The Audi A8 has been completely redesigned and re-engineered for 2004. Fast, smooth, and sophisticated, the 2004 A8 L may be the new leader among the high-end luxury sedans. It feels smoother and more refined than the Mercedes S-Class and it's easier to operate and better looking than the BMW 7 Series.
Audi's A8 L boasts a powerful 4.2-liter V8 engine, revised to produce more power for 2004. It comes with a new six-speed Tiptronic automatic that replaces the previous five-speed transmission. Together, they deliver instantaneous responses to the driver wishes. Quattro all-wheel drive and a new adaptable air suspension offer a seemingly ideal balance between handling and ride quality. It's all wrapped in a new aluminum space frame, a lightweight, highly rigid structure that bonds the car into one cohesive unit, giving drivers a supreme sense of control with Gibraltar-like stability. The A8's redesigned cabin is elegant, comfortable, and easy to operate. It makes its occupants feel rich and sophisticated, but not bogged down with gadgetry that requires intense study of the owner's manual.
This is Audi's largest sedan and it's a big car. Its wheelbase has been stretched even longer than last year's A8 L, providing even more room and greater comfort for rear passengers. As the company's flagship, the A8 L is designed to be the ultimate sedan. It competes with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series, both of which are superb though not perfect luxury sedans. The newness of the Audi gives it an advantage, particularly over the Mercedes.
From a pricing standpoint, the long-wheelbase, all-wheel-drive A8 L ($68,500) compares favorably with the long-wheelbase BMW 745Li ($72,500) and standard-wheelbase 745i ($68,500), both rear-wheel drive, and it's less expensive than the rear-drive Mercedes S430 ($72,600) or S500 ($81,000) or the all-wheel-drive S430 4Matic ($75,500).
The new Audi A8 is available as one model for 2004, a long-wheelbase A8 L.
The A8 L comes fully loaded with all the luxury features you'd expect at this price point ($68,500). (Neither standard-length A8 nor high-performance S8 versions are available, though we may see them in the future.) The air-conditioning system, for example, uses temperature, moisture, and infrared sensors to detect and demist the windows before they can even think about fogging. Similar to that of the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ, the A8's parking brake is electromechanical, a switch in other words.
The 2004 A8 L is powered by a 330-horsepower 4.2-liter twin-cam, five-valve V8. A new six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic control comes standard along with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Options include massage, heating and ventilation features for the front seats and four-zone automatic climate control with individual rear-seat settings. A solar-cell sunroof produces enough electrical energy to supply the passenger compartment continuously with fresh air via the blower even with the ignition off.
The A8 features a distinct wedge-shaped body with a short front overhang, a low hood-line and a high, powerful tail. The shoulder line rises to the rear, giving it a croched silhouette. Its well-proportioned lines radiate elegance and agility. Audi calls it an expressive design with coupe-like lines. It's expressive in an understated Audi way and people will know you know business when you fill their mirrors. The front features Audi's double grille with flush-fitted headlamps. Projector-beam fog lights lie below the well-integrated front bumper.
Nearly 17 feet in length, the A8 L is longer than the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 745Li and 760Li. The wheelbase of the new A8 L stretches to 121.1 inches. That's 3 inches longer than the wheelbase of the previous-generation A8 L, essentially identical to that of the Mercedes S-Class, nearly as long as the BMW 745Li and 760Li, and substantially longer than that of the Cadillac DeVille. (The wheelbase is the distance between the front wheels and the rear wheels. A longer wheelbase tends to offer more passenger room and increased stability.) The Audi is slightly wider than the Mercedes and comparable to the BMW. The A8 L's rear doors are long, allowing for convenient passenger entry and exit.
Front and rear doors open extra wide. The outside door handles are attractive, but are the lever style, which we find harder to use than the kind you can put your hand through, such as those on a Mercedes.
