Audi A8 saloon
"The latest Audi A8 is the smoothest, most technologically switched-on version yet"
- 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. Those ‘in the know’ will be aware of the clever, lightweight aluminium structure which has been used on every generation of A8 and makes it lighter and more efficient than its rivals. They are also likely to know that Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system endows it with better traction in slippery conditions.
With the latest version, 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. In fact some of them are so new that they can’t actually be used on the road yet!
'level 3' autonomous features very shortly, many of which have already been demonstrated.
The latest A8 is a little longer than its predecessor, measuring over five metres from its broad, slatted '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 relative lack of ostentation a relief, allowing them to shrink into the traffic rather than flaunt their wealth.
Certain details will please the posers though and make the A8 stand out from the crowd, like the shape of its sharp matrix LED headlamps and the animated display its OLED rear lighting strip serves up when you unlock the car at night.
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 outside styling. The dashboard extends away from the passenger in layers, the most substantial of which was framed in sharp, cold aluminum on our test car, although other finishes will be offered. 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 – much of which is locked safely out of use until legislation allows it to be used on the road. Intrigued? That's understandable, because the A8 has the potential for 'level 3' autonomy, which Audi intends to roll out as soon as the legal all-clear is given.
When these electronic shackles are removed, the A8 will show exactly what it's capable of. Until then the A8 will still allow an impressive amount of automation, but if you want to sit in the back and read a newspaper you will have to rely on a chauffeur.
However, you can save for the driver’s wages with the 3.0-litre diesel model’s reasonable 40.9mpg fuel economy claim and 181-193g/km CO2 emissions – not bad at all for a big, heavy 282bhp saloon, and one that can reach 62mph from rest in under 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 other engines will be introduced later, but the diesel is likely to be the most popular among UK buyers for its combination of power and economy.
The diesel's 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.
A plug-in hybrid powertrain also arrived in 2019 for the first time. It boasts an all-electric range of up to 29 miles and a V6 petrol engine. Badged A8 60 TFSIe, it gives Audi a rival to the Mercedes S 560 e and BMW 745 Le xDrive and the car is so convincing we reckon it's the best A8 available. Its smooth nature, refinement and ability to silently loiter and crawl in traffic makes it the ideal limo.
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 here. 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 onwards 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.
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 doesn't have the restrained elegance and sumptuous ride of the S-Class or the athletic responses 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.