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    By Kris Hansen

    flag-ship

    –noun

    1.
    a ship carrying the flag officer or the commander of a fleet, squadron, or the like, and displaying the officer’s flag.

    2.
    the main vessel of a shipping line.

    3.
    any of the best or largest ships or airplanes operated by a passenger line.

    4.
    the best or most important one of a group or system: This model, the A8 is the flagship of the Audi Brand.

     

    They say beauty is only skin deep, and in many cases that’s true. However true though, we recently found an exception to that rule – The Audi A8L. This is a car that’s decidedly nicer to be in, than out. Not because the all aluminum A8L is a minger mind you, rather, it’s because the interior of this car is flat out jaw-droppingly spectacular. From the leather covered dashboard to the supremely comfortable steering wheel to the heated and cooled and seemingly infinitely adjustable massaging seats (more on these later) to the user selectable interior lighting color scheme, to the (optional) Rear Seat Entertainment system, to the power sunshades, to the built in refrigerator, the A8L is one thoroughly thought out luxury automobile.

    What makes the Audi A8L so good though is less about how it coddles its passengers, which it does ridiculously well, but how well it coddles its driver. Hidden below the luxury bits and unbelievably clever infotainment systems lies an incredibly well designed and built sports sedan. Yes, it’s very big, but once you get past the extra width and length, you realize that it doesn’t drive like a big car.

    For starters, the A8L has the credentials to hang with sports cars. Having 375 horses available from the 4.2 liter FSI direct injection V8, mated to 8 closely matched ratios in the Tiptronic transmission, the A8L leaps off the line and runs out to 60mph in around 5 seconds, and it will continue on to an electronic limit of 130mph. With dynamic ride control and the optional sports rear differential, it handles like a sports car too. The levels of grip that the A8L can achieve are remarkable to say the least. This is great when no passengers are present, and the driver happens upon a twisty road that needs to be conquered. Such antics are truly enjoyable in the A8L; it doesn’t feel like a fish out of water when being pushed hard. Body roll is minimal, squat and dive are essentially non existent thanks to the self adjusting air suspension. Merging into traffic or onto highways is drama free, unless of course too much power is called for, in which case, the excellent brakes get called into use.

    On the highway, with the Dynamic Ride Control in Auto or Comfort, the ride is unbelievably smooth and comfortable. Even with the snow tires our test car was fitted with, the car was so quiet at 80mph that we could hear a watch tick. Granted, at 80mph the V8 turns over at just 2000 rpm thanks to the long legs afforded by the 8 speed Tiptronic, further reducing the cabin noise. It’s so quiet that some testers mistook the sound of air emanating from the rear seat vents as wind noise.

    Normally the best seat in the house in an Audi is the left front, but when equipped with the Executive Back Seat, the best seat in the house of the A8L is unquestionably the right rear. We took one for the team as it were, and spent some time in the spacious back seat of the A8L, while others drove. When the front passenger seat is unoccupied, that seat can be sent away, tipped forward, and replaced by a convenient footrest. Meanwhile, the back seat slides forwards and reclines to match the footrest. Add heating and cooling, and massage feature, DVD video, and suddenly the lack of a steering wheel isn’t a problem.

    Clearly the Executive Back Seat option was a huge draw to this particular car. It’s also not inexpensive. One could buy an entry level Korean car for what the option costs, but no matter. It’s an amazingly well thought out system, which is capable of presenting media from multiple sources – the glovebox mounted 6 disc CD/DVD changer, the rear mounted single CD/DVD player and SD cards, the Jukebox, AMI from ipod, or good old am/fm and satellite radio. Add to that the ability to run the Sat Nav system and either check in on the current trip status, or, create or modify the trip and send to the front MMI system (the rear seat system is it’s own complete MMI system, which is capable of interacting with the front seat MMI) for the driver to follow. The best part of it all; each back seat position has its own 10.6 inch electronically adjustable LCD screen, and each passenger can watch/listen to their own media via either wired or wireless headset, OR, played through the car’s sound system. It is an unbelievably good system. We didn’t specifically try, but we think we spent more time in the back seat just trying to test all of the features of the system than we did driving it, and we drove it a lot. Did we mention that it has a refrigerator between the seat backs? It does, and we tested it. It keeps drinks very cold.

    The only negative thing we have to say about the back seat entertainment system is we were unable to find a way to control it from the front seats, which meant, for the uninitiated or non savvy (or children), we had to stop, get out, and help people get their media of choice started. It was a minor issue; but it was an issue none the less.

