April 25, 2004

Quick Look: Automotive Alchemy for the 2004 A8 L quattro
Article by: Jason Teller

The automotive geniuses from Ingolstadt have succeeded in one of the most difficult tasks for any manufacturer, namely producing a flagship so inundated with character that it both visually and viscerally epitomizes the brand.

Let's face it: building a physically imposing vehicle is no trick. Loading this large, flagship vehicle with technical goodies and a gutsy powerplant is of course expected, but this is simply a blueprint sans soul. A true flagship combines all of these requisite attributes while simultaneously keeping one eye focused forward on fulfilling the destiny of being "the best" to ever come from the brand and the other eye focused backward on the brand's historical legacy.

The 2004 A8 L quattro is quite simply the first Audi I've ever experienced which has not only met this broad definition of flagship, but actually exceeded it with ease.

It sure is easy to label this car as an overachiever considering that it's one of those rare vehicles where the merits of calling "shotgun" are questionable at best. With backseats that offer 3.5 feet of leg room, in-seat heating, reclining seats, independent multi-zone cooling, secondary heating to ensure the back doesn't take longer than the front to warm up, side window shades and rear vanities including lights, the "L" (as in "long") is no gimmick. Yes, this car is physically long, as well as possessing an exhaustively long list of amenities and comforts. And that's just the backseat.

The front, and in particular the driver's seat, is no slouch either. You will of course get all of the adjustability and climate comforts as in the rear, but here you get the added benefit of a gas pedal that is connected to Audi's oh-so-smooth yet oh-so-powerful 40-valve V8. This is without a doubt the best V8 ever to populate the front end of an Audi and it suits the A8 L perfectly whether being asked to go hard and fast or serenely cruise the back ways on a Sunday afternoon.

It is also the front seat occupants who control the vehicle's telematics through Audi's MMI system. This bit of technical wizardry literally epitomizes the previously mentioned "looking forward and backward" mandate. MMI as deployed in the A8 L is the most advanced management system in the entire Audi lineup and is also universally regarded as a superior solution to competing offerings such as BMW's iDrive system. It is simply the best in the market today. This of course neatly dovetails into Audi's history as a technological innovator.

The two highlights of the MMI system are its intuitiveness and redundancy. My 80-year old grandmother rode in this car and she didn't struggle with the MMI system. In contrast, my wife preferred to operate the climate control, for example, with the customary controls rather than through the MMI interface. In a nutshell it gives you as much or as little as you want and is not obstinate when you do decide to use it.

The A8 L's magic is further extended while driving since it simply does not feel like a car of its size. Whether credit goes to the weight-saving, all-aluminum Audi Space Frame or the throaty 330-horsepower V8, you will be in denial about driving a flagship model. Select "sports mode" as opposed to plain old "drive" and the car rewards driver with shift points more apt to be found on the dragstrip than around town. In this case the press releases did not lie: this car possesses both sportiness and luxury in abundance.

Considering it is an Audi, the safety features of the vehicle are as usual inherent. Suffice it to say no fewer than 10 airbags (some with dual-inflation capability for maximum protection) work in concert to protect occupants if things get dicey. The sturdiness of the ASF together with the many safety systems makes it one of the safest overall vehicles on the road.

Pure automotive alchemy. With a meticulously refined interior, superior performance capabilities, a number of technological innovations and the most advanced safety technology ever deployed in an Audi, the A8 L absolutely personifies the Audi brand from past to present and beyond.