Seven-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels with 255/55R17 tires come standard and provide excellent handling and ride comfort and superb grip in the wet. Optional 18- and 19- inch wheels and tires are available that visually fill the wheel wells and provide a surprisingly smooth ride in spite of their short sidewalls. The taillights fit flush with the clean rear design. Turn signals use LED technology and feature side repeater lamps to signal drivers alongside of your intentions. Dual exhaust pokes from below the beautifully integrated rear bumper.
Audi says its use of an aluminum space frame saves about 300 pounds, which allows adding more features without overburdening the car with weight. Those added features include the sophisticated air suspension, the elaborate Bose sound system. The new space-frame design uses fewer parts, fewer joints for increased rigidity. That increased rigidity eliminates flex, giving the A8 L the feeling of being carved from a single block of bar-stock aluminum. The body is also made of aluminum. Interior Features
The A8 L comes loaded with features and its interior is comfortable and luxurious. The interior is a clean, classic design. A choice of leather and wood trim combinations ensures a touch of individuality. Handsome Valcona leather seat upholstery comes standard with attractive Alcantara (suede-like) door inserts. Aluminum trim gives the cabin a sporty flair.
The seats are supportive and comfortable and adjust 16 ways. A memory feature remembers all the settings for four different drivers (or moods), including climate controls. Front and rear seats are heated as is the leather-covered steering wheel. The center console provides generous storage. The electroluminescent instrument panel adjusts brightness automatically according to ambient light.
A seven-inch color screen displays Audi's Multi-Media Interface, or MMI. The system is designed to minimize distraction while consolidating most of the interior functions giving the driver lots of options without filling the dash with buttons. Unlike the iDrive system BMW developed for its 7 Series sedans, Audi's MMI features a shallow menu structure, meaning you don't have to burrow deeply down through a maze of menus. A key difference between the Audi and BMW systems, in our opinion, is that Audi did not incorporate the climate controls into MMI. The HVAC (heating and air conditioning) system is instead a separate system that uses traditional climate controls mounted high on the center stack. So you don't have to call up a menu to change the fan speed; simply twist a dial. For its part, the MMI screen on the center dash matches the look of the controls. A Return button takes you back to where you were, similar to a Back button on a Web browser.
Attention to detail is one of Audi's greatest assets. Audi officials say customers discover little touches months after buying the cars. A secondary heater in the A8 L designed to heat up the rear quickly. Ambient lighting in the interior allows control of mood in the cabin. Mood lighting is good.
The cabin is insulated well and carrying on a conversation is easy. There's no wind noise in this car and the ventilation system was acoustically tuned to make the climate control as quiet as possible, even when the fan is at full blast.
The audio system uses Bose noise compensation technology just like those fancy headphones you see people using in first class. It works terrifically well, essentially a microphone that samples the sound and sends out sound waves to cancel out undesirable noise. The cabin seems very well insulated for sound. The 12-speaker stereo sounds fantastic, with crisp bass and clear highs. An equalizer matched to the car's equipment and trim specification takes into account changes to interior acoustics caused by the choice of upholstery. A four-way diversity antenna improves AM/FM reception, and a list of all radio stations that can be received in a given region appears at the touch of an MMI button and is constantly updated by the tuner. The six-disc CD changer is in the glove box. Audi has wired the A8 L to accept either XM or Serius Satellite Radio. The OnStar telematics system comes standard, providing operators around the clock who can give directions and provide myriad other types of information. OnStar operators will send help to your location should an airbag deploy and they can locate the car if it's stolen and unlock the doors if you locked the keys inside.
The rear seats are capacious with acres of legroom. Lots of controls are available to the rear passengers including power lumbar support, and there's a fold-down center armrest. Additional heating elements ensure rear passengers get warm air just as quickly as front passengers.
The A8 L comes with 10 air bags, including front knee bags. In a crash, the A8 L's computers quickly determine which dual-threshold, dual-stage air bags to deploy, how quickly to deploy them, and how intensely they should be deployed. It also comes with excellent seat belts. Be sure all your passengers wear them as they are critical to providing protection in a crash.
