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It was just me, myself, and I, and a 2005 Audi A8 L press car provided for my side trip from San Francisco to L.A. Oh, and a little road called California Number One; the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
The question was, how well would the two perform together? Would this be a literal tango between Quattro and concrete? Or would this be as hackneyed as my own dance steps? I pointed the 8 away from Nob Hill and headed south.
At first glance, there is much that is familiar inside the 8, especially after spending some time in the A6 this past winter. The large actuator knob of the Multi Media Interface (MMI) on the console. The optional Advanced Key, allowing for keyless entry and a wireless sync for the engine start button. As pretty as the 6 is, the 8 has had the equivalent of some high-grade automotive Botox injection. The car oozes class from every pore of Valcona Leather, from every grain of the genuine brown walnut inlays. 16 way power seats for front driver AND passenger. One can even opt for ventilated front seats with massage feature. My only fear is that it could lull a driver into a coma on a PCH curve.
Ah yes, the curves. While the first leg out of San Francisco is picturesque, it isn't until about 140 miles have elapsed on the odometer that things get interesting. No, it's not wine country. If you like wine, rent "Sideways". You'll want to pay close attention at this point to your steering, throttle, and braking inputs, otherwise you will be sideways. For at Mile 140, there is the most beautiful oversized yellow road sign you will ever see. It reads "Hills and curves, next 66 miles."
The PCH does not appear to have changed much from its original path, as evidenced by the bridges with 1930's vintage carved into their sides. Imagine the likes of bathtub Porsche speedsters, MG TF's, and XKs of every number navigating these turns. Not that I had time to check, but there must be a few of those hulks rusting in the salt spray below. This is the best advice I can give about the PCH: there is no margin for error. You can push a posted limit sign 10, maybe 15 mph over and above. Too much speed, and you could be sailing over a guardrail, down a rocky embankment, or possibly cross the centre line into an oncoming Winnebago on one of numerous blind corners. Oh, and don't forget the cyclists. My breakfast of soda and heavily-salted snack treats remained untouched on the passenger seat.
As I continued onward, I noticed the abundance of motorists that pulled off into the many turnouts to let me proceed. Perhaps it was their acknowledgement of my driving prowess. Or maybe it was those four grille-mounted circles they saw in the rearview mirror, shouting "we've got enough technology to keep even this guy firmly planted on the road."
The list of systems underfoot that made me look amazing is, well, amazing. It begins with standard Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive. The Torsen centre differential transfers power from front to back or side to side, depending on the pavement slide. Throw in Servotronic speed-sensitive steering for superb road feel. And don't forget the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Anti Slip Regulation traction control. Even Audi has one-upped itself with its Adaptive Air Suspension. As you push the 8 into a corner, the air spring struts adjust their damping response, with information from a multitude of sensors. You can also tailor the ride style via the MMI. Just set it on Dynamic and forget it: you'll thank me later.
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Pushing me along through all this ear-popping, stomach-churning insanity was 335 horses, courtesy of the 4.2 litre V8. Also starring: torque! Making a wonderful 317 foot-pound appearance early on in the feature, at 3500 rpm. This 40 valve (5 per cylinder) DOHC mill is mated to a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic. There is nothing slushy about this slushbox. The Direct Shift Program actually "learns" your driving style, and maps the shift points accordingly. There are over 200 programs that can be chosen. I'm just worried what mine is called. A Sport mode spreads out the shift intervals, and the Tiptronic can also enter the manumatic zone with the assigned shifter gate. Paddles are available, with the optional 3-spoke real wood steering wheel.
Even with aluminum construction throughout, the 8 is a tank, weighing in just shy of 4400 pounds. (2000 kg) That doesn't bother the 4.2 none, as zero to 100 km/h takes only 6.3 seconds to arrive. Top speed is electronically limited to 208 km/h.
With the exception of other corner-happy detours around Pebble Beach, these 66 miles are the PCH's shining moment. The One deviates through agricultural enclaves, eventually being absorbed by the behemoth known as Interstate 101. Even here there is beauty, such as the ocean side stretch of highway in Ventura County. (You can almost hear the America ditty, can't you?) For those planning on an L.A. trip, remember these pointers:
- 65 mph is the posted limit. It appears to be the recommended limit for off-ramp exiting. Do 75-80 mph if you want to live.
- Signalling is completely optional. Great way to point out you're from out of town.
- Your multiple car length safe travelling distance will soon be replaced by multiple cars.
- Where else can you see a '68 Beetle pass you at 90 mph?
What is genuinely unfortunate is how the 8 blends into the shallow car culture of the L.A. Freeway system. AMGs, Ferrari's, Maseratis; they are literally everywhere. Sure, you could opt for the $170,000 12 cylinder A8 L. The fact is, you really don't need to. The 4.2 does everything it's supposed to, and exceptionally well at that.
I take the Gower Street exit and head over to Beechwood. This is the street that all the tour buses use for the view of those 9 massive letters up in the hills. As I gaze up at that Hollywood sign, I ask myself "Is the A8 L a star?" In this town, the car probably needs an agent first before that question is answered. As for the rest of us, the 8 is truly worthy of being an "arrival" car. Here's hoping we all arrive there before our first artificial hip does.