    As good as the back seat entertainment is, for car nuts, the place to be is the driver’s seat. With 22 adjustments, multiple massage settings, 3 heat and 3 cooling modes which amazingly can be used simultaneously, this is one awesome seat. Other than not being able to watch video while underway, it has all of the good stuff that the back seat passengers have, plus a steering wheel and pedals. Depress the brake pedal, press the standard equipment keyless start button, and the car comes to life. This sequence is quite busy actually. The power adjusted steering wheel assumes its pre-set position. The seats recall their memories. The main dashboard mounted MMI screen flips out, and when equipped, the tweeters for the phenomenally good 1400 watt 19 speaker Bang and Oulfsen audio system rise out of the dashboard. When the engine fires, it settles to a very smooth and quiet idle. The instrument cluster displays all of the pertinent information about the car’s status; with clever LED strips for the fuel and engine coolant gauges (instead of pointer needles), as well as the tachometer’s redline.

    The D4 A8 brought us a new innovation from Audi, which is a fully electronic transmission selector. The lever is very low, and wide, with a soft leather covering, and is actually designed to be used as a wrist rest while manipulating the MMI system. After pressing the side button in the usual fashion, the selector can be used in 2 ways – either a tug through tactile detents to D directly, or, by “toggling” through R and N to D or S. Either method has the same ultimate result, though one does need to look at the dash to really know what gear the transmission is actually in, because the lever always returns to its resting position as soon as it’s released. One other interesting thing about this selector, there is no Tiptronic control mode. Instead, manual mode is engaged by either tugging on one of the steering wheel mounted paddles, or, by depressing a button on the steering wheel. The former results in a temporary engagement of manual mode, the latter will stay in manual mode till the button is pressed again, or the selector lever is toggled backwards for D or S mode. The only negative to the system that we encountered was due to personal driving style. On the highway, with cruise control active, some of our testers liked to pull their feet back away from the pedals, which caused the right leg to brush the selector’s side button, which prompted the multifunction display on the dash to light up indicating the transmission mode.

    The more time we spent with the A8L, the more we became spoiled by all of the little things it does. From the aforementioned keyless entry and start, power trunk lid, auto headlights and wipers, self closing doors, Bluetooth phone connection, power rear sun shades on both the rear window, and the back door side windows, all of which can be operated from the drivers seat and the back seats, dual front seat arm rests, reversing camera and parking radar sensors, and on and on. It’s not that the A8L makes drivers lazy, but it does so much for the driver, all that’s left for the driver to do is drive the car.

    The navigation system adds to the ease of operation as well. Entering your destination is easier than ever. Audi installed a touch pad to the MMI system, which can be used for several functions within the NAV system. Firstly, while entering a destination, the user simply “writes” the letter with a finger. The system is amazingly good at translating gibberish barely legible letters into actual letters. As more letters are entered, the list can be selected and the destination entered. As if that wasn’t easy enough, the A8 also has voice recognition capabilities for entering addresses. The only drawback to using voice recognition is the system is a little sluggish as it prompts the user for input. But it’s very good at recognizing spoken words, and while underway, is quite possibly the easiest way to enter new addresses. The touch pad and voice recognition can also be used for placing phone calls with a Bluetooth connected phone.

    With new levels of clarity in information conveyance, the latest Audi Nav system is truly remarkable. The new 3D map displays in more of a birds eye view, as opposed to directly above, which makes figuring out tricky intersections easier. Audi engineers went one step further with this, adding an exact representation of the intersection to the instrument cluster display. We found some really complex interchanges to test this out on, and it works incredibly well. Add to all of this the real time traffic updates, as well as the ability for the system to advise of locations for services such as restaurants and fuel stations (and when you run low on fuel, the system offers to find a fuel station for you) and so on, the system is incredibly useful and accurate.

    As one might expect of a car that’s nearly 18 feet long, the interior is very spacious. With 121 cubic feet of interior room and only 4 seats (the rear seat entertainment console does not fold up is it does in the short wheelbase version), it’s quite roomy. Large bodies can fit with ample room between elbows, thanks to the broad center console. Leg room in back is tremendous, nearly equal to the front seats. Rear headroom is excellent, though not quite as generous in the front seats, but it’s not at all confining.

    As if all of the aforementioned isn’t enough, the A8L offers even more. Full LED illumination throughout the car for one. There is not a single incandescent or halogen bulb anywhere in the A8L. The headlights are fully LED, and they are very very good.

    It’s pretty obvious that Audi engineers wanted to flex their creative and technological muscle, and without any hesitation, we say they nailed this one. They made a great looking, great driving, comfortable safe and all weather secure luxury executive sedan that in our opinion has no equal.

     


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