Pros: Engaging handling, superb twin-turbo V8, standard all-wheel drive, exquisite interior, two wheelbase lengths.
Cons: Looks like a big A4, small trunk.
What's New: The 2013 Audi A8 loses the naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 but gains two new engines: capable 3.0T (supercharged V6) and desirable 4.0T (twin-turbo V8). The new high-performance S8 is reviewed separately.
With its latest redesign, the Audi A8 emerged as the driver's choice among full-size luxury sedans. But there was something missing. Most A8s, you see, came equipped with a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 that lacked the bullet-train thrust of rival turbocharged engines. So although the A8 was great in corners and avoidance maneuvers, it didn't quite deliver the goods when you put the hammer down.
We expressed our disappointment in last year's review, but we're pleased to report that the 2013 Audi A8 suffers from no such shortcomings. That's because 4.2-liter V8 has been phased out, and its replacement is downright heroic. The A8's new 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 cranks out an exceptionally refined 420 horsepower along with massive low-end torque. It's a gem. Plus, the new entry-level engine, a supercharged 3.0-liter V6, was already one of our favorites from other Audi products.
Happily, the 2013 A8 is otherwise just as we remembered it, which is to say it's a stupendously gratifying car. Despite the A8's front-drive roots and nose-heavy weight distribution, this plus-sized saloon drives like a sport sedan on back roads, thanks in part to the quattro all-wheel-drive system's rearward power bias. Moreover, its interior is one of the finest in the world?particularly in the long-wheelbase L model with its first-class rear accommodations?and the technology offerings are exceptional.
In short, Audi has taken one of our favorite sedans and erased the one real flaw we could find. As long as they make ours a twin-turbo V8, we'll never get tired of driving the A8.
Comfort & Utility
The A8 is offered in three versions: regular A8 (short-wheelbase), A8 L (long-wheelbase), and A8 L W12 (long-wheelbase with the W12 engine).
The regular A8 comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels; adaptive Xenon headlamps with LED running lights; LED taillights; an adaptive air suspension; Drive Select (which provides electronically adjustable steering, suspension and throttle settings); push-button ignition; a sunroof; leather upholstery; dual-zone automatic climate control; 18-way power heated front seats; a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel; Bluetooth; a Bose audio system; mobile Wi-Fi capability and Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI) with an 8-in power-retracting TFT display screen; full iPod integration; twin SD-card slots; and a navigation system with Google Earth street views.
Note that the A8 with the 4.0T engine gets standard power-closing door and trunk mechanisms, an extra-cost option on the A8 3.0T. Wheel styles also differ. Standard on L models and optional with the regular wheelbase is keyless entry, an unfathomable omission from the standard-equipment list at this price.
The A8 L W12 tacks on 20-in wheels; full LED headlights; a heated steering wheel; 22-way power heated and cooled front seats with a massage function; two rear seating positions instead of three; and a rear DVD entertainment system with twin 10-in screens.
Some of the higher trims' features are available on lower trims as options. The L models are eligible for high-roller upgrades like a refrigerator and a passenger-side executive rear seat with a power footrest and auxiliary front passenger seat controls. Also offered are quad-zone automatic climate control; a Bang & Olufsen audio system; adaptive cruise control; a Night Vision collision-warning system; and a Sport package (short-wheelbase only) with 20-in wheels, a sports rear differential, and the 22-way power seats with exclusive stitching.
Leaving aside the maximally opulent offerings from Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the A8 might have the nicest cabin in the automotive world. The materials used are uniformly superb, and practically everything you touch has an expensive, precision-engineered feel. The 8-in power-retracting MMI display screen is a beauty, especially when you call up Google Earth via the navigation system to get a 3-D street view of your destination.
The A8's front seats are one of the few interior features that don't meet or exceed expectations. They're very comfortable, no doubt about that, but even the optional 22-way seats don't have wow-factor features like the S-Class's active side bolsters, nor can they match the all-around excellence of the 7 Series' multi-contour chairs.
