Review: Audi A8 sets the pace

The updated version of the A8 boasts engine improvements and some eye-opening new technology

The updated version of the A8 boasts engine improvements and some eye-opening new technology

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THE A8 is one of the three main pillars of the large luxury car market, and you don’t get to that monumental elevation without deserving it.

This is the updated version of a car that’s been in service since 2010, with efficiency improvements to the engines, eye-opening new technology and a little bit more of what makes the A8 a customer favourite.

The range takes roughly the same shape, with standard and long-wheelbase chassis options linked to diesel, petrol and petrol-electric hybrid drive-trains. Only the hybrid lacks quattro four-wheel drive, and every model gets the magnificent ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard.

But which engine to choose? Now that’s a pickle. The flagship is technically the 500-horsepower W12, but since that’s expected to make up just 0.4 per cent of sales in the UK, you can probably look right past that one.

The 4.0-litre V8 petrol features twice, in the spookily quiet 4.0 TFSI, and then again in combination with a thunderous exhaust in the rumbling, 513bhp S8. Both are superb in their own ways, but the former is the more understated.

You could also try the monstrous 4.2-litre V8 TDI diesel, a unique format of engine among Audi’s group of rivals. One touch on the accelerator is all it takes to feel its epic accelerative appeal, and it’s also as quiet as a sleeping church mouse. But the most popular engine is likely to be the 3.0 TDI, so let’s hop behind the wheel.

It’s neither the quietest nor the most muscular engine in the range, and in fairness the only ace it holds over the other choices is fuel economy and CO2 ratings, but it still does everything well enough to seem like a flawlessly logical choice. Don’t drive any of the others and you’ll never need to wish you’d spent the extra…

In typical press-car style, the A8 I’m sitting in is decked out with a handsome spread of options that enhance the car in all the key areas, but very few A8s have been sold completely as standard in recent years so it’s fair play.

The interior materials are straight from the top drawer’s top drawer, and there’s also a quirky new selection of manufacturing methods. Strawberry leaves, for example, are one of the natural ingredients Audi has used to tan certain leathers. The leather itself is also a new development.

Technology is vital to a car in this segment and, crucially, it has to be both effective and easy to use, which is no mean feat for a car with more processing capability than most home computers. Several features stand out, though, like the MatrixBeam LED headlights that automatically detect other cars and dim the LEDs that cast light towards them.

The system can create eight separate gaps in its impressive spread of light, which is more than enough for everyday situations, and it allows the A8 to stay on main beam without dazzling anyone.

But one of the car’s best features is one of its most traditional. It’s an incredibly quiet environment at almost all times, with road noise never rising above a low hum. The sounds of wind and tyre roar are perceptible, but barely so.

Maybe it’s down to the A8’s size, but the Dynamic Ride Control on this model seems to have a greater effect than on many of the firm’s other cars. The incredibly firm Dynamic mode is probably best avoided on UK roads, but Comfort is perfect for the A8, while 
Efficiency changes gear much earlier than normal to help conserve fuel. The evidently revised calibration works a treat.

All the luxury options previously present in the car remain, including an extravagant reclining rear seat that combines with a forward-folding front passenger seat which gives extra leg room and onto which a footrest is mounted. It’s nice to have a stretch while your chauffeur does his thing…

Many things can go unsaid here, 
because the A8 is at least as brisk, stable and comfortable as it has ever been.And, now that it’s cheaper to run, along with its cutting-edge materials and technology, it’s an option that’s hard to ignore.

VITAL STATS

CAR Audi A8 SE Executive V6 3.0 TDI quattro

PRICE from £61,405

PERFORMANCE Top speed 155mph, 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds.

MPG (COMBINED) 47.8

CO2 EMISSIONS 155g/km

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