Audi A8 50 TDI quattro review
The A8 is Audi's flagship model, intended to show what the German marque can do on the principles of 'Vorsprung durch Technik'. As such, the new A8 is a technological tour de force, with advanced equipment both on display and making everything tick beneath the metal. NGC tests the Audi A8 50 TDI quattro to see how it stacks up in the luxury saloon market.
Review by Chris Lilly
Audi has gone with a new naming system for the latest generation of its models, using a figure to denote a power band each model sits in rather than more conventional engine capacity or output based digits. As such, the Audi A8 50 TDI quattro uses a 3.0 litre 286hp mild-hybrid diesel unit, putting power through a eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. This powertrain is capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in 5.9 seconds, before heading on to a top speed of 155mph. It's no slouch then, even in this 'base' model, though the 55 TFSI petrol is three-tenths quicker to 62mph if more pace is required. The engine is a beautifully smooth unit, and a good match for the eight-speed auto, with the combination allowing for maximum wafting ability - the A8's primary characteristic. As such, cruising at motorway pace is both effortless and very quiet, while driving in town and on open roads is just as effortless. If in a hurry, the engine and transmission will respond accordingly, particularly when put into Dynamic mode. It will pick up the pace enthusiastically, though there is little doubt that you are driving a large car, and that the powertrain would rather potter along than tear about the place. The engine is a punchy yet frugal unit, and as such, a more relaxed style of driving suits the A8 best.
This relaxed approach is true of the handling too, though again, the A8 can be sent down a twisty B-road at pace if required. Put in Dynamic mode, the A8 is surprisingly good to drive enthusiastically, and there is a certain amount of satisfaction in treating the luxury saloon like a hot-hatch. The suspension keeps body roll to a minimum, and there is enough feedback through the wheel to let you thread a line through a corner accurately and with confidence - helped no doubt by the four-wheel steering. This makes the car more agile on tight roads, but less twitchy on motorways. Back in more normal habitats though, this same precision makes life avoiding kerbing the alloys and squeezing through car parks relatively simple. The suspension in normal mode is brilliantly set-up too, with a balance between comfort and control that is first class, even for this market. There is active suspension available, which will raise or lower each wheel depending on what the road surface is doing, though to be honest, the standard set-up is so accomplished, I would need to be blown away by the trick system to recommend it. Expectations as to how a car such as the A8 should drive are high, and Audi has more than matched them in my opinion.
The A8 is a lovely looking machine from this writer's view point. Long gone are the clean, Bauhaus-style lines of past Audis, but the A8 is a stylish car, and one that is well-pitched for its market. I reckon a luxury saloon should be restrained in appearance, as a flashy design could be deemed vulgar by those likely to buy one. When compared to rivals from BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes then, the A8 is the pick of the bunch in terms of aesthetics - though each to their own. Some stand-out features prevent the A8 becoming a boring design though, with the full-width rear lights, and creases in the body work doing a good job of keeping everything visually interesting. Perhaps the grille is too large, but that's the trend currently, and fits with Audi's design language. The classic three-box design means there is plenty of space inside too. The boot is comfortably large enough for a holiday's worth of suitcases, and the space in the cabin is understandably luxurious from the . . . luxury saloon. Tested was the regular model, though for those with particularly long limbs or with frankly ridiculous demands for added leg space, there is a long-wheelbase version of the A8 too. Head, leg, and shoulder room is superb for four adults though, and there are few better cars to be in for a long distance drive than the big Audi.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The A8's cabin is where you can easily see some of the technology that has gone into creating the new model. Most striking is the new MMI Touch Duo infotainment system, which consists of twin widescreen systems, stacked one on top of the other. It manages to almost remove all conventional buttons, and instead wraps them up in a sophisticated infotainment package. The top screen controls systems such as satellite navigation, while the bottom screen deals with climate controls and the like. The system is customisable though, and each screen can display a large range of features - enough to fill a road test on the MMI Touch Duo alone if gone into in depth. The removal of conventional controls can seem like a false benefit, since touchscreen systems are not as easy to control as a button or dial. However, Audi has got around this largely by giving the system haptic feedback, with the screens 'pushing' back when a control is inputted. This makes it easier to use when not looking at the screen(s) and also means you are more certain the correct push/swipe/pinch input has been made. A proper button still trumps it for usability, but only just. And the whole system makes for a nicely designed dashboard. Other features up front include vents that disappear behind some matt wood or aluminium when not needed, adjustable seats for a good driving position, and a digital instrument display - Audi's Virtual Cockpit - which is found in other models too. The rear passengers can get a tablet to take over control of the infotainment system, and the whole cabin feels beautifully put together. Audi's reputation for interiors is very good, and the A8 only enhances it.