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Published: 12/26/2012 - by Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
There are varying degrees of luxury in this world. On one side of the spectrum, you have the garish gilded palaces of the well-funded like, say, Donald Trump. On the other side, there is tasteful luxury, the kind that whispers rather than screams, "I am special." The 2013 Audi A8 L is clearly aimed at those who appreciate the latter.
Even with its new 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8, there's a notable level of restraint to the latest Audi A8. Sure, it costs $115 grand and has 420 horsepower, but none of that comes through until you get in and take a drive.
It's blazing fast in a straight line and extremely capable on a twisty road. And yet it does it all with an ease and subtlety that makes it feel as if it's not even trying that hard. That's our kind of luxury.
More Power Than You Think
The big story for the 2013 Audi A8 is the new V8 engine. It replaces the previous 4.2-liter V8 and slots in between the recently introduced 3.0-liter 333-hp V6 and the range-topping 500-hp 6.3-liter W12.
For the "midrange" engine it's deceivingly capable. A 0-60-mph sprint takes a scant 4.2 seconds (4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) — a significant leap from the old 4.2-liter's 5.5 seconds. Given that the base V6 was capable of besting the speed of the previous V8, Audi made sure the new engine was considerably more capable. Clearly it is, but it does make you wonder if the $8,700 premium (from base V8 and V6 models) to make that two-cylinder jump is worth it.
Acceleration from the 4.0-liter V8 is smooth and deliberate. There's a hint of hesitation and turbo lag in the bottom range of the tach, but only if your foot is pressing firmly on the pedal. There's little fanfare to accompany the rush of power, though, as the cabin remains calm and mostly quiet. By contrast, you can feel the V6 working behind the scenes to get the big A8 moving along even if it's hardly what most would call intrusive.
The only serious complaint we have to field on the V8 is the stop-start function that is slow to react off the line. If you're transitioning from a standstill to the throttle with any sort of urgency, you risk rushing the startup and are greeted by an unceremonious lurch forward and back. The good news is that you can disable the system if it's bothersome and you don't mind the mileage hit.
Making the case for the V8 or V6 will not come down to the driving dynamics. Power notwithstanding, both Audi A8 variants have the same potential for performance, with slalom runs right at the 65-mph mark. The V8 outweighs the V6 by 200 pounds, but weight distribution is essentially identical at 55/45 front and rear. With myriad electronic driver aids and Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive, it really takes more bravery than skill to pilot the A8 with any level of aggression.
Even on rain-slicked mountain roads, the 2013 Audi A8 L shrugs off hairpin turns and careless throttle inputs. It would take the most ham-fisted Neanderthal of a driver to get the car out of sorts, as its sole purpose seems to be dissecting curves with minimal effort behind the wheel. The A8 is as confidence-inspiring and tranquil under high cornering loads as it is when lumbering down swanky boulevards.
And it's with this tidiness that the A8 appeals to both driver and passengers. With the Audi Drive Select set in Comfort mode, the big sedan glides over road imperfections with barely a ripple sent through to the cabin.
Selecting a sportier drive setting isn't likely to elicit any contrary comments from passengers either, as the differences are largely felt by the driver in the form of increased steering weight and driveline response. The suspension stiffens, too, but not to any objectionable degree. In the absence of harshness, the car simply feels more solid and buttoned-down.
The Seat of Power
The real conundrum regarding this Audi A8 L may be regarding the preferred seat. With the $11,250 Executive Rear Seat option added to our test vehicle, choosing between driver and passenger does actually become an issue. Comparing these loungelike rear seats to private jets does not do them justice. Private jets are loud and feel claustrophobic by comparison.
The range of seat adjustments allows dignitary passengers to either sit upright or recline to near horizontal. In full dictator mode, the front passenger seat slides forward for ultimate legroom, then a footrest folds out from the seatback.
In addition to all of this space, that passenger has the luxury of selecting a wide variety of comfort features that include the obligatory heating and ventilation, as well as a host of massage styles and entertainment options.
And then there's the cooler box between the rear seats that will keep a bottle of Dom at the perfect temperature for celebrating the latest acquisition or conquest. With all of the climate and refrigerator mechanicals eating up trunk space, though, backseat VIPs will need to travel lighter than usual.
Bold Choices for the Commander
Part of leading with authority requires some tough decisions, and the 2013 Audi A8 L is not the only luxury flagship in this realm. In this $100,000 range, one cannot overlook the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Jaguar XJL, Porsche Panamera or BMW 7 Series. All can be similarly appointed at similar enough prices, and none of them is lacking in power or sophistication.
The 2013 Audi A8 L now distinguishes itself with a V8 engine that is both technologically advanced and sufficiently powerful to measure up to anything in the class. Nothing about the way it performs will leave you wanting unless you're looking for a real sport sedan. In that case, you're better off with something smaller.
This A8 is all about heightened performance in a full-size package. It delivers on all counts and does so in a way that's satisfying without being over the top. Trump wouldn't like it, and that's just fine with Audi.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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