The A8 L's trunk is big and deep, significantly larger than that of the Mercedes S-Class and comparable to that of the BMW 7 Series. It houses a full-size spare tire.
The first impression of the Audi A8 L is its smoothness. There's nothing remotely resembling a squeak or rattle, and there is no vibration.
The responsiveness of the engine and transmission make the A8 L a joy to drive. The 4.2-liter V8 delivers powerful acceleration, but its power delivery is sophisticated, not crude. The engine has been revised for 2004, providing an increase of 20 horsepower over the previous-generation model (1997-2003). For 2004, the engine generates 317 pounds-feet of torque, an increase of 17 horsepower over the previous-generation A8 models and as much as the previous-generation S8. The A8 L can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds, according to Audi, impressive given its size and weight. Its top speed is electronically governed at 130 mph. The A8's 4.2-liter V8 delivers power on demand, responding with a muted roar to every poke at the gas pedal. No matter how fast the A8 is already going, the driver can tap into a deep well of acceleration-producing torque.
Audi's new six-speed automatic transmission quickly shifts up or down according to the driver's wishes, deftly sensing how quickly and how hard the throttle is mashed. Upshifts are silky smooth in full automatic mode, and downshifts relatively quick. It features Porsche's Tiptronic control, allowing the driver to slide it into a manually controlled mode. We found that's not necessary though, because it's quite responsive in the automatic mode. The new transmission is an improvement in every respect over the A8's previous five-speed automatic. It helps the V8 engine achieve better fuel economy and deliver better acceleration, an impressive combination. For 2004, the A8 L is not saddled with the federal Gas Guzzler Tax.
The A8 features its adaptive air suspension at all four corners. It's a bit more sophisticated than the rear air shocks that could be inflated on 1970-vintage American station wagons. Four settings are available, selected electronically with the MMI system. In the Comfort mode it rides at the normal ride height (120 millimeters or 4.7 inches). The term "Comfort" might suggest a cushy, mushy ride, but that's not the case. Even on a narrow, undulating Kentucky backcountry road, we found the suspension well controlled with Comfort selected, though smooth, compliant and comfortable. Switching to the Dynamic mode lowers the suspension by 20 mm (about three-quarters of an inch). You might think Dynamic is buckboard firm, but we found it quite comfortable and compliant, though tuned for sporty handling and more aggressive driving. There are distinct differences between the ride and handling of the Comfort and Dynamic settings, but neither is uncomfortably firm nor disappointingly mushy; both modes operate at all speeds. Switch to the Automatic mode and the system automatically tailors the suspension damping to conditions and the way your driving, automatically lowering the suspension at 75 mph. This is usually the best setting as the system continuously matches the ride and handling to the situation and does a good job of it. The ride is smooth, supple, yet without the slightest sensation of floating or wallowing. Lastly, there is the Lift mode, which raises the suspension 25 mm (about an inch) above the normal (120 mm) ride height. Lift is a good setting for gravel roads, snow, nasty driveway or garage transitions and other situations that call for a raised ride height. Exceed 62 mph and the suspension automatically lowers to the normal ride height.
Besides offering excellent traction in slippery conditions, the Quattro all-wheel-drive system improves stability when cornering, whether under full-throttle acceleration or when the driver lifts off the throttle in the middle of a turn. Quattro also eliminates torque steer, that pulling sensation on the steering wheel that powerful front-drive cars often exhibit under acceleration.
Steering is sharp and precise, providing excellent communication between the tires and the driver. The A8 feels light and agile for a car of its size. The key to its excellent handling and ride quality is its rigid aluminum space frame. The frame resists flexing and lets the suspension do all the work, which is how it's supposed to be. That's why the A8 delivers a nearly perfect balance of fine handling and ride comfort. Driven to the limit in a corner, it understeers a bit, tending to push toward the outside edge of the pavement. To counter this, the driver simply lifts a little from the throttle, and the front tucks in and tracks through the turn. It works beautifully.
