The A8 has long played this role for Audi, and done so with elegant and understated style to boot. For 2014, the A8 has been tweaked to be more satisfying, more attractive and, most of all, smarter.
Possibly the most intriguing change is the introduction of Matrix beam headlights. Essentially this means the whole front lighting unit is now made up of LEDs, but crucially the lighting unit is “smart” and can switch any one of the 25 LEDs on or off in order to avoid dazzling on-coming traffic when on full beam. It’s fiendishly clever and works flawlessly, using info from the sat-nav to tailor the beam. The Matrix LEDs also work in tandem with the night vision assist, which brings up a video image in the instrument display of the view ahead. It’s smart enough to highlight pedestrians, illuminating them for you too. If it sounds like a gimmick, it isn’t; driving on residential streets, even those with street lights, the night vision picked out people on the footpath long before the naked eye could do so.
But let’s not forget what the A8 is designed for, especially in long-wheelbase form like this. Should you be taking to the rear seats you’ll find legroom that would shame the first-class cabin on an airliner, while the full rear package brings electrically heated, cooled and adjusted seats. With massage.
You get the same in the front of course, so wherever you happen to be sitting you’re in for a soothing and comfortable experience. As you might expect, the ride quality is exceptional, dealing with the typical British road without fuss. Noise levels are also pleasingly low, making the A8L the place to be if you want to travel in comfort.
Should you be behind the wheel however, there’s still plenty to be happy about. For a start, the A8L drives with composure and the ease of something much smaller, and its size never feels intimidating. There’s a broad choice of engines too, but this 4.2-litre V8 TDI is perhaps the pick of the bunch. It’s a very refined diesel and murmurs quietly away at a cruise, but when you tread on the accelerator it punches forward with speed that would embarrass some sports cars: 0-62mph takes a hilariously brief 4.9 seconds. Yet it is now EU6 regulation compliant as well as offering more power and torque than before.
It’s one of the most complete cars on the road today; extremely clever, spacious, exceptionally comfortable, discreet, fast but also frugal – 37mpg combined is possible, or 47mpg with the 3.0-litre version. It may be aimed at a relatively small audience, but the truth is that so much of what makes the A8 so impressive will find its way into less expensive cars in the future. And if you’re lucky enough, you can enjoy all this genius right now.
Car Audi A8L 4.2 TDI SE Executive
Engine 4.2l diesel, 380bhp, 627 lb ft
Performance Max speed 155mph, 0-62mph 4.9s
Economy 37.7mpg combined
CO2 emissions 197g/km