I’ve long dreamed of owning a full-size luxury vehicle. Aside from the gas implications, significant insurance premiums, parking it on Los Angeles’ crowded streets, and affording the lifestyle that comes with it, there is no over looking their opulence, features, and buttery-smooth ride. And one of the first cars that comes to mind is this category is Audi’s A8L.
Audi has quickly risen to the top of the rankings list thanks to their attention to detail, superior engineering, and German craftsmanship. However, there is no denying that they face stiff competition from BMW, and in this particular case the 750Li, a vehicle I drove earlier this year.
When I first drove BMW’s 750Li I was flabbergasted by the car’s interior space. It’s absolutely massive, and provides rear occupants with so much leg room the term “shotgun” becomes moot. Audi’s A8L is no different.
The car’s body runs a massive 207.4-inches, besting the 750Li by over 2-inches in length. However, the Audi A8L supports about 4 cubic feet less cargo space than the BMW despite its longer body. So why the difference in interior space? Slap me silly, because I honestly can’t tell by simply sitting in the vehicle. The Audi A8L, like the 750Li provides ample, if not excessive leg room, front and back. With the driver seat positioned to my 6′ 2″ frame, I could comfortably sit in the back without my knees wedged, or even touching the back of the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, my A8L was devoid of any rear seat entertainment, though that isn’t to say it isn’t an option. For an extra $3,000 you can add dual 9-inch screen’s, which like the 750Li, are fixed just behind the front seat’s headrests.
Personally, I still prefer BMW’s finishes and all together interior styling, but that isn’t to say Audi’s is anything but exceptional. My A8L featured copious amounts of leather throughout the cabin, and wood inlays that ran the width of the dash. The car’s knobs and buttons, while well laid out and accessible after some acclimation, felt like they were from the VW parts bin, and not a suitable match for the car’s all together interior finishes. That said, I could take or leave the quilted leather seats, and if pressed I’d suggest getting them in black since the brown is a bit too red for my taste.
On a final note, I loathed the car’s center stack storage system. Instead of one arm piece, it splits into two. It can be adjusted to variable heights. Unfortunately, mine wouldn’t lay evenly, and I found it laborious to open and close.
Big, beautiful and bold are a few words that come to mind. Audi has largely remained true to the brand year over year, yet their subtle tweaks to their car’s exteriors have aligned them with a vehicle of today. Arguably the entire fleet looks very similar, but show me a car company that doesn’t follow this trend.
My particular A8L boasted their Sports Design Package, a $4,500 charge. With that comes 20-inch wheels, a tire upgrade, as well as a few interior bumps that are extraneous to this section. The upgraded wheels provide the A8L with a sportier, more aggressive look that distinguishes it from the many cars on the road. It’s a nice touch and seriously worth considering if you’re willing to spend the cash.
A quick glance at the photos, and without a point of comparison, it’s hard to tell just how large the A8L is. It’s not immediately distinguishable from the A6, at least to the untrained eye, but with some inspection you can quickly see that the A8L stands wider, and looks stronger in the “jaw” line.
While my A8L wasn’t fully loaded – it lacked the night vision camera and a few other amenities as mentioned in the interior section – it is most certainly as complete as any luxury vehicle can be. The most notable of them all, is Audi’s best in class front, yes front massaging seats. And although they’re a far cry from that of a Sharper Image lounger, they’re a nice reprieve from the stagnation that sets into the body during long road trips. To activate them you simply tap a switch located on the base, next to the seat adjustment controls, where a menu is displayed on the screen and lends a nice assist for choosing the right setting, as well as adjusting the seat’s lumbar supports and moving parts.
That said, Audi’s MMI system is still a tad old-looking, and moves a bit too slow for my tolerance level, especially after using the 750Li’s updated iDrive system. Moreover, the control knob continues to be backwards, traditionally speaking of course. But if you’ve been an Audi devotee for a few years this isn’t new news. Calling up screens when in a pinch can feel cumbersome, and the A8L’s voice recognition is beyond flawed. In my attempts to enter a street address not only did the system take 30+ seconds longer than BMW’s, but it failed me 100% of the time.
Adding insult to injury, there isn’t a single USB input, so iPhone only drivers need apply. There are, however, two SD card slots, which surround a 3G SIM card for an in-car hotspot that comes at an additional cost after a few months (there is also a hard drive for storing music via a thing called a compact disc). Those seeking a more old school approach there is a slot loading CD player, and a DVD player.
For a whopping $6,300 you can add Audi’s Bang & Olufsen system. Put simply it’s not worth the added cost. The sound stage is seriously lacking, audio sounds a bit muddled, and while the full spectrum audio is available to the car’s occupants, it just lacks all together clarity, especially for its added price.
Connecting to the car’s Bluetooth system is the usual process, though you’ll need to practice some patience as it can take minutes for it to reconnect once you leave and re-enter the vehicle.
I was somewhat astonished to learn that my Audi A8L was only outfitted with the company’s 3.0-liter TFSI V6. Hardly the powertrain I would have expected of a car of this size, possibly resulting in a sluggish drive without much pick up. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In addition to a spirited driving prowess (attributable to the car’s multiple drive modes – suspension, transmission, and engine tuning), Audi’s 3.0L power plant is plenty, despite the A8L’s size – it also shows little signs of turbo lag. Mashing down the on the accelerator pedal elicits an almost immediate response, though it’s not on par with a hybrid setup, such as the 5A, but nor should it be.
Acute turns at slow speeds in the A8L, with the sport tire setup, caused a fair bit of vibration through the cabin – a disconcerting noise. Despite that, handling in the A8L can almost be described as light and fluffy, although the car weighs well north of 4,000 lbs. It’s difficult to want to push a car of this size through its paces, but when forced it performs admirably.
Steering, while a serious step up from the A5 I drove last year thanks to the variable drive modes, still lacks feedback for spirited driving and a return to center that is analogous to a hydraulic setup. Braking is commensurate with pedal feel, and shockingly powerful for the A8L’s size.
Fuel economy after 7-days of aggressive driving was a mere 14.3MPG on average over 174.6 miles. Far from economical, but anyone considering this car is hardly worried about the gas cost. I should note that my driving behavior during testing isn’t of the status quo; I performed a wide number of take offs and sudden stops, which can significantly reduce fuel economy, as well as mostly “city” testing. If driven conservatively, the Audi A8L should be able to get closer to 20MPG combined.
Honestly, the Audi A8L is a bit too big for my liking. I’m a single male, with no kids, a wife, or friends that are deserving enough to be limoed around in a vehicle of this caliber. I’m relatively impressed that Audi can build a car that is both internally accommodating, yet can move so spiritedly through the curves and even off the line, despite boasting a V6 engine.
The Audi A8L’s massaging front seats are unparalleled, but why they’re not mirrored in the rear is a mystery best left unsolved. The MMI system continues to leave a bitter taste in my mouth, as does the lack of a USB input, which puts the A8Ls far from a first place finish in the features and technology, though I expect that to change in the next 2-3 years as they’ve partnered with Nvidia to build an updated and no doubt speedier version.
Despite enjoying the driveability and space afforded by the A8L, my allegiance is still with the BMW camp, though Audi is beginning to win my heart more and more.