Ergonomics almost seem irrelevant when you're admiring the beauty of the A8's dashboard, but then you start driving, and you realize you have to figure out how all these crazy gadgets work. As in other Audis, little tasks like adjusting the fan speed or seat-heater intensity can be needlessly complex, but most major controls are fortunately straightforward. Moreover, MMI has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with simplified menu structures and extra physical buttons that give you a fighting chance of actually accomplishing basic tasks at speed.
The regular A8's back seat has a relatively low bottom cushion, so there's not the robust thigh support that Hyundai, for example, gets exactly right in the Equus. The L models solve this problem by providing lounge-all-day legroom for their lucky rear passengers.
The A8's trunk is definitely on the small side at 13.2 cu-ft. Fitting a few golf bags is more difficult than it should be in a large luxury sedan.
Technophiles rejoice--your executive sedan has arrived. We only have one reservation about the A8's high-tech offerings, namely the absence of a USB port. If you like to keep your mp3s on a flash drive, tough luck; you'll have to switch to an SD card in the A8. But seriously, how could a geek not fall in love with this Audi? Check out all the standard features it provides, from iPod/Bluetooth integration to a Bose stereo and a crowd-pleasing MMI display screen that coolly slips into the dash when not in use. Then there's the navigation system with Google Earth street views, the touch pad that can decipher fingertip scribbles and the rolling Wi-Fi hotspot capability. The A8 even features an optional night vision collision warning system that can identify pedestrians in the dark at a distance of up to 300 ft.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The regular Audi A8 and A8 L start with a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 known as the 3.0T that's rated at 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the 7 Series' entry-level 6-cylinder offering, for example, this one really delivers the goods, whisking the car forward on what seems like an endless wave of torque.
But then you drive the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, and you immediately wonder how you ever lived without it. Generating a robust 420 hp and 444 lb-ft of torque, this new V8 is the stuff of dreams for those who appreciate both speed and subtlety. It's strong, smooth, and utterly seductive. Bravo to the engineers.
Both 3.0T and 4.0T come with quattro all-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the 3.0T checks in at a respectable 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway; the 4.0T naturally falls short of those marks, though not by a huge margin.
If for some reason the 4.0T doesn't feel like quite enough, you can still step up to the A8 L W12, which is motivated by an unusual 6.3-liter W12 engine that makes 500 hp and 463 lb-ft of torque. But we're not sure it's worth the extra cost, especially given the excellence of the cheaper 4.0T. Another reason to stick with the V8 is its superior fuel economy, as W12 returns just 14 city/21 hwy mpg.
The A8 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints, and 10 airbags (front, front side, front knee, rear side, full-length side-curtain), as well as a smorgasbord of advanced safety technologies.
The A8 has not been crash tested in the US.
Like all driver's cars worthy of the title, the A8 has a way of shrinking around you at speed, making most rivals feel like the land yachts they are. The optional sport rear differential makes the A8 even more responsive, but the standard quattro system is already a performance plus with its 40/60 front/rear power split. Thanks to the air suspension, the A8 has a smoother ride than lesser Audis; still, if you want the 20-in wheels, make sure you're satisfied with the ride quality that they provide on rough pavement.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 7 Series: BMW's boss sedan gives the A8 a run for its money in driver engagement, and it's got a fantastic selection of engines to choose from.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class: The S-Class has no sporting pretensions, but even after years on the market, it's still arguably got the most imposing presence of any executive sedan.
Porsche Panamera: The A8 might be the best executive sedan to drive, but if you broaden the field to include hatchbacks, the Panamera's athleticism is peerless.
We'd be sure to add keyless entry (not standard on an executive sedan? Really, Audi?) to the base A8 4.0T, but otherwise, we think the this model is amazingly well equipped for the price. We're even tempted to call it a bargain.