2011 Audi A8 First Look

Audi's Electrified Wellness Lounge


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We haven't the slightest clue what a "wellness lounge" might be, but it sure sounds like a better place to spend time than in the "pestilence antechamber."

The interior of the upsized 2011 Audi A8 is described by company literature as a wellness lounge for the senses and we cannot disagree for the reason stated above. In any case, it sure does look nice.

This is an area in which Audi has long embarrassed the more successful full-size luxury sedans offered by its competition. For at least the last two generations, the Audi A8 has had an effortlessly elegant interior in place of the Very-Serious-Command-and-Control-Center/Button-rific approach of its rivals.

How much Mercedes-Benz and BMW are sweating the arrival of the new Audi is another matter. Presently the A8 entices a measly 6 percent of people who buy cars in this class in the U.S. And with sales of high-end luxury items going down the gold-plated toilet, the world isn't getting easier on the premium Audi.

Now being introduced for Europe and scheduled for release in the United States next fall as the 2011 Audi A8, the new car maintains the model's customary strengths — as in the aforementioned elegant interior and standard all-wheel drive — and then brings a little more size, a host of new electronic doodads and more LEDs than, well, something that has a whole freakin' lot of LEDs.

Powerful Mr. Big
Because small things are not as good or large as large things, the new 2011 Audi A8 is longer, wider and taller than the 2004-'10 model. And not coincidentally, it's also a little bigger than the standard-wheelbase versions of the BMW 7 Series and Lexus LS. Plus it's not much smaller than the long-wheelbase luxo-barges. Plus it'll roll on wheels up to 21 inches across.

The Audi A8 hasn't always offered the largest-displacement engines in its class. For 2011, it won't either. The Ingolstadt engineers have managed to squeeze another 22 horsepower out of the direct-injection 4.2-liter V8 for a total of 372 hp. The revised V8 also produces a somewhat less impressive bump in torque output of 3 pound-feet for a total of 328 lb-ft. This puts the A8 at a power disadvantage to its German compatriots, as the 4.4-liter V8 in the BMW 7 Series makes an even 400 hp and the 5.4-liter V8 in the Mercedes S550 pumps out 382 hp. The thrust disparity is even greater when you consider torque, with the BMW making 450 lb-ft and the Mercedes producing 391 lb-ft.

The Audi has an advantage in gears, though. A new eight-speed automatic transmission (with manual-shift capability) helps improve the 2011 A8's fuel economy by a total of 15 percent compared to the existing model, Audi says. (Actually, 6 percent of the improved fuel economy is attributable to the tranny, while the rest comes from the engine calibration and overall gearing.)

While constructing its luxury sedan out of aluminum hasn't exactly turned the A8 into a flyweight Lotus, Audi anticipates that the big sedan will weigh less than the BMW 7 Series by the equivalent of one fat guy. Add all-wheel drive to the BMW (something that is, of course, standard on the Audi) and the weight differential grows to two fat guys or one morbidly obese guy (we just know we're going to get e-mail about this). The difference isn't so large compared to the S-Class, so no fat guy reference will be offered.

Either way, Audi says the 2011 A8 will get to 100 km/h (62 mph) from a standstill in 5.7 seconds.

Sportif!
Power output notwithstanding, Audi says that the new normal-wheelbase A8 will be the sportiest sedan in the segment. That's a contention we won't be able to comment upon until we actually drive one. But Audi says that its newer Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which splits torque 40 percent front/60 percent rear, is sportier than the old 50/50 setup. (OK, but that's still not sportier than the zero percent front/100 percent rear distribution of the standard 7 Series, right?)

Optionally available will be the torque-vectoring rear differential that has made such a stunning improvement in the handling of the new Audi S4. Apparently the Audi engineers have also thoroughly reworked the A8's adaptive air suspension and steering system to improve responsiveness. The suspension can be set, of course, in comfort, auto and dynamic modes depending on the driver's mood. In addition to suspension characteristics, each mode also determines settings for the steering, throttle action, transmission and sport differential.

Audi Dynamic Steering will also be offered, a system that can vary the steering ratio by almost 100 percent and also work with the stability control system to add a dab of countersteer to stabilize the car should get it crossed up in difficult circumstances, all without the driver's command or knowledge. Yes, it sounds creepy. No, it's not new to the industry.

Doodads
What good is paying six figures for a luxury sedan if you can't amaze and confound the less fortunate with miraculous feats of electronic whiz-bangery? (Don't answer that.)

This reminds us of the difficult world that any super-high-end vehicle faces, as product cycles might be measured in multiples of years, while electronic advancements/changes/complications can change before you can say "minidisc audio." And in this category, Audi has been outstripped in the past by those noted electronics enthusiasts, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes.

Well no longer, says Audi. To the A8's list of standard and optional equipment, Audi adds for 2011 a bunch of systems that those other brands have also been noodling with recently. They include: adaptive cruise control; infrared night vision with pedestrian-detection highlighting (which projects on a 7-inch display screen between the two main gauges on the instrument panel); Audi Braking Guard, which warns the driver of "critical situations with a warning sound and then a braking jolt"; autonomous braking to reduce speed should a collision become unavoidable; and a "pre-safe" system that closes windows and the sunroof, pulls slack out of seatbelts, activates partial autonomous braking and adjusts the seats in preparation for an impact.

The A8 Touch
Most of the electronics systems available for the 2011 Audi A8 are available on other high-end cars. But you can't draw letters with your fingers and have the navigation system understand what the hell you're doing, can you? No sir, you cannot.

Well, the A8's MMI (Multi Media Interface) can do just that using a system called MMI Touch. The system operates something like the touchpad cursor you find on most laptop computers. On it you can trace out letters (yes, even Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters) and the system will understand (hopefully) what you're probably misspelling.

The company also says the MMI Touch interface is backlit to allow it to change to a pointer for map functions, a number pad for radio functions and can be used to scroll through various menus. We're dying to try this.

Get the LED Out
In an ongoing effort to corner the world market on light-emitting diodes, Audi has decided to use one kabillion of the little semiconductors on the 2011 A8. Essentially all lighting is by LEDs. The headlights — both high- and low-beam — are the most obvious and most unusual use of the little buggers, while the daytime running lights, cornering lights, turn signals and taillights also feature LEDs.

And inside the cabin you'll find an ambient lighting package that uses, yes, LEDs for driver-selected color schemes of "ivory, polar and ruby." If this were from a carmaker with a less impressive record for tastefulness, we'd insert here a crack about the interior of New Jersey limousines. Thankfully, we won't.

Appearing Soon in a Store Near You
The 2011 Audi A8 (the standard-wheelbase version, which has been described here and is pictured) will go on sale in the U.S. in the fall of 2010. Later, a long-wheelbase version will arrive to do battle with the other big dogs in the luxury sedan segment. We've been led to believe that a high-performance Audi S8 is in the works as well (a model offered in 2009 but not for 2010).

Oh, and like a whole bunch of other cars from Audi, the 2011 Audi A8 will be built in Neckarsulm, Baden Wüerttemberg, Germany. And let me tell you, if you've got a Baden Wüerttemberg on your Neckarsulm you're going to end up spending some time in the old pestilence antechamber. Be careful out there. And remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

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