Audi A8

Lighter, more efficient flagship hits the road with Jag’s new XJ firmly in its sights

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The new A8 is a masterpiece of technology. This brilliantly engineered flagship offers incredible performance, build quality and innovation. Thanks to the superb new aluminium spaceframe chassis, Audi has drastically improved efficiency, too. Plus, there will be no shortage of choice, with a hybrid, a hot S8 and a W12-engined version on the way. While the A7 – due later this year – will appeal to fashion-conscious buyers, those who are happy not to stand out too much should step forward.

Meet the car that Audi says really shows what it’s capable of... This is the new A8 – and Auto Express has driven it for the first time this week.

Deliveries of the fourth-generation flagship start in May, and Audi is hoping it will outperform the BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS 460 and Mercedes S-Class. As well as a new look, the car gets a fresh aluminium chassis, upgraded cabin with an infra-red night-vision camera, revamped air-suspension, revised engines and an eight-speed auto gearbox.

So, does it feel like a range-topper? Well, lay eyes on it and you could be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed. While the XJ has reinvented itself, the A8 is an evolutionary step. However, details such as the sharp shoulder lines and beautiful LED headlights grow on you.

Jump inside and you can’t fail to be impressed. In comes a wraparound dashboard complete with a gear selector that looks as if it’s from a multi-million-pound yacht. Legroom and boot space are vast, too.

Everywhere you look there’s innovation. The updated MMI cabin control system features a touchpad that lets drivers ‘write’ their destination into the sat-nav, and includes Google search and 3D maps. Plus, the night vision spots pedestrians in the dark.

Under the skin, the aluminium spaceframe is 24 per cent stiffer than before and the new A8 weighs 200kg less than its rivals. Add an energy recovery system, and it’s very efficient.

Even the range-topping 345bhp 4.2-litre V8 TDI diesel we drove emits 199g/km and returns nearly 40mpg. It will be joined in September by a 3.0 V6 TDI with stop-start – this offers 159g/km and 47.1mpg.

The V8 in our car delivers 800Nm of torque, which means phenomenal acceleration – but with barely any engine noise. It’s enormously comfortable and takes long distances in its stride. The gearbox is slick and the revised air-suspension helps the A8 float over bumps. Yet it feels taut at the same time. Only small imperfections in the road highlight the stiffness of the car’s big alloy wheels.

High-spec models like the 4.2 TDI and 4.2 FSI petrol get the active sport differential as standard. This works in tandem with Audi’s Drive Select system – which gives a choice of Auto, Comfort and Dynamic modes, so you can tune throttle and steering response – to ensure the A8 is cruiser one moment and sports saloon the next.

Backing up the dynamic package is quattro four-wheel drive, which offers brilliant grip and security. The only flies in the ointment are the steering, which loads up artificially and is short on feel, plus the weight of the diesel engine. The 4.2 V8 petrol car is 160kg lighter, and much more agile. Nevertheless, the Audi has the depth of talent to top the luxury car class.

Rival: Jaguar XJ Reinvented big cat has a head-turning new shape and a cabin worthy of a Bentley. High-performance petrol and diesel engines, plus a class-leading driving experience, make the XJ one of 2010’s most eagerly awaited cars.

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