September 25, 2006
Starting at $100,420, the Audi A8L (L for Long wheelbase), is a formidable looking machine, what with its new-for-2006 single frame grille, and smooth aluminum sheet metal.
The A8 has always been something of a dark horse when compared with its better-known BMW and Mercedes counterparts, but even with the six-digit price, it is also something of a bargain.
The reason? Audi is the acknowledged expert in superb interiors, and its experience with all-wheel drive goes back 25 years. The company typically loads its vehicles with safety features, and is a master of understated, elegant design. Audi is a multi-year Le Mans and World Rally Championship winner, and the technology associated with its motorsports expertise is evident throughout its model range.
The A8L differs from the standard A8 by adding 140 millimetres to the wheelbase (and overall length, therefore), and providing limousine-like room for rear seat occupants. Despite its overall length (5,192 millimetres), the car is easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces.
Under the hood, a 4.2-litre aluminum V8 engine makes 335 horsepower and 317 pounds-feet of torque at a low 3,500 rpm. It features a six-speed “Tiptronic” transmission, uses an all-wheel drive (quattro) drivetrain, and the entire vehicle, including its spaceframe, is made of aluminum. The A8L rides on an air suspension from which you can select four modes, including dynamic, comfort, automatic and lift (the latter raises the car by 25 mm when traversing broken or rough surfaces).
You can assume that virtually every power and luxury amenity is standard or available on the A8 line, but noteworthy are the standard Bose audio system with 12 speakers and fabulous acoustics (you can order an optional $7,800 system from Bang and Olufsen for presumably the ne plus ultra of car audio), and the optional power doors and trunk lid (part of the $5,150 Convenience Package), which simply have to be located near their respective latching mechanisms, for a motor to quietly take over the operation of closing them.
Standard features include the Audi DVD Navigation system, adaptive, bi-xenon headlights, extended (upgraded “Valcona”) leather trim with walnut accents, power sunroof, 18” wheels (ours wore 19”, part of the $3,900 Sport Package), ten airbags (including side curtain and knee), electronic stability control, excellent anti-lock braking, auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, and a Multi Media Interface that controls audio, climate, ride and navigations systems.
The interior throughout is a model of fit, finish and taste, and actually gives the appearance of being hand-finished by perfectionist craftspeople. Likely it’s robots that do much of the job, but they appear to be very fussy and talented robots. The stitching and contouring of the seats, cut and fit of the wood trim, silent operation of the power equipment, quality of the carpets and tasteful colour choices and ambiance are without fault. This is a wonderful interior.
On the road, the big Audi is whisper-quiet at all speeds. The car is very fast from standstill (well under seven-seconds from 0-100 km/h), and almost instantly accelerates from 80-120 km/h. It reaches 140 km/h with virtually no feeling of speed or effort, and I’m sure you could easily cruise at 160 or 200 km/h without the slightest impression of haste. There is an alarm you
can set to chime when you reach a prudent velocity, but even when set at 130 km/h, you find it chiming much more frequently than you’d expect.
I found the ride and poise of the A8L to be without fault. When encountering broken and uneven pavement, the A8L simply absorbed the imperfections and maintained impeccable balance. After trying the dynamic and comfort modes, I settled on “Automatic” and found that to be ideal. The A8L communicates a complete feeling of control over all of the vehicle’s dynamics, and inspires thorough confidence in the car’s ability to respond as required, without the slightest complaint. It is at its heart a big cruiser, with sharp handling when you need it.
And while fuel economy may not be a financial issue for A8L buyers, its excellent 800-km range, with the large, 90-litre fuel tank, is a testament to the engineering of this vehicle.
There are only minor criticisms of the A8L, or at least, my experience of it. Dare I mention the shallow cup holders in the centre console? I have to, as a cup spilled its contents into said holder, while taking a gentle corner. With visions of shorting out the entire electrical system in the car, this was an unfortunate occurrence. Still, no damage, but a lot of Tim Horton serviettes required to tidy things up (thank goodness for Tim’s!).
And the Multi Media Interface (MMI), while slick and simpler than some, still makes it more complex to make changes to audio and climate than I’d like. There is a rotary knob on the steering wheel for audio volume, and that I used frequently. Perhaps with the optional satellite radio fitted, I’d be less inclined to search through the menus to tune the standard broadcast radio (on a long trip, you tend to do this). Either way, I found myself looking at the MMI display too much.
Another minor annoyance is the seatbelt alarm that sounds when you undo the seatbelt, even when your vehicle is stopped, and in Park. This happened frequently, as passengers undid their belt before exiting the car, only to immediately activate the seatbelt alarm while trying to say, “See you later,” or whatever. Overkill, I think.
But the quality of the A8L overcomes minor shortcomings. I liked the Smart Key, with its push-button start and stop located on the centre console, and the motorized LCD display that disappears into the walnut trim if you want. I also liked the optional ($2,100) front seat that massaged my back, the rapid operation and simple programming of the navigation system, the power sunshades, height adjustable armrest, and, of course, the vast legroom afforded to rear seat passengers. There’s even a first-aid kit in the rear armrest (a long-time Audi practice) should such a thing be required.
There are so many thoughtful features and conveniences in the A8L. It’s a real pleasure to drive.
And understated as it may be, you get looks when you pull up in an Audi A8L. It exudes style and substance, and locates you in very select company.
Pricing: 2006 Audi A8L
Base price: $100,420
Options: $ 11,400
(ski rack: $250; Convenience Package: $5,150; Sport Package: $3,900; front seat massage and ventilation: $2,100)
Freight $ 700
A/C tax $ 100
PPrice as tested: $112,620
Manufacturer’s web site