date : 9th May 2004
Audi's A8 has occupied a rather
marginal slot in the super luxury car segment, since it was
introduced in the mid-1990s. Revolutionary in its aluminum
construction its styling was perhaps a little too radical. In
this stratospheric end of the market customers demand the
prestige of a recognisable icon.
The new A8, launched just over a month ago in South Africa,
may go a long way towards establishing the A8 firmly alongside
the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
For one thing, Audi's brand image has quadrupled over the past
few years. Cars like the TT sports model, the classy A4 and
the futuristic A6 have added a lot of weight to the case of
owning an Audi. In these segments the German make competes
directly with BMW and Mercedes.
So, what of this new pretender? The construction of the car is
still all-aluminum. Audi claims that its construction is some
50 per cent lighter than a steel equivalent. Yet the A8 is no
lightweight, mate, tipping the scales at 1 900 kg.
Nevertheless the spaceframe body construction, formed of
extruded aluminum beams before being clad by sheet aluminum,
makes it an ultra-strong, ultra-safe car.
One of the most striking features is the use of nineteen-inch
multi-spoke alloy wheels. They may be a bit glitzy for some
tastes, but they certainly claim your attention. These are
shod with ultra-low-profile two fifty five by 40 series tyres.
The A8 is available here in only one model, and that is the
4,2 quattro. It uses the all alumnium quad-cam V8 as also seen
in the smaller S4 performance model.
In the A8 it develops more power, some two hundred and forty
six kW available at six thousand, five hundred rpm. Torque is
good without being mind-blowing. Four hundred and thirty
Newton Metres is on tap at three thousand five hundred rpm.
The Audi suffers slightly here due to less engine capacity
than the Mercedes S500 and the BMW 745i
The exceptional rigidity of the body is complemented by a very
sophisticated air suspension system, which provides four basic
suspension settings. Ride height can be adjusted too. However,
the ride is compromised by the four-wheel drive system at this
level of luxury.
Outright grip and weildiness is less important than an ability
to waft over bumps and small undulations, and here the Audi
fails to match the class-leading Merc S500. However in all
other ways the A8 pampers the occupant. The seats provide a
massage as you go, as well as ventilation and electric
adjustment. They also have seat warmers for those cold winter
Talking of starts, the Audi also comes with the keyless-go
entry and ignition system, which enables the driver to open
the locked door and start up without entering the key. The
engine is started and switched off via a console-mounted
For an additional twelve thousand Rand you can also order
fingerprint recognition, which recognises the driver's
personal print when a pad next to the gearlever is touched.
Once the pad is touched, your favourite seating sand radio
channels are activated.
The pop-up information screen, known as MMI, or
multi-media-interface, is an impressive aspect of the A8's
interior. When not in use it folds away to give the cabin an
airy feel. It works similarly to the BMW I-Drive system but is
much easier to use. Four buttons on the console are pushed to
access either audio, television, navigation or computer
functions. Then the large silver knob is twirled to scroll up
or down the menu. It requires much less attention than
I-Drive, is easier to master, and is hence much safer.
The steering column is electrically adjustable for rake and
reach, as are the seats. The steering wheel features an
interesting control device; Radio and computer settings are
changed by twirling the knob with your thumb and these are
much easier to use than the punch buttons most manufacturers
The engine has a delightful shrill note when pushed towards
its six thousand, seven hundred and fifty rpm redline. The
gearbox is a six-speed automatic with the Tiptronic manual
shift button. We found it was easier to keep it in Drive all
the time Shifts are commendably smooth.
Naturally in a car of this class it features all the latest
electronic braking, cornering assistance and traction
controls. And from a passive-safety point of view, there are
dual stage airbags and curtain bags to protect all the
Priced at seven hundred and sixty three thousand Rand, the A8
has a distinct price advantage over the BMW 745i and the
Mercedes Benz S500. It undercuts the BMW by some twelve
thousand Rand and is a whopping eighty one thousand Rand
cheaper than the Merc.
Whether this will be the Audi that cracks it in the upper
prestige segment is open to question. In our book a bit more
work on ride quality and a little more understated elegance in
the style department would do the trick.
Car Torque is