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Audi A8

Broadcast 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 starts.

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 switch.

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 employ.

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 occupants.

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.

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