If you’re in the market for a large luxury saloon, then your choice is likely to be between the German Big Three – the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series or Audi A8.
Yes, of course, there are more left-field options including the Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS and Maserati Quattroporte, but it’s the Teutonic trio that have this sector sewn up.
The new (rich) kid on the block is the fourth generation Audi A8 – bigger, more technically advanced, more powerful and more efficient than ever before.
Priced from £69,415 and available in standard or long wheelbase form, it was named Best Luxury Car at the World Car of the Year Awards 2018.
Like many Audis before it, you might struggle to distinguish the new A8 from the outgoing model.
The changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary at first sight. For instance, there’s a flatter, wider single-frame grille up front, full-width tail-lights, and subtle humps over the wheel arches.
In terms of size, Audi’s new flagship is slightly taller and longer (5.172 metres), than its predecessor, eclipsing both the BMW and Merc in length.
Size isn’t everything though and it’s the complete package that matters, especially when you’re buying a car that can end up closer to £80,000 when you start ticking the tempting list of goodies on the options list.
And for some buyers, it’s the A8’s impressive advanced technology that might help swing the decision Audi’s way.
For instance, Audi claims the new A8 is the first production car to have been developed specially for highly automated driving with the gradual roll-out of autonomous Audi AI parking pilot, garage pilot and traffic jam pilot functionality from 2018.
When active, the AI traffic jam pilot takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic, controlling all necessary driving functions, up to a speed of 37mph.
It’s the first technology that could enable a driver to perform other tasks in the car and not pay attention to the road, as it can handle starting from standstill, accelerating, steering and braking in its lane.
However, Audi cannot enable the self-driving features in the UK yet due to current legislation.
For many, the mark of a luxury car is space, and there’s plenty of it inside the A8 where the lines are clean, simple and modern and the acres of leather, plus superb build quality, give the cabin a sumptuous feel.
There’s a virtually button-free dual touchscreen set-up in the middle of the dashboard. The upper is for infotainment and navigation, the lower primarily for climate control, but it also hides a scribble pad that you can write on (a bit like the little touchpad found on the outgoing car).
The system is intuitive and a pleasure to use, the graphics are smooth and incredibly detailed (especially navigating with Google Maps) and the touchscreens have haptic feedback which gives a sense of a button being pressed. There’s also Audi’s now familiar, and excellent, Virtual Cockpit Display ahead of the driver.
The A8 is initially only available with two 3.0-litre turbo engines – a 3.0 TDI diesel developing 282bhp (up 9% on the previous car) and 600Nm of torque, plus a 3.0 TFSI petrol developing 335bhp and 500Nm.
The diesel emits 145-152g/km CO2, depending on the size of wheel, while the figures for the petrol are 175-182g/km.
The diesel is capable of a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 155mph, while the petrol delivers a 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds (5.7 seconds in the long-wheelbase version) and a top speed of 155mph.
Both are paired with a slick eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox as standard and the diesel (50.4mpg) especially is surprisingly economical, while the petrol returns a decent 37.7mpg.
How does it drive?
I tested the diesel version, which is now confusingly badged as the Audi A8 50 TDI quattrro – and first impressions are excellent.
Initially there’s a faint clue that there’s a diesel under the bonnet, but from then on it’s superbly refined, while the cabin in general is nicely hushed.
The A8 pulls smoothly and powerfully, and as you’d expect, there’s also the option to switch driving modes (Comfort, Dynamic, Individual, Auto and Efficiency). That said, executive saloons like this are not about track-day levels of performance, they are meant to cruise effortlessly and ooze luxury. The A8 does just that – big and floaty, but not in a bad way – along with superb traction, thanks to its quattro four-wheel drive system.
Generally, it hides its bulk well, though you are aware of its size in town and on smaller country roads. However, thanks to an all-wheel steering mechanism that makes the A8’s turning circle “smaller than that of an A4”, it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre in the city, though you will need a large parking space.
Being chauffeured in the A8 is a special experience too with impressive legroom, sumptuous seats, individual controls and excellent visibility, while the boot swallows 505 litres of luggage.
Audi A8: the verdict
The Audi A8 is a beautifully built, understated luxury saloon that’s a joy to drive or be driven in. Powerful, smooth and refined, it’s packed with the latest technology and is a worthy showcase for Audi’s vorsprung durch technik.