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The A8 50 TDI quattro is the most economical model in the range, with official figures of 50.4 MPG and 145 g/km CO2. The model tested sees those statistics shift to 48.7 MPG and 152 g/km CO2, since it was fitted with 20-inch wheels over the standard 18-inch rims. It's very easy to get close to those economy figures though, since at the end of almost 500 miles of driving, my average was 47.6 MPG - and the trip computer said there were more than 300 miles left in the tank. I didn't really try hard to be frugal and achieve that figure either, with driving styles averaging out to 'normal' over that period. Over a shorter, predominantly motorway based run, the average was 55.7 MPG - again, with no effort to be particularly frugal. In terms of tax, the A8 will cost £205 for the 18-inch wheel option, or £515 for the test model's first year rate - remember that this is included in a car's OTR. Following on from that, all A8 models will cost £450 for year's 2-6 since all cost more than the £40,000 threshold for the Premium Rate.
The core green car news for the A8 is that all models are mild-hybrids. This doesn't actually represent the ability to drive on electric power only, but it does reduce the load on the engine - petrol or diesel. At start up, what is essentially a beefed-up starter motor aids in getting the car running, and also takes part in the same action during stop/start traffic. The mild hybrid runs a 48V system too, which means that the hybrid part of the car's powertrain can power a number of auxiliary systems too, without operating as a drain on the engine. The system also allows the car to cut the engine when coasting at higher speeds, and it will harvest energy otherwise lost under braking to charge the battery. It's a case of every little helps really, and the integrated starter motor helps fill in the torque gap at very low revs, acting almost like an electric turbo/supercharger. All told, the mild hybrid system will save as much as 0.7 litres every 62 miles according to Audi. A plug-in hybrid A8 L e-tron is due at a later date, with around 31 miles of electric driving range available and wireless car charging. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 52.
As you might expect, the A8 is very well equipped, and with some advanced kit. Chief amongst these promises is the fact that the Audi has all of the systems required for semi-autonomous driving - SAE Level 3 to be precise. This means that the car will be able to monitor the surroundings and drive - steer, accelerate, brake - by itself, but still requires a drive to monitor everything. Until this is legal to use in the UK, Audi's Traffic Jam Pilot is a simpler system, which makes life easier in heavy traffic by combining lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control to move the car about. It can be used at up to 37mph on roads with clear lane markings, and also has remote parking features - though it must be said that Volvo's Pilot Assist system can be used at higher speeds. Other advanced tech includes the previously mentioned active suspension, which can raise a side of the A8 if it detects that a side impact is about to take place. LED lights front and rear are standard, as are 18-inch alloys, adaptive air suspension, powered tailgate, MMI Touch Duo with navigation, Audi Virtual Cockpit, heated front seats, two-zone air conditioning, head-up display, reversing camera and parking sensors all-round, and leather trim. Options include the 20-inch alloys, Comfort & Sound Pack, night vision assistant, and four-zone air conditioning fitted to the test car, which included 360-degree camera view, and a superb Bang & Olufsen stereo.
Naturally the A8 is an expensive vehicle. The range starts at almost £69,000, and the model tested added almost £10,000 worth of extras to that - and that's the base model. However, the price is a fair reflection on how good the car is. Competition in the luxury saloon class is tough, but the A8 is certainly one of the best models around. It's stylish, economical, packed with equipment, and comfortable yet enjoyable to drive. For those looking at this type of car, costs are likely to not be top of their priorities, which removes the only real downside the A8 has. The other 'bad' point is the A8's NGC Rating, though this is about as good as you'll find in its class for a car without a plug.
Model tested: Audi A8 50 TDI quattro
Body-style: Large executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 3.0 litre 286 hp diesel / 152 g/km
Trim grades: A8 and A8 S Line - plus LWB variants of each
On-road price: from £69,415. Price as tested £79,675
Warranty: Three year / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars