and it's not even really a complaint, is the new MMI touchpad which works amazingly well. You just use your index finger to draw the letters or numbers and the system does a great job of deciphering your scribble and converting it into commands. Here's the problem though. This is a system designed to keep your eyes on the road yet you still need to use the MMI dial to get to the right menu to use the touchpad and then to the next menu to enter street, house number, etc. So it doesn't really do it's job there and when you're completely stopped, using the knob to select your input is a lot faster. A good voice detection system would work wonders here. My Ford Touch let's you say the address in it's entirety. Simply hit the voice command button, say "enter address", say the address and you're on your way. It's a lot less gimmicky than a touch pad.
Would I buy it? - Absolutely and apparently so would an assload of other people as there are currently three used 2011+ A8's for sale within a 25 mile radius of me and I live in the second largest metropolitan area in the country. In fact, whereas the previous model A8 had probably the worst depreciation of the big three's luxo-barge offerings, the new one seems to have the best. The starting price is $75,000 yet you'd be hard pressed to find a now 3 year old 2011 with reasonable miles for anything less than $40,000. Amazing residual value, especially when you consider that a similar mileage 2011 740i with a similar starting price can be had in the mid to high 30's.