Audi A8 review
Lots of luxury means Audi’s flagship A8 saloon takes the fight to the Mercedes S-Class and the Range Rover
The Audi A8 has been around since 1994, but more than 20 years since its launch, the car is only in its third generation showing the longevity of Audi’s big, flagship luxury saloon.
In this class the Audi has got to face up to some stiff competition, including the incredible Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the opulent Range Rover, so to improve the A8’s chances all models come fitted with the firm’s trademark quattro four-wheel drive system and an eight-speed DSG gearbox.
There are five engines to choose from, including two diesels, two petrols and one petrol hybrid model. Whichever one you go for, though, all are smooth and refined, delivering strong performance. When it comes to trim levels, there are six in the range, as well as extended wheelbase versions of many.
It’s the entry-level SE model that opens the line-up, featuring 18-inch wheels, adaptive air suspension, electrically adjustable heated seats, LED headlights, sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB and cruise control.
Next up is SE Executive, which benefits from a reversing camera on top of the standard parking sensors, a powered boot lid with hands-free opening, soft-close doors and more adjustable seats. SE and SE Executive are also available as a long wheelbase L version, with this pack adding an extra 130mm of legroom in the rear, electric sun blinds for the rear doors and screen, four-zone climate control and a sunroof.
Sport models feature Sports seats, 19-inch alloys, a Bose surround sound stereo and LED headlights on top, but it’s not offered in limousine form. In reverse, the Hybrid model is only available in extended wheelbase guise, which gets three-zone climate control and some other hybrid-specific equipment.
The S8 is the sportiest model in the range, with Sports air suspension, a powerful V8 turbo engine, variable dynamic steering, 20-inch wheels and an upgraded brake system, as well as lots of S model detailing inside and out. At the top of the A8 tree sits the W12 model – like the S8 this is a trim level in itself, with the biggest engine and the most features.
Our pick: A8 3.0 TDI SE Executive
Engines, performance and drive
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 cosseting refinement of the 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 V6 TDI puts out 258bhp and sprints from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, but promises claimed economy of 49.6mpg. There’s a more powerful 4.2-litre TDI V8 on top of this that kicks out 380bhp and a massive 850Nm of torque. This helps it to sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds, which is faster than some sports cars.
The Hybrid is front-wheel drive and uses a 2.0-litre turbo engine combined with an electric motor to serve up 242bhp; 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.
The top-spec W12 uses the same 6.3-litre engine as in the Bentley Continental GT, detuned here to produce 493bhp. It’s extremely smooth, but not cheap to buy or run.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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 148g/km of CO2 and attracts even less Benefit in Kind taxation than the diesel.
The S8 and W12 are the two least efficient models in the range – returning best figures of 30.1mpg with 216g/km CO2 and 25.7mpg with 254g/km respectively, budget for high running costs.
Interior, design and technology
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. For many this will be a positive, as it’s a car that doesn’t shout about its appearance. The A8 is handsome and well proportioned, but it won’t turn heads like the Mercedes S-Class or Range Rover, which have more standout styling details.
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. However, again, it doesn’t look quite as bespoke as its two main rivals.
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. This not only looks great, but helps improve safety, too.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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 130mm 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 520-litre luggage space in the W12. It drops to 490 litres for the two diesels and just 335 litres for the hybrid, due to the location of the battery pack.
The absence of a folding rear bench limits the A8’s abilities as a versatile holdall. On the plus side though, 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.
Reliability and Safety
In our latest Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, Audi ranked in 13th place, slipping one spot on its 2014 result and behind BMW. Audi’s dealers came a disappointing 26th out of 32 manufacturers, too – not what you’d expect from a premium brand.
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 – combined with LED headlights the latter should help vision and improve safety.