Audi A8 review
The flagship Audi A8 saloon takes the fight to Mercedes S-Class, Range Rover and BMW 7 Series
The Audi A8 is now in its third generation, having been firmly established in the luxury car class since the mid-90s. Taking on the likes of the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series, all A8 versions come with Audi’s trademark quattro four-wheel drive system and eight-speed DSG gearbox mated to one of five engines.
Petrol and diesel powerplants are available in the A8. On the diesel front, buyers can opt for either a V6 or V8 TDI which provide muscular performance and surprisingly strong fuel economy. Petrol fans can choose from a 4.0-litre V8 TFSI or 6.3-litre W12, which can also be found under the bonnet of the Bentley Continental GT and Flying Spur.
The A8 can accommodate those who prefer to opt for hybrid power too. This petrol/electric model combines a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the VW Golf GTI with a powerful electric motor to deliver fuel economy figures that almost match those of the diesels.
In terms of trim levels, the A8 range consists of SE, SE Executive, Sport Executive and Hybrid. All of these models are available in standard or long-wheelbase (LWB) form.
Topping off the range is the S8, equipped with a 4.0 TFSI V8 that can also be found in the mighty RS6. This engine has been detuned for the S8, though, with power sitting at a still substantial 513bhp and 620Nm of torque.
The Audi A8 may not the most exciting car to look at on the road but it has a high-quality cabin, efficient and strong-performing engines, sharp dynamics and good body control.
Our pick: A8 3.0 TDI SE Executive
The Audi A8 has always traded on its understated looks, but it can often be difficult to distinguish it from smaller, less expensive Audis from a distance thanks to styling cues shared with the rest of the range. It’s a handsome and well-proportioned car but won’t turn heads like the Mercedes S-Class or Range Rover.
On the inside, the A8 maintains Audi’s reputation for building some of the best interiors in the business. Top-quality materials are used throughout with a logically laid-out dash plus a vast array of leathers, veneers and inlays to make your A8 feel as opulent as possible.
Even before buyers get tick-happy on the options list, the A8 has a suitably upmarket feel inside thanks to 12-way electrically adjustable leather heated seats, sat-nav, four-zone climate control and hi-tech features like a touch-pad MMI controller included as standard.
Also offered are MatrixBeam LED headlamps, available with a pedestrian detection system. Thermal imaging cameras identify people in the dark and strobe them with a separate beam while sounding a warning chime to the driver. On quieter roads, the lights can track up to eight cars to keep the main beam on at all times while masking out specific areas of light to avoid dazzling those driving in the opposite direction.
Thanks to its quattro four-wheel drive system, the A8 has a reputation for being one of the sharpest luxury cars to drive with plenty of grip and taut body control. Stability at speed is strong and it’s an enjoyable car to drive on a twisty back road. The trade-off for this, though, is a firmer low-speed ride.
Tyre noise is also more of an issue in the A8 compared with the cossetting Mercedes S-Class. Audi’s Drive Select system is fitted as standard, but even tweaking these settings doesn’t manage to settle the big A8. The balance between comfort and handling never manages to match that of the S-Class.
The 3.0-litre TDI puts out 246bhp and sprints from 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds, but promises claimed economy of 47.9mpg. The Hybrid is front-wheel drive, whereas the rest of the A8 range has quattro four-wheel drive, which delivers staggering traction and grip in corners.
If drivers want the ultimate in luxury performance, the S8 puts out 513bhp from its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, which will demolish the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.1 seconds. Agility gets a boost too, thanks to the sophisticated Sport Quattro rear differential which channels power to individual rear wheels.
In our latest Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, Audi ranked in 12th place, behind both BMW and Mercedes, while Audi dealers came a disappointing 26th out 32 manufacturers.
The A8 hasn’t been subject to Euro NCAP’s crash safety tests, but there’s little reason to doubt its safety credentials. A strong structure and six airbags are standard, as is Audi’s pre-sense system, which automatically tensions the seat belts and closes the windows if it detects an imminent collision. Tyre pressure monitoring and electronic stability control are also standard.
As is the case across the Audi range and other upmarket cars, the A8 is available with a host of optional safety upgrades. These include lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and a night vision camera.
It’s no surprise to find the A8 features an extremely spacious interior given its luxury car status – even the short wheelbase model benefits from plenty of head and legroom. Opt for the long wheelbase model and passengers in the rear are afforded a further 120mm of space in which to stretch.
If your A8 is going to be chauffeur-driven, it’s well worth considering one of the optional rear seat packages. This turns the A8 into a strict four-seater, but the individual rear chairs have 12-way electric adjustment, plus the front passenger seat can be remotely moved forward to provide even more legroom in the rear.
Opening the boot reveals a well-shaped 510-litre luggage space, but the absence of a folding rear bench limits the A8’s abilities as a versatile holdall. On the plus-side, the added security of four-wheel drive makes the Audi a strong competitor if you plan to use it in snowy or wet weather on a regular basis.
As a result of its size and strong-performing engines, the A8 features stop-start and regenerative braking in order to keep running costs in check – 40mpg should be possible if you’re careful. These figures can’t compete with the newer S-Class, though.
The A8 is, however, cheaper to insure than the Mercedes S-Class, while fixed-price servicing makes budgeting for maintenance easy. However, the A8 has poorer residual values than the S-Class and the Range Rover and the initial depreciation will be eye-watering, like any luxury limo.
Company car drivers looking to slash their costs will be attracted to the A8 Hybrid, which emits just 144g/km of CO2 in standard wheelbase form and attracts even less Benefit in Kind taxation than the diesel.