Flagships are typically the fastest, largest, most heavily armed ships in a battle. They also generally lead the charge on the enemy and - as a result have to look spectacularly awe-inspiring. So when Audi sat down to redesign their top-of-the-range-uber-luxury A8, they made sure it looked the part.
[caption id="attachment_42202" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="All your base are belong to us"]
Its titanic front grille looks like an incoming steam train - a steam train with a kajillion LED lights. The A8 is one of the first few cars on the planet to feature all-LED exterior lights and Audi has arranged them in the best way possible - to look like wingtips. Its looks are a topic of hot debate among car enthusiasts. Some say its meat-grinder front end is a little too ostentatious for a luxury car, while others rebuke that argument by pointing to the Rolls Royce Phantom. Love it or hate it, the A8 commands road presence; while test driving it – the sheer volume of traffic falling over itself to get out of my way, made me grin.
The car's V8 engine puts out 372 BHP and displaces 4.2 liters. Torque figures stand at 445Nm @ 3,500RPM. Should you feel that's not enough, there’s a 500BHP W12 version coming soon to the UAE. The V8 does 0-100 Kmph in a respectable 5.8 seconds. The W12 variant stomps those figures out at 4.7 seconds. The A8 also features Audi's Quattro (4WD) system which splits torque 40/60 between the front & rear and comes standard with an adaptive air suspension. Despite its size, the A8 is surprisingly fuel efficient (thanks to its all-aluminum frame). It consumes 9.7liters/100Kms - that makes it as fuel efficient as some larger luxury hybrids such as the S-Class or the 7 Series.
The Flagshippyness doesn't end there. We tested out the A8 L - the long-wheelbase variant of the A8, which at 5.27 meters is one of the biggest cars in its class. Our test car came loaded with dual sunroofs, a 19 speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system that pops out from the dash and a Rear-Seat Entertainment System with two 10.2 inch screens that let you view and control the car's SatNav. So you can update or view your route from the rear seats. The A8L also features a recliner (no, I'm not kidding). The seat behind the front passenger's seat has a footrest that folds out, along with a massage function with its own remote. All four seats are adjustable in 22 different ways, have their own independent cooling/heating & massage controls. The car also features selectable ambient LED lighting, you can pick between ivory, polar & ruby red color schemes. There's also a folding table & a fridge at the back, should you get thirsty or want to work on your laptop.
[caption id="attachment_42203" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="I really wasn’t kidding about the recliner"]
On the road, the A8 exceeds expectations, it’s a massive car and yet it has a dialed-in sportiness to it. it’s smooth, silent & powerful. There are no vibrations or wind noise at any speed and road imperfections are rendered mute by the A8's active damping system. It's a bit like driving around in a 4-wheeled library. A library with a cruise control system that works up to 250km/h and brakes automatically when required. The A8 also comes with Lane Assist & Side Assist - with an audible/visual warning should the car's radar see something you haven't been able to spot. Another optional extra is the Night Vision System. An infra-red camera detects pedestrians & animals, alerting the driver through a display on the dash. Pedestrians are highlighted and if they are crossing the path of the A8, a visual and acoustic warning is provided.
Any review of the A8 would be incomplete without a separate look at Audi's redesigned MMI interface – which is quite possibly one of the easiest to use in a luxury marque. The system allows the driver to tailor every aspect of the A8 - this includes Audi's Drive Select, navigation, entertainment, communications & everything in between. For 2011, Audi has upped the game by adding a new feature called MMI Touch - which is basically a tiny control panel that allows the driver to interact with the car by writing on the pad with a finger. So, for example if you need to visit Ibn Battuta - pop the selector knob into NAV mode and you can write out "I, B, N" and the A8 will understand what you're on about.
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The A8 does so many things right, that it becomes difficult to find things wrong with it. Sure some say its exterior design is over the top, or its rear end is “too similar” to an A4, or that it can’t park itself like a BMW, or that the MMI interface has too many buttons, or its too bland, or too refined, or that it’s the car’s long list of optional extras that make it great – but all that is simply nitpicking. The truth is that the A8 raises the bar for the competition, while grinning behind its chrome plated enormous front grille.