2011 Audi A8L
2011 Audi A8L. Click image to enlarge

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2011 Audi A8

Munich, Germany – It’s not often, when I’m about to get into a vehicle, that I debate whether I’d rather slip behind the wheel or sit in the back seat. That’s the dilemma with the 2011 Audi A8L, where it’s just as much fun to be a passenger as it is to be the driver.

It’s based on the all-new A8, the company’s flagship sedan; the “L” refers to the fact that it’s the long-wheelbase model, the one most likely to end up as a chauffeured car. The extra length – 137 mm longer than the regular 2011 A8, and 76 mm longer than the 2010 A8L it replaces – goes directly to the benefit of the rear-seat passenger. Phone someone who’s sitting up front, and it may well be a long-distance call.

2011 Audi A8L
2011 Audi A8L
2011 Audi A8L. Click image to enlarge

It’s coming to Canada later this year, and so not all of the specifics for our models are available yet, including the price. Given that the 2010 model starts at $100,000, I expect it will be somewhere close to that round number. Worldwide, there are five engines available, two of them diesels. Our models in Canada will debut with a direct-injection 4.2-litre V8 gasoline engine, followed by a 6.3-litre W12, also gasoline. The 4.2-litre is an updated version of the same-displacement powerplant used in the 2010 model; the new one produces 372 horsepower and 328 lb-ft of torque, a step up from the 350/325 in the current model. There was no twelve-cylinder for 2010 in Canada, and the 6.3-litre W12 – named for its space-saving configuration of four rows of three cylinders – updates the 2009 A8L’s 6.0-litre W12. That model made 450 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque; the 6.3 churns out an even 500 horses, and 460 lb-ft of twist. All engines use a brand-new and creamy-smooth eight-speed automatic, replacing the six-speed autobox found in the 2010 edition.

The other engines are a 4.2-litre V8 diesel, or two 3.0-litre V6 engines, one diesel, the other a supercharged and direct-injection gasoline one that’s a less-powerful version of the engine used here in the Audi S4 and S5. The V8 diesel is as torquey and smooth as expected, but the 3.0-litre gasoline was the real surprise. I expected a six-cylinder to be overtaxed in a car this big, but I ended up checking the vehicle’s spec sheet just to be sure it wasn’t a V8, because it worked so well. Alas, given the A8L’s low volumes in Canada, these three won’t be coming here.

2011 Audi A8L
2011 Audi A8L. Click image to enlarge

No matter what engine, driving this car is like melting chocolate on your tongue: smooth, rich, and unctuous. It’s very agile, and you don’t feel its size or weight. (Speaking of weight, while hard numbers aren’t yet available, the A8L is relatively light on its feet, due to its aluminum “space frame” construction and substantial use of other lightweight materials; the company claims a savings of as much as 181 kg over a comparable long-wheelbase BMW 7 Series.) An automatic adaptive air suspension keeps it level on all road surfaces, and can be set to Comfort or Dynamic mode, which raises or lowers it. Under normal conditions, the Quattro all-wheel drive provides a 60 per cent rear bias, but will send more to the front axle if required. On the 4.2-litre diesel, which I drove for a couple of hours, a standard-equipment sport differential varies torque distribution between the rear wheels, “pushing” the car into curves for flatter cornering. There’s no word yet on whether it will be available on Canadian models.

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