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The aluminum-bodied A8 has been Audis flagship sedan since its introduction in the 1997 model year. Adding an "L" to the "A8" designation also adds 5.1 inches of length to the car, resulting in limousine-like rear seating. Personally I think the "L" versions are too long for typical ownership. Theyre more suited to CEOs with drivers rather than parents with 2.5 kids - but hey, its unlikely my chequing account will soon cover the $72,090 price tag hung on my tester, so why worry. That said, the A8 Ls steep price-point buys a tremendous amount of wood, leather and cutting-edge technology, not to mention opulence, prestige and impressive performance, and who can put a price on that! Okay, back to reality.
The 204-inch long A8 L is almost identical in size to BMWs 750Li, which is perhaps its most direct competitor. Both of these vehicles are benchmark setters within the full-size, premium sedan category, but like top performing CEOs, each exhibits its own leadership style while remaining true to similar, success-building strategies.
Core strategies begin with exterior styling. Where the Bimmer is cut and chiseled, the Audi is smooth and sculpted, projecting more of a sophisticated but conservative boardroom image over the BMWs "risk mitigation be damned" approach. Which do I like better? I give the nod to the Audi, but only by a fender so to speak. The Audi projects a more timeless design. Like bell-bottom pants and teardrop collars, Bangles work on the Bimmer may look dated after the next 7-Series restyling. While the wood and leather laden cabin of the 2006 BMW 750Li I recently road tested was beautifully executed, it didnt measure up to the gracious environs greeting me in Audis opulent livingroom.
Audi is renowned for well-crafted cabins, and the A8 is its shining star. The interior architecture in my tester included a stunning center console finished in gleaming Birch burl (Sycamore burl is available). Wood appliqués also beautified the A8s sleek dashboard and added elegance to each of its four doors. There is a "richness" imparted by the A8s buttery interior that makes a person feel like royalty, but the regal cockpit can just as easily induce feelings of frustration and inadequacy in the technically-challenged among us. Audio and navigation functions are controlled through Audis Multi Media Interface (MMI) system, which is similar to but easier to use than BMWs iDrive technology. MMI also enables the contouring of a plethora of vehicle comfort settings and more. Adapting to MMI takes time and practice, especially if a driver wishes to engage MMI to its full potential.
Fortunately Audi has also incorporated voice-activation into many of the MMI-controlled functions, but again users need to learn the wording for the various commands and cue their passengers to voice-activation prior to issuing oral orders. Failing to do so will draw more than a few perplexed looks from passengers unaware of the A8s voice-activation technology, plus uttering incorrect words simply confuses the system causing unintended results.
Once familiarization renders confusion obsolete, drivers can easily select one of four height-adjustable variable damping suspension settings, part of Audis adaptive air suspension system. This setup arrives as standard A8 equipment; an optional performance-oriented version is also available, but in my view is unnecessary. The standard air-ride system delivers a pleasing blend of stout-handling and very civilized road manners. Why someone would feel the need to upset the ideal balance in favor of tighter handling is as mysterious to me as Jimmy Hoffas whereabouts, however, Audi makes it possible. And thanks to the big cars big horsepower, they also make quick getaways possible - something else Hoffa could likely have used.
Two engines are available in the A8 and A8 L: a potent 335-horsepower V8 and a powerhouse, 450-horsepower W12. My tester held the V8, which was capable of smoothly powering the extra-spacious A8 L from static to 60 mph in only 6.2 seconds. Thats nothing short of impressive for a sedan tipping the scales at 4,389 lbs - Audi claims an even more startling time of 4.9 seconds when the W12 is doing the pushing. Without doubt, Audis 4.2-liter V8 is one of the sweetest engines in manufacture today. It finds its maximum torque of 317 foot-pounds early in the rev band and holds it throughout a sprint to 7,000 rpm. Free-breathing credit goes to its 5-valves per cylinder and the variable intake timing that Audi has given the polished powerplant. Seldom does this ultra-smooth mill have to do more then burble quietly to keep the big "L" at the front of the line, but when the hammer drops, lookout.
My test unit was fitted with optional 19-inch wheels shod in 255/40R rubber. Off-the-line the sticky rubber gripped the pavement at all four corners and sling-shot the A8 L quattro out of the hole with amazing thrust while virtually eliminating wasteful wheel spin on wet or dry tarmac. Almost immediately the A8s 6-speed autobox, featuring a "sport" mode, discreetly replaced first gear with second and so on. Speed builds deceptively fast in the A8 while its high-revving V8 emits an intoxicating muted growl. On the highway the A8s power is most welcome. As if devouring one of Germanys great autobahns, the A8 exhibits compelling passing power at any speed while remaining rock-steady, unflappable and buttoned-down. At autobahn-illegal speeds (meaning too slow, not too fast), my tester drew very little wind and road noise, making long stints from town to town most relaxing. My testers vault-like quiet cabin allowed every musical nuance to be heard with crystal clarity through the cars sensational audio system, which shared the pop-up Navigation screen. When not in use, the 7-inch screen conceals itself behind the beautiful wood inlay mid-point along the dashboard.