The brakes are easy to modulate for smooth stops. They're also powerful for quick stops and hard braking from high speeds. We found the brakes excellent. The A8 L is very stable under braking with little nosedive. The brakes are equipped with the latest anti-lock brake system (ABS 5.3) and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and electronic differential locks (EDL). Electronic Brake Distribution re-proportions braking force from rear to front as weight inevitably shifts forward during braking. The Electronic Differential Lock assures directional stability while accelerating. An electronic stability program (ESP 5.7) monitors vehicle behavior against driver input, and uses the antilock brakes and traction control to correct a skid or slide. Add Quattro all-wheel drive and the A8 L will do everything physically possible to keep you heading where you point it. In an emergency situation, stand on the brakes, don't relieve pedal pressure, and remember to look and steer where you want to go.
More and more Audi is becoming a Tier 1 premium brand like Mercedes and BMW. Like the Benz and BMW, the A8 L is fast, roomy, luxurious and exceptionally comfortable. It rides like a luxury car. Yet at the same time, it's taut and handles like a sports sedan. Loaded with innovation, the A8 L is the thinking man's luxury sedan, more progressive, less traditional than a BMW or Mercedes. It's elegant but not arrogant, indulgent without being excessive. It's priced a little lower than comparable sedans from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, yet gives little ground to them in many respects.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||A8 L ($68,500) |
|Engines: ||330-horsepower 4.2-liter dohc 40-valve V8 |
|Transmissions: ||6-speed automatic Tiptronic |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||dual front airbags, front and rear side-impact airbags, inflatable Sideguard curtain airbags, front knee airbags for driver and front passenger, front safety belts with automatic pretensioning and force limiter, three rear safety belts with ALR and ELR, ABS, EBD, all-wheel drive, stability control |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||none |
|Basic warranty: ||4 years/50,000 miles with free scheduled maintenance |
|Assembled in: ||Ingolstadt, Germany |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||A8 L ($68,500) |
|Standard equipment: ||fully automatic dual-zone climate control with Rest function (heater can operate with vehicle shut off), dual sun sensors and smog sensor with activated charcoal filter, Valcona leather seat upholstery, 16-way power front seats, four-position memory (for seat adjustments, climate control settings), heated front and rear seats, power seatbelt height adjustment, power glass solar sunroof with pre-select function and pinch protection, power windows (with power retention, one-touch down/up for all four windows), cruise control, remote keyless entry, power mirrors, multi-function steering wheel with MMI controls, electric tilt/telescoping heated steering wheel, 12-speaker AM/FM Bose Surround Sound system with noise-cancellation technology and 6-disc CD changer, automatic day/night rearview mirror, heated side mirrors |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||none |
|Destination charge: ||($660) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$ 69,160 |
|Layout: ||N/A |
|Engine: ||4.2-liter dohc 40-valve V8 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||330 @ 6500 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||317 @ 3500 |
|Transmission: ||6-speed Tiptronic automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||N/A |
|Wheelbase: ||121.1 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||204.0/79.8/57.3 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||64.1/63.6 in. |
|Turning circle: ||41.0 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||5 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||37.4/NA/41.3 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||38.3/NA/42.3 in. |
|Cargo volume: ||17.7 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||N/A |
|Suspension, f: ||independent, fully pneumatic |
|Suspension, r: ||independent, fully pneumatic |
|Ground clearance: ||4.7 in. |
|Curb weight: ||4,399 lbs. |
|Tires: ||235/55R17 |
|Brakes, f/r: ||vented disc/vented disc with ABS, EBD, ESP |
|Fuel capacity: ||N/A |
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of May 02, 2003.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.
N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-822-2834 - www.audiusa.com.
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