The 2011 Audi A8 is one of the best driving luxury cars in the world. It's fast, it's poised and it's athletic, charging into corners like a leopard after its quarry. The standard four-wheel-drive system imbues the car with terrific grip and the A8 carries a reassuringly neutral attitude under duress. The brakes are powerful and strong, too, adding to the impression that the A8 is invincible on a back road.
For those who prefer luxury to sport, the 2011 Audi A8 offers a serene highway demeanor, its 4.2-liter V8 engine virtually undetectable at the legal limit. It's so quiet, in fact, that you only realize you're traveling at highly illegal velocities when you look at the speedometer. The body rides flat and true, the eight-speed transmission is unobtrusive and tire noise is muted even over broken pavement. Also, the interior is beautifully made and designed.
The A8 has never sold as strongly in North America as the BMW 750i, the Lexus LS 460 or the Mercedes-Benz S550, but this all-aluminum car now has the chops to make inroads into their market dominance.
For 2011, the Audi A8 is bigger than the car it replaces. The wheelbase of this standard-length A8 4.2 FSI Quattro has been stretched by 1.7 inches to 117.8 inches. At 202.2 inches overall, it's longer by 2.9 inches, and it's 2.1 inches wider and 0.6 inch higher. Despite the use of lightweight aluminum for the A8's structure, this example still weighs in at 4,336 pounds, with 55.7 percent of that weight over the front wheels.
The direct-injection 4.2-liter V8 engine makes 372 horsepower and 328 pound-feet of torque, increases of 22 hp and 4 lb-ft over the prior model. These gains have been achieved by the addition of Audi's variable lift system for the intake valves and the reduction of internal friction. The engine is now mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission in place of the previous six-speed unit. The EPA gas mileage numbers have been improved from 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway to 17 and 27 mpg, respectively; impressive numbers for such a big, powerful car. Credit the new drivetrain and an even more aerodynamically efficient shape.
At the test track, the Audi A8 performs strongly. It goes from zero to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds with traction control engaged. The Audi flashes through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 100.9 mph, also with the traction control engaged. Our test vehicle came with the handsome, optional 20-inch wheels, which carried 265/40R20 Goodyear Eagle F1 asymmetrical tires. These helped the A8 stop from 60 mph to a standstill in 106 feet, 2 feet less than a Mercedes-Benz S550 and 6 feet less than a BMW 750i.
Four-wheel drive comes standard, making the Audi A8 the only vehicle in its class so equipped. Audi says that this system sends a greater proportion of torque to the rear wheels than the front to ameliorate its significantly front-biased weight distribution. On the skid pad, the A8 pulls 0.87g with the stability system turned off, which matches the Mercedes S550 and beats the BMW 750i (0.84g). (With stability on, the A8 pulls 0.82g on the skid pad.) Through the Edmunds slalom test, the A8 performs best with the stability and traction control systems engaged, recording a speed of 66.3 mph, some 0.3 mph better than the BMW and 2.9 mph up on the S550. Our testers noted that the 2011 Audi A8 shows crisp turn-in, plenty of grip and good transitional response.
The Audi A8 uses a multilink suspension configuration at every corner that incorporates air springs and cockpit-adjustable electronically controlled dampers. The tuning is changed by a system called Audi Drive Select, which also alters the throttle calibration, steering effort and the shift schedule for the automatic transmission. We found that the Auto setting offers the best compromise between smooth ride quality and excellent body control. The sporty Dynamic mode is too stiff for anything but super-smooth roads. An Individual setting allows the driver to mix and match the tuning, so it's possible to pair the sportiest steering setup with the Auto suspension setting.
Inside, the 2011 Audi A8 has 41.4 inches of front-seat legroom and 38.7 inches out back, which is plenty for normal-size humans. (Linebackers can always opt for the long-wheelbase A8L that features an additional 4.2 inches of rear-seat legroom.) The standard front seats are adjustable in 18 ways and there are optional 22-way power front seats that have five different massage functions, so there's no excuse for failing to get relaxed at the wheel.
A new version of Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) is featured in the A8, and controls the infotainment systems and vehicle settings. This uses a pop-up 8-inch central screen and includes voice recognition for the navigation and phone. There's also a touchpad that responds to handwritten commands — for instance, writing the first few letters of an address for the navigation system. This works very well, but we aren't so enamored of the gearshift lever, which looks like the throttle from a motorboat.
The base 2011 Audi A8 has a premium Bose stereo and navigation system, but it's easy to add $20,000 (and more) in options to improve the functionality of this car. The $5,900 Sport package, for instance, features the 22-way power front seats, 20-inch wheels and tires, a sport-optimized rear differential and "dynamic steering" that can be varied for weight and effort. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system adds $3,000 and an amazing 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system is an additional $6,300. Audi bundles desirable functional features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and lane departure systems into a package for $3,000.
Design/Fit and Finish
Audi interiors are among the most beautifully designed and made on the market. The A8's is no exception, with supple leather and elegant wood and aluminum finishes even in the base vehicle. Spectacular quilted Valcona leather is part of the Sport package. Another pricey ($1,500) and sybaritic upgrade is soft faux suede for the headliner.
Who should consider this vehicle
Anyone who's in the market for a luxury vehicle that is equally at home in the city, on the interstate or on a curving back road should look at the 2011 Audi A8. It is at once luxurious and athletic and also provides a wide array of technological and luxury features for a fully loaded price of around $100,000.
Although it has some flaws — most notably steering that is a little too quick and light — the A8 offers possibly the best all-around combination of driving pleasure, ride comfort, performance, luxury and curb appeal in the class at the moment.
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