Audi High-Tech A8 Defines Performance for Its Class

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Audi High-Tech A8 Defines Performance for Its Class

The renaissance of the house of Volkswagen Audi has been nothing short of miraculous. Yesterday's brands of ill repute are basking under a "can do no wrong" halo, worshipped as the industry's styling leaders and respected for their innovative technology and the marketing genius of their common platform, two-brand strategy.

People look to Audi for technology leadership and the A8, the flagship of the Audi lineup, does not disappoint. Packed with high-tech bells and whistles, the A8 is far from the typical luxury car you might expect. It is very tight, very powerful and very precise, the perfect German luxury tourer. But where Mercedes-Benz S-class and BMW 7 series scream money, power and all manner of excess, the A8 projects an under-stated elegance and anonymity that does not draw attention to itself or the driver.

The A8 flies because, like a jetliner, it is built around an aluminum skeleton to which aluminum body panels are affixed. Because aluminum is soft and notoriously difficult to master, Audi teamed up with Alcoa and came up with a revolutionary new body structure that's 40 percent lighter and more rigid than steel. Looking at the outer skin, there are no revealing indicators of the A8's high-tech breeding. But there are a couple of subtle visual cues that you are driving a space-age aluminum sculpture: The brushed aluminum base plate around the shift lever and the aluminum scuff plates on the door sill are nice reminders that this car is special.

Turn the key, slip into "drive" and the A8's extraordinary chassis, engine and styling come together. And it is no slouch when accelerated. It responds instantly and without complaints. Cruising along the highway, the A8's 4.2-liter V-8 purrs quietly and the aluminum chassis and suspension work in flawless harmony to deliver a smooth and stable ride. Probably the biggest challenge is not exceeding the speed limit. Mated to the 5-speed Tiptronic automatic, which gives you the option of manual shifts, this engine breathes through 40 valves (five per cylinder) to produce 310 hp and 41.8 kg.m of torque. In short, it's a sprinter that can pull away from zero to 100km/h in just 7 seconds helped in equal parts by its high tech engine and lightweight aluminum frame. Not surprisingly, the A8 is the lightest car in its class, weighing in at a sprightly 1790kg. On the downside, surgery for this aluminum body is complex and can only be entrusted to an Audi dealer, which needless to say is costly. If you lust for the A8's leading edge technology, expect to be on the bleeding edge when it comes to body repairs and the insurance premium.

For an extra margin of confidence and safety, the A8 comes with the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel drive system. ESP prevents fishtailing and loss of control in wet weather or after a tire blows out, but one thing it does not do is repeal the laws of physics. While I did not dare explore the boundaries of the A8's handling (the price tag discourages such adventures), it was reassuring to know that ESP was there to protect me if I made a mistake. The traction and stability provided by the Quattro all-wheel drive system is unrivalled simply because no other maker offers all-wheel drive in the luxury segment.

Along twisting roads, you might expect a luxury car of this size to handle a tad sluggishly but the A8 surprises, taming curves with the finesse and agility of a sports car. Over smooth pavement, the ride is pleasantly soft and cushy, but on distressed surfaces, the A8 takes on a floaty feel common to large, heavy cars.

The A8's interior serves up all the imaginable luxuries, including genuine hardwood trim (your choice of polished burled walnut or sycamore), suede door panels, heated front and rear passenger seats, sunroof and power everything. From the soft red-orange glow of the dashboard backlighting to the ESP, there is no shortage of endearing qualities in this tech-heavy car.

It is difficult to find fault with a car that raises the bar for technology and safety. If you can afford it, it's as close to perfect as today's technology allows.

A8L (stretched wheelbase) price as tested: 129.9 million won ($108,250). A8 (standard wheelbase with 2.7-liter V-6): 90 million won

by Oles Gadacz

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