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Lucire: Living

Audi A8 4,2 TDI At the pump Old diesel meets new diesel: the Audi A8 TDI gets 37 mpg while having a 350 PS engine that delivers 800 Nm of torque.

Jack Yan

The rational German

The Audi A8 ticks the boxes for performance, handling, safety and gadgets. Jack Yan takes it for a series of test drives and ponders whether Ingolstadt finally has Stuttgart and München licked



Above The Audi A8 interior: one of the nicest places to be.


THE AUDI A8 OCCUPIES a special position among German luxury cars. The Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse has a history going back to the Großer models, and seems to be a default choice for those who want real luxury in a full-size car. (In 2005, we tested the S500 with massaging seatsóand concluded it might be worth spending a quarter-million just to have access to that feature while in motion.) Its southern rival, the BMW 7er-Reihe, began as a technological tour de force, and went all baroque, before rediscovering its roots with the latest model.
   In that confusion, Audi pounced with its new A8. The A8 has always been the non-conformist: an aluminium body while the others used steel, four-wheel drive while the others offered rear-wheel as standard. It was the adventurous choice for the buyer who didnít need the respectability of the Mercedes, or the over-the-top baroque styling of the BMW.
   With the latest A8, Audi has taken a step ahead again. Offering only the 4∑2 TDI in New Zealand (and, if one does the maths, itís actually 4∑1), it tries to outdo the competition in every measure. Torque is up to an astounding 800 Nm, which means going from the ton to 180 km/h feels as effortless as going from 60 to 80 km/h. Maximum torque is available from as little as 1,750 rpm, hurtling the large car to 100 km/h in 5∑5 seconds.
   If the seats werenít as sumptuous and cosseting, that 5∑5 seconds would feel harsher: instead, the acceleration seems like a gentle push of the occupants into the leather.
   It would be a lie to say that you donít feel the bulk of the A8, but the handling is superb. The car is as manúuvrable as smaller entries in the Audi rangeóincluding our perennial favourite, the S3ówith the best handling weíve experienced at this size.
   The 350 PS of the A8 TDI doesnít come at too great a penalty for the environment. While 199 g/km of carbon dioxide wonít please most environmentalists, itís a fairly respectable figure for the size of car. Over at Mercedes-Benz, youíd have to go to the S500 4-Matic to beat the Audiís power but not torqueówith a penalty of 67 g/km more carbon dioxide coming out of the tailpipe. To get greater economy, itís the Bluetec model that will drop the carbon below 200 g/kmóbut youíre only getting 258 PS from the engine. The claimed fuel economy of 7∑6 l/100 km (37 mpg) was roughly what we managed to muster on the roads around Cape Kidnappersóand when you consider that the drag coefficient is a mere 0,27 with a frontal area of 2∑41 m≤, itís no wonder.
   There might not have been a fuel crisis when the A8 was being developed, but Audiís engineers tried to make the car as frugal as possible. Itís the sort of move we like, because itís too easy to equip a vehicle with more gear and bigger engines. Creating efficiency through sensible design is our language.
   Not that thereís any sign of skimping anywhere. The interiorís one of the loveliest weíve been in: Audi has the competition licked on this front. The sat-nav is well designed, though itís closely rivalled by what BMW is now doing. The dashboard design is a pleasing development of earlier ones: the dials have a thin chrome surround, and are angled toward the driver; separating rev counter and speedometer is a high-resolution display with Audiís corporate typeface. Whomever did the graphic design deserves an award, as it helps propel the interior experience to the top of the class.
   The DVD player in the A8 is the first weíve found that will play DIVX-encoded AVI files, which helps extend the carís entertainment appeal.
   But these are still not the A8ís pièces de résistance. Itís in the adaptive cruise control where we experienced a taste of that twenty-first century we read about as children.
   While itís not quite the driverless car, this cruise control is perhaps the most reliable and accurate weíve encountered. Mercedes-Benz has a reasonably good system, but Audiís will stop the car for you if need be. Adjusting the following distance is remarkably simple, and itís even possible to do an entire city journey without touching the pedals in heavy traffic: itís really that good. You will, of course, still have to depress the brake pedal yourself if you are due to be the first to the red light: the system only stops the car if thereís one in front.
   The A8 has a touchpad which you can write letters on with your finger: that way, you arenít looking at the screen when dialling in a destination into the sat-nav. Itís better for southpaws given that weíre a right-hand-drive country and you have to draw with your left hand.
   Safety-wise, the night vision has a thermal imaging camera which will pick up people, while the Audi Presense system, in its full option, will even brake the car. Should a collision happen, Presense has already taken 40 km/h off the speed.
   New Zealand models arenít hooked up to Google Maps, but one party trick on models abroad is Predictive Route, which adjusts the carís speed to suit the road based on data from the GPS.
   On toys, too, then, the Audi has the competition licked.
   And yes, it even has massaging seats, though the three test cars which we sampled were missing this option. We cannot provide any back-rubbed comparison with the Merc.
   Which only leaves the styling. One thing all the Germans have had in common over the last decade is upping the garishness of their cars. The Mercedes has fussy contour lines that take us back to a 1999 Ford Focus and some 1970s American cars weíd rather forget; and BMW spent much of the last decade going for ineleganceówhile experiencing a salesí increase for tapping into the Zeitgeist. So where is the Audi?
   Itís an evolution from the Bauhaus-logical A8 of yesteryear, but styled to look more imposing and lower to the ground. At some angles, it seems the crest of the C-pillar drops in one direct line to the boot lip. The A8 may be aluminium-space-frame-light, but to the eye, it looks substantial.
   That suggests a direct appeal to the plutocrat, an attempt to steal sales from more baroque rivals. Now that BMW has gone all lithe and elegant for the new Siebener, the changes might work in getting Audi extra sales. To us, itís almost too showy, too flash, meaning that we wouldnít pick it on looks alone.
   It ticks the boxes on so many fronts: itís powerful, itís fairly economical, and itís arguably the safest car around.
   But in a fashion and lifestyle magazine, we need a dose of irrationality, something to stir the soul, and so often that comes from styling. The A8 has suddenly become a rational car, one where you look at the list of features and technology and decide whether itís for you. The flashing lights and gadgets will impress many, and we might still pick it over the BMW and Mercedes, but more with our heads than with our hearts. ē


It’s an evolution from the Bauhaus-logical A8 of yesteryear, but styled to look more imposing and lower to the ground. At some angles, it seems the crest of the C-pillar drops in one direct line to the boot lip. The A8 may be aluminium-space-frame-light, but to the eye, it looks substantial




Above Seat adjustment can be done with the aid of the screen, while the MMI interface is one of the best we’ve seen.





Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.



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