Our 2008 Audi A8 is just one in a long convoy that whisks through Karlsfeld, a small suburb about 50 klicks outside Munich. It's just after dawn on a Thursday morning and the small town is cloaked in thick fog. Twenty sets of xenon headlights cut through the haze and the bicycle commuters stop to watch our cavalcade roar across the cobblestone streets.
They probably assume that our big sedans with tinted windows must contain important political figures or high-ranking members of the Russian mafia. Whatever, because their open-mouthed reaction testifies to the 2008 Audi A8's presence on the road.
It proves that the A8 commands every bit as much shock and awe as the BMW 750Li or Mercedes-Benz S550, particularly in a small town where most of the cars on the streets could fit inside the trunk of our A8.
But It Doesn't Feel Big
Out of town and rocketing down a narrow, twisting German B-road, the 2008 Audi A8 has a way of feeling smaller than it actually is. This is a monumental achievement when you consider we're talking about one of the largest four-door sedans on the road. In "L" trim, the A8 checks in at a monumental 204.4 inches long and 74.6 inches wide, not counting the mirrors. This is a half-inch longer than a BMW 750Li and the same length as two Smart Fortwos placed end to end.
Maybe the feeling of compact maneuverability comes down to the precise steering, which seems telepathic thanks to the quicker-ratio steering rack from the current-generation S8 (a feature that every model of the new A8 will have). The newfound steering response allows you to precisely place the big A8 right between the fir trees at the edge of the road and the oncoming bread vans without making Mr. Baker-man cover his face and say his prayers when you zip through the gap.
The 2008 A8 also gets a revised air-spring suspension, which Audi calls "more responsive to minor irregularities in the road surface." Great, although we hadn't noticed the previous system was in need of improvement. As before, the suspension offers four driver-selected suspension modes that determine the firmness of body control as well as overall ride height.
The Grass Is Greener on the Other Side
No matter how good the steering and suspension might be, there's nothing like standing on the loud pedal and letting 'er rip. The 4.2-liter V8's eight cylinders hammer hard, while twin turbochargers help sink your skull back into the headrest with the swell of torque starting from just 1,600 rpm.
Wait, cancel that. It turns out that the twin-turbo diesel — the best of the A8's engine packages with 322 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque — isn't available on our side of the Atlantic. You'd never believe that a diesel could deliver such performance. Trust us, the grass actually is greener with Audi's twin-turbo V8 diesel.
But we're not doing too badly, as the U.S.-specification A8 will continue to be offered with the 4.2-liter V8 with direct injection, and the innovative 6.0 W12 will also be part of the program. And the S8 will continue to feature the 450-hp 5.0-liter V10 yanked from the Lamborghini Gallardo.
Opt for the 350-hp V8 and you'll find yourself 10 hp shy of the output of the BMW 750Li's 5.0-liter V8 and a full 32 hp down on a Mercedes-Benz S550's 5.5-liter V8. On the other hand, your Audi A8 is still hundreds of pounds lighter than either of those cars, despite the added weight of all-wheel drive.
If you're feeling inadequate, you can always check the box for the W12, which combines 450 hp with 428 lb-ft of torque for a surge of power in a luxuriously effortless whoosh. Plus, you seem like someone who has better things to do than drag race from stoplight to stoplight anyway.
Pick the Lambo V10-powered S8, on the other hand, and your 2-ton luxury car will roar with a soul that could drown out James Brown at a Baptist church on Easter morning.
Coddled and Quiet
When we tested the A8 L W12 back in 2005, we said it made us feel more at home in its well-appointed cabin than the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. We still can't think of a better way to describe the feeling. The top-notch interior of the 2008 Audi A8 feels warm and welcoming, despite its size.
Solving problems that don't exist seems to be one of Audi's specialties. To this end, the new A8 is even quieter than before — it's now the quietest car in its class. The new bragging rights are thanks largely to new fiber-type materials and textile surfaces that reduce ambient noise without adding weight.
For 2008 the A8's plush interior receives a few more gizmos. A vibrating steering wheel, for example. Using Audi's MMI control interface, you can adjust the vibration in three levels of intensity. It's not some newfangled European massage system but instead, part of Audi's lane-departure warning system. Set the system to its most aggressive warning profile (there are three sensitivity levels) and the steering wheel will jiggle like Rip Van Winkle on speed in order to shake you awake.
The 2008 A8 can also be equipped with Audi's blind-spot warning technology, which illuminates yellow LEDs in the outside rearview mirrors when it senses a vehicle in your blind spot. If the system is triggered and you maneuver toward the hidden vehicle, the lights get brighter and flash repeatedly. According to the engineers at Audi, "It is virtually impossible to overlook this impulse because the human eye is highly sensitive to changes in contrast in the peripheral field of vision."
Both these gizmos come as a package that'll run you $1,400.
Nip, Tuck and a Few More Bucks
All but the automotive elite will be hard-pressed to distinguish a 2008 Audi A8 from the old one, as the fundamental sculpture remains largely unchanged. There's a minor face-lift with a one-piece grille treatment, blinkers in the outside mirrors and LED-style taillights, but that's about it.
As you might expect, the people at Ingolstadt have raised the prices for the various A8 models, and the regular A8 4.2 starts at $70,690, a $1,790 premium over last year's car. The same additional price premium goes for the long-wheelbase A8 L, which now runs $74,690. Meanwhile, the S8 jumps $1,900 to $93,900. But if you splurge for the A8 L W12, the price jump amounts to just $750 for a total of $120,875.
The 2008 Audi A8 isn't cheap, but we've said it before and we'll say it again: The Audi A8 is as good as cars get.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.