The Audi A8L has long been a credible rival to the more established German luxury liners. With the raft of revisions for 2013, Audi’s flagship sedan may finally have their complete measure.
This is especially interesting in that the test car was powered by a six-cylinder engine, not the new, more powerful turbocharged V8, available TDI clean diesel or the technology-fest W12. But with 333 ready ponies and 325lb-ft of supercharged twist quickly accessed through a smooth shifting eight-speed automatic, one could wonder what need more cylinders. There was little economy benefit apparent in the smaller engine around town, with real-world urban numbers staying resolutely in the teens. But show the Audi a stretch of interstate and it would its EPA numbers would jump to the high twenties, a legacy of the A8L’s lithe aluminum body and svelte aerodynamics.
One easily noted benefit of this motor was that it didn’t loose nearly as much thrust at higher elevations as the older, atmospheric V8; another was that the A8L V6’s lighter nose imbued it with better balance in the corners and a much more composed ride over battered roads than one tested over a year ago. Based on time spent in competitors, I would go so far as to say the Audi boasts the best ride quality in the class right now, even on its gorgeous, optional 20-inch rims and low profile rubber.
Another area where the Audi rules is in the category of interior ambiance. The entire VW group (of which Audi is a part) has long held a lead here, and though competitors continue to up the ante, the A8L remains at least a generation ahead in tactile and visual pleasure. The company’s prowess is evident in the complexity of shapes, whether of stitched leather, aluminum, real wood or high-quality plastic; most twist and turn, changing diameter or cross section, flowing into each other just so. There is a beautifully confident subtlety in the way these materials interact and complement each other that is still missing from many other high priced machines.
This ultra-luxurious vibe was enhanced by the optional Comfort-spec 22-way adjustable front chairs and Comfort package rear bucket seats; even at two grand per option, both can be considered bargains. The same cannot be said for the $6,300 Bang & Olufsen sound system, whose overall acoustic signature is no match for the much less pricey Mark Levinson setup available in a Lexus. Audi’s MMI interface is still amongst the best though, and its satellite-view Google maps a great entertainment for passengers.
Near the end of my tenure, one detail of the A8L came to notice that I feel exemplifies the entire experience. The interior A-pillars, which frame the front windshield, are formed in one continuous piece of material that flows all the way up and past the front seat occupant’s heads, not being broken by any seam until they reach back beyond view. Most cars terminate theirs at the top of the windshield, and many are covered in cheap materials, surprising for something that is so readily in view at all times. In contrast, the A8L’s are covered in sumptuous synthetic suede; combined with the elegant sweep of their shape, they make the Audi feel much richer. In an age when even prosaic Korean economy cars come with cooled seats and push-button start, it is thoughtful details such as this that bespeak luxury, and help elevate the A8L to the top of its class.
EPA ratings: 17/28; 21mpg combined
Price as tested: $106,545
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