New Audi A8 TFSI e plug-in hybrid 2020 review
The new plug-in hybrid Audi A8 TFSI e has a lot of positives, but it lacks the ride quality or refinement of its rivals
Plug-in hybrid power makes a lot of sense for Audi A8s driven by chauffeurs, which many of the long-wheelbase versions will be. However, the newcomer falls down in several key areas where its main luxury competitors stand out – namely the ride quality and refinement. The A8 isn’t as comfortable to travel in as we would like, and the powertrain could be better implemented. It’s a strong all-round package, but not quite a class benchmark.
The flagship Audi A8 saloon has finally arrived in the UK with full plug-in hybrid power. This 60 TFSI e is an impressive result of the brand’s efforts, but it’s a bit late to the party; the BMW 7 Series has been available as a plug-in for four years, and the fuel-sipping version of the Mercedes S-Class has already established itself in this area of the market. So can the A8 make a strong case for itself?
The Audi, driven here in long-wheelbase A8 L form, follows a similar formula to its rivals. Its small battery (14kWh in this case) supplies power to an electric motor, which provides a performance boost to the petrol engine under the bonnet in normal driving. It can also drive the car in its own right when EV mode is selected.
The motor produces 134bhp on its own, but the Audi’s main source of power is a 3.0-litre V6. This brings the total output to 443bhp and 700Nm of torque.
As a result, the A8 has superb performance. The availability of instant torque from the electric motor makes for effortless overtaking. It’s very refined, too, because the motor is completely silent, and this, along with excellent soundproofing throughout, means driving at city speeds is very relaxing. Wind and road noise are well suppressed even at high speeds, and the smooth V6 gives a pleasing hum when it’s asked for a hit of performance on the move.
However, the integration of the powertrain with the A8’s eight-speed automatic gearbox could be better. The engine fires up automatically when it needs to (unless you’ve set the controls to EV-only mode), and this is sometimes accompanied by a slight driveline shunt.
The transmission also occasionally has a lumpy shift – usually when you put your foot down out of a junction and the engine has just turned on. While this is only a small niggle, we would expect more from a top-of-the-line car such as the A8 L.
Audi claims the car’s all-electric range is 29 miles, which is virtually identical to what its main rivals from BMW and Mercedes are capable of. Such a distance will comfortably cover many people’s daily commute without needing to call upon the V6 at all. The car also emits a synthetic noise below 12mph to alert pedestrians, who may not hear you coming, of your presence.
There’s some nifty on-board tech to allow the driver to get the most out of the battery, too. The A8 uses a predictive navigation system, which helps maintain charge on high-speed sections of a journey so the battery can power you at lower pace – in town for example, where the engine is less efficient. The throttle pedal will also vibrate if you’re approaching a road with a lower speed limit, to tell you to lift off and coast to help further improve efficiency. Clever stuff.
While the Audi is able to recharge the battery from its regenerative brakes, this does have another small side effect; the pedal is a bit harder to modulate and use smoothly than in a regular A8.
The story is similar when it comes to the ride quality. To be clear, the Audi is one of the most comfortable cars around – yet it falls short of the class’s very best, such as the S-Class and 7 Series. The A8’s suspension doesn’t control large body movements as well as a 7 Series’ – which is highlighted even more by the UK’s poor surfaces. The Mercedes, meanwhile, deals with rough roads with far greater fluidity.
Over roads with plenty of big undulations, the A8 doesn’t settle quickly enough, and on those with a lot of small imperfections a little too much vibration comes through to the cabin. Such is the level of competition in this class that flaws such as these are highlighted – and given the substantial price tag on this car, buyers are well within their rights to ask for something better.
It’s probably less surprising to hear that the Audi is not much fun to drive, either. The steering is very numb, which combines with the slightly loose body control to make the A8 a car you probably want to be driven in rather than pilot yourself – and the A8 really is a fantastic place in which to spend time. It’s perhaps a little bit too much like the lesser A6 inside, but that car has one of the best cabins around.
There’s loads of tech, including three display screens (two on the centre console and one for dials), a full suite of safety kit and, on our car with the £2,995 Chauffeur Pack, TV screens for both rear seats. For extra comfort you can also add acoustic double glazing for £675, as well as electric sun blinds in the back for £900. A panoramic glass roof costs £1,600.
Rear legroom is beyond plentiful, just like in the Audi’s long-wheelbase rivals. Quality is as good as you would expect, too, but if we could change just one thing, it would be to remove all the shiny black plastic on the dashboard, because it looks dirty with even the slightest bit of dust or grease on it.
Conveniently, you can control a lot of the A8’s functions from outside the car. Using the myAudi app, buyers can also check the battery and range status, start the charging process remotely and programme the timer to make use of cheaper energy prices when charging the car during the night.
Owners can also pre-set the climate control so that it comes on before a journey begins, and even activate the heaters on the seat, steering wheel, mirror, and front and rear windows if they’re setting out on a particularly cold morning.
|Model:||Audi A8 L 60 TFSI e quattro Sport|
|Engine:||3.0-litre V6 petrol hybrid|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|