Audi A8 saloon review
“The Audi A8 is a luxurious limousine that is starting to become overshadowed by newer and more futuristic rivals”
- Impressive technology
- Neat handling
- Unexciting looks
- S-Class is smoother
- 'Level 3' autonomy not yet available
The Audi A8 is one of three perennial German rivals in the large luxury saloon class, alongside the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class. While the BMW is regarded as the sporty choice against the limousine luxury of the Mercedes, Audi's offering has always struggled for its own identity - which isn’t helped by the A8 looking quite similar to the smaller and cheaper Audi A4 and Audi A6.
Those ‘in the know’ will be aware of the clever, lightweight aluminium structure that has been used on every generation of A8 and makes it lighter and more efficient than some of its rivals. They are also likely to know that Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system endows it with better traction in slippery conditions.
A facelifted A8 arrived in late 2021, giving the model subtle styling refresh with redesigned headlights, a tweaked front grille design, and new OLED tail lights. Inside, a new steering wheel design was added, along with updated software for the dashboard mounted trio of digital screens. Under the metal, the petrol and diesel engines remain unchanged, while the 60 TFSI e plug-in hybrid can now travel nearly 30 miles, and it’s also now available in sporty S line trim.
With the latest update, Audi hopes luxury-car buyers will also associate the A8 with clever technology and innovative thinking by packing its luxury flagship with the very latest gadgets. However, with the latest S-Class boasting swooping styling and cutting-edge 3D infotainment systems, as well as the recently-announced BMW 7 Series coming with a 31-inch Theatre Screen and the option for a fully-electric i7 – the changes to the A8 appear a tad underwhelming in comparison.
Buyers can spec an Audi A8 in one of three trim levels. The base Sport model offers a more discrete look with smaller 18-inch alloy wheels and extensive chrome trim on the outside. LED headlights are standard, along with air suspension. S line cars get a blackened grille and larger 20-inch alloys for a sportier look, plus HD matrix headlights, Valcona leather trim, double glazed windows and rear privacy glass.
The flagship of the standard A8 range is the Black Edition, which replaces all the chrome exterior trim with black accents. It also gets a set of black and silver alloys. At the very top of the range, the Audi S8 is a performance variant which rivals models such as the forthcoming BMW M760e xDrive.
It may not look like it from the outside, but the latest A8 is the most technologically advanced car the company has ever produced. It was designed from the outset to embody the most recent developments, with both fuel-efficiency and future-proofing in mind; this has proven successful as the current generation A8 still feels modern, despite launching back in 2017.
The latest A8 is a little longer than its predecessor, measuring more than five metres from its broad 'singleframe' grille to its full-width rear lights. It's very recognisably an A8 – the overall proportions are barely altered from previous models of the same name. It's a handsome car and embodies Audi's brand identity to the fullest.
It could be accused of lacking flair and character, though. There are 'blisters' over the front and rear wheel arches that emphasise Audi's continuing use of the quattro four-wheel drive system, but they're subtle enough to go unnoticed. For some owners that will be considered a drawback, but others might find the relatively minimal ostentation a relief, allowing them to shrink into the traffic rather than flaunt their wealth.
Certain details will please the posers and make the A8 stand out from the crowd, such as the shape of its sharp high-definition matrix LED headlamps and the animated display its OLED rear lighting strip serves up when you unlock the car at night. However, these days the Audi A8 has to draw buyers away from trendy SUVs including the Audi Q8, BMW X7, Mercedes GLS and Range Rover.
As with any A8 of the past, the latest version provides plenty of space and comfort inside, and a 6mm increase in the distance between the front and rear axles illustrates the pains Audi has taken to maximise interior room. An extended-wheelbase version is still offered, stretching 5.3 metres overall for even more lounging room in the back.
The A8's interior is arguably rather more eye-catching than its exterior. The dashboard extends away from the passenger in layers, the most substantial of which was framed in sharp, cold aluminium on our test car, although other darker finishes are offered as well. This stretches the full width of the interior and its gloss-black surface incorporates a stealthily mounted touchscreen which becomes virtually invisible when not illuminated.
A secondary touchscreen is mounted below and takes care of more fiddly functions such as climate control, but it's the main screen that acts as the nerve centre of the A8's all-encompassing technology. Of course, your chauffeur will be the one operating it if you want to sit in the back and read a newspaper.
However, you can save for the driver’s wages with the 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine capable of reasonable 40.4mpg fuel economy claim and CO2 emissions starting from around 183g/km – not bad at all for a big, heavy 282bhp saloon that can reach 62mph from rest in less than six seconds.
This particular engine receives the title 50 TDI under Audi's current confusing engine naming system. There's also a 3.0-litre petrol 55 TFSI with 335bhp and a frugal 456bhp plug-in hybrid called 60 TFSI e, plus the S8’s 563bhp V8 petrol.
The newly revised plug-in hybrid is likely to be a hit with company-car drivers who spent a lot of their time driving around town. Despite its larger 14.4kWh battery, we were able to achieve a pure-electric driving range of around 35 miles; Audi claims an official range of 37 miles. This pales in comparison to the latest 7 Series and even Range Rover which both claim to provide over 50 miles on a charge. Charging is available at speeds of up to 7.4kW which means you should be able to fully top up the battery pack in around two and a half hours when connected to a compatible 7kW wallbox.
Out on the road, the PHEV makes its case as the best version of the A8 you can buy. It pulls away almost silently from junctions thanks to the electric motor and feels smooth and refined at higher speeds. Audi promises fuel economy figures of up-to 148.7mpg; however, this is only really attainable if you constantly keep the battery topped up and are very careful on the accelerator. Nevertheless, the 60 TFSI e is an equally efficient, yet more contemporary alternative to the less-fashionable diesels.
Speaking of the diesel powertrains, their comparative economy comes thanks to a clever stop-start system that allows the engine to cut when the A8 is coasting, restarting instantly when acceleration is required. This system is made possible by an innovative 48-volt electrical system that also underpins the A8's huge suite of convenience and safety features, the latter of which includes automatically raising the floor if a side impact is predicted, in order to better dissipate shock through the stronger parts of the car’s structure.
At the very top of the A8 range, the high-performance S8 saloon is almost a standalone model in its own right, and we've reviewed it separately. The S8 uses a less powerful version of the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine found in the Audi RS6 Avant and RS7 Sportback.
With a considerable 563bhp, four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the S8 is capable of leaving a number of sports cars in the shade, sprinting from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and going on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. It also features an array of advanced tech, including active suspension that operates via a series of cameras dotted around the bodywork. This system scans the road ahead to help improve the ride and reduce body roll in corners. We’d like this system to be made available on lesser A8s, too, given it works so well in the S8.
This all adds up to a hugely impressive car that's sure to raise Audi's status as a maker of top-class luxury saloons. It has neither the extravagance and sumptuous ride of the S-Class nor the athletic responses and tech of the 7 Series, but it has the technology to compete with both and may well appeal to buyers who like their luxury saloon to look a little more subtle.
Which Is Best?
- Name50 TDI Quattro Sport 4dr Tiptronic
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto
- Name60 TFSI e Quattro Sport 4dr Tiptronic
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto
- Name55 TFSI Quattro Sport 4dr Tiptronic
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto