Fleet innovator test - Audi A8: Lord Alm8y
E-segment saloons like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class have grown so much in size, comfort and technology that one would start questioning the raison d’être of the F-segment. What does the A8 have in store to convince prospective buyers that it is worth the extra investment?
Audi introduced the first A8 in 1994 as an alternative to the BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class. It was the first limousine to use a full aluminium structure, saving hundreds of kilos and thereby increasing dynamics and efficiency. The new A8 – the fourth generation already – stays true to its DNA while betting big on advanced human machine interfaces (HMIs), mild hybrid technology (48V) and ADAS. It is the first production car to have level 3 autonomous driving skills, but these will not be activated before 2019.
Look & feel, practicality (16/20)
Even though the new A6 bears a strong resemblance with its bigger brother, the A Acht makes such an impression with its long, wide yet beautifully proportioned body that it’s hard not to see this is Audi’s flagship model - all the more so if it's the long wheelbase (L) model. The technical sophistication of the new A8 is perhaps best exemplified by the awesome dashboard. Aluminium, leather, wood and black glass work together to create something rather extraordinary, yet not exuberant. Rather annoyingly, the aluminium trim reflects sunlight right into the driver’s eyes and the touch screen is covered in finger prints in a matter of hours. That probably wouldn't bother you if you are sitting in the back, though.
Infotainment & HMI (17/20)
Ease of use was central in the development of the A8’s human-machine interfaces. BMW’s latest-generation iDrive was the benchmark to beat, but has Ingolstadt succeeded? We are inclined to say yes. You can write entire words on the lower part of the centre console, so you don’t have to wait until each letter is accepted. Moreover, the menus are well structured, making it easy to find your way. Also, the Virtual Cockpit really adds value, with its 3D maps right in front of you. Last but not least, you can also tell your Audi what you want speaking naturally – the A8 is so smart it doesn’t need structured messages.
Safety and ADAS (16/20)
When Audi introduced the A8 in Frankfurt last year, it was all too happy to highlight the fact that it was the first production car to be level 3 autonomous. Up to 60 km/h and on motorways, that is. However, European legislation does not allow Audi to activate this self-driving mode. Ingolstadt expects to get the green light in the course of 2019. In the meantime you can enjoy the A8’s adaptive cruise control with steering assist, whilst always keeping your hands on the wheel. In this category, it is hard to accept that you have to pay extra for a driver monitoring system, a rear view camera and traffic sign recognition.
Driving fun & street cred (15/20)
50 TDI is how Audi calls its mid-range diesel model – the 45 TDI and 55 TDI are likely to follow. The V6 employs two turbo chargers to squeeze 286 hp and 600 Nm out of the 2967 cc. Combined with the ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic and the standard Quattro all-wheel drive, this engine is a source of smooth performance across the entire spectrum. The engineers succeeded in creating a car that feels much more dynamic and agile than its 5.17 metres and two tonnes would suggest. The only limousine in this segment that offers more direct driving pleasure is perhaps the Maserati Quattroporte.
TCO & fleet cred (15/20)
Compared to its rivals from Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Lexus, the Audi carries an attractive price tag. Also looking at leasing rates, the big limo from Ingolstadt is amongst the least expensive propositions. Only the Tesla Model S sometimes undercuts the A8, but it offers neither the refinement, quality, status nor technicity of the German Autobahn king. The 50 TDI model is a mild hybrid: it benefits from a belt-driven starter alternator powered by a 48-volt battery, but not impressively so if you look at its CO2 rating of 145 g/km. The BMW 730xd scores 148 g/km, the Mercedes S-Class 350d 4Matc 154 g/km.
The bottom line (79/100)
The Audi A8 offers exactly what people in this vehicle category expect: smooth performance, maximum comfort, the latest infotainment and connectivity technology, a plethora of gadgets, top notch materials and a flawless fit and finish. It spoils both driver and rear passengers. We had expected more of the mild hybrid technology, though, and look forward to testing the full hybrid model with level 3 autonomy, which should be available in about a year’s time.
Is the A8 that much better than the new A6? We have not driven the latter yet, but suspect that the A8 is still one level up in terms of NVH and comfort. Moreover, Audi's flagship model offers more customisation options. From the rear passenger's point of view, the A6 is business class, whereas its bigger brother gives you an upgrade to first - on condition that you dress it up with a few infotainment features and go for the L version with individual rear seats.
- Comfort level: NVH, seats, suspension
- Intuitive voice assistant, infotainment quality, HMI
- Performance and dynamic efficiency
- Flawless fit and finish
- Limited fuel efficiency gained from mild hybrid tech
- Reflecting aluminium trim, touch screens immediately polluted by fingerprints and dust
- Greedy option policy
- No full hybrid nor level 3 autonomy yet
Explanation of the rating: 12/20 = average/satisfactory; <12/20 = below average/disappointing; >12/20 = better than average/exceptional. All ratings take into account the category/size of the tested car.
Picture copyright: Audi, 2018