Road Test: I Want an A8 L

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March 29, 2006

By: Jason Teller

I want an A8 L. Every time I drive one my urge to abandon my nimble S4 in favor of the supersized, luxury sedan grows even stronger.

It’s not so much that I like the exterior design – although I do, and I consider it to quite easily be the most beautiful of all big sedans in the market today. The torque-laden V8 is a nice feature, but in reality I already have the same powerplant in my S4. The innovative Aluminum Space Frame is cool in an I-can’t-touch-it-but-know-it’s-a-big-differentiator kind of way; I’m really focused on things more tangible.

What kinds of things? If you allow me to start at a baseline whereby the A8 L is indeed a very well designed, capably powered, safe and luxurious automobile then we instead need to talk about the special goodies Audi has thoughtfully thrown into the mix. From the company that prides itself on having Vorsprung durch Technik literally flowing through its veins, it is unsurprising to see the confluence of technology and common-sense functionality which is pervasive throughout the vehicle.

Here are the top ten things which push the A8 L over the top (in no particular order).

Advanced Key Intelligent Security System

All luxury cars have integrated security systems, but not all are equal when you take a closer look. In fact in 2005 the A8 won both the “Certified Security” quality seal from the Allianz Zentrum fur Technik (AZT – Allianz Centre for Technology) and the “British Car Security Award” for which it was the top vehicle in the luxury class. The Audi A8 features state-of-the-art security technologies, including an electronic steering column lock and the fourth-generation electronic immobilizer.

The A8 L anticipates driver convenience without compromising the security system via the deployment of an electronic pulse generator embedded in the key fob.

Sure, the key must still be “on your person” but it can remain safely stowed in your pocket, purse, briefcase or other accoutrement of choice. Once the driver approaches the car with the key in range – according to Audi the range has been tuned to a safe 5 feet – he or she can unlock the driver’s door by simply depressing the button set into the top of the door handle.

With this the driver’s door is unlocked as if the car knew its driver had merrily returned. Owners may choose via MMI whether, for security reasons, to have only the manually actuated doors unlock or have all the doors unlock once the driver’s door is unlocked. Similarly, when exiting the vehicle the driver can lock all doors (and trunk) and activate the alarm system by simply depressing the same button.

Adaptive Lighting (in conjunction with bi-xenon headlights)

Savvy drivers know the bluish-white glow of approaching xenon headlights. While this high end feature is slowly but surely moving down the ranks to more everyday vehicles, for now they still more often than not indicate a German-bred automobile is nearby.

The A8 L obviously employs Audi’s xenon headlamps, but also utilizes cutting edge technology by enabling the lights so help the driver “see” more from side to side during cornering. Adaptive lighting on an A8 L can be identified by additional lighting tubes installed between the low beam and high beam headlights.

At any given moment the vehicle will evaluate multiple parameters (such as speed, steering angle and the operation of turn signals) and then potentially activate the additional reflector at speeds up to about 45mph.

In real life practice the headlights work as advertised. Approach a corner slowly and turn the steering wheel and illumination will simultaneously track in the same direction. While some may view this feature as a subtle novelty, it is actually an advanced safety feature could be worth every penny if a person / animal / obstruction should happen to be just around he next curve of the road.

Finally, the system is also active when the car is in reverse where the adaptive lights on both sides are automatically activated thereby significantly increasing the area visible to the driver around the vehicle’s front end.

Unmatched Audi Interior

Take a second to fully appreciate the above photo of the A8 L. The first thing that must be noted is the elegantly simple layout. While many other high end brands attempt to “wow” via very complex, busy interiors, Audi hits the mark perfectly with its blend of form and functionality. The contour of the seats – which offer adequate support in this luxury sedan without feeling too racerish – is right on. Symmetry within the gauge pods, climate control system and MMI controls is another subtlety.

Taking the interior a step further, the materials utilized in the top end of the Audi range are easily the best in the auto industry. Without taking anything away from the rest of the Audi lineup, the A8 gets the best of the best. The leather is absolutely supple and dreamy, the carpeting is the just the opposite of coarse and utilitarian weaves found in some automobiles, the woods are gorgeous and even the plastics feel somehow very un-plasticy.

Studying the color palate – what Audi terms Amaretto – I’ll allow that results may vary. I personally feel that this color scheme is dazzling; there wasn’t a person I showed it to that wasn’t astonished. That said some folks will go to their graves with all black interiors and I can say from experience that Audi can also put together a more understated interior better than any manufacturer in the industry.

Bluetooth Integration

Look at your phone. If you are a potential A8 L buyer then chances are very good you are not toting a 3 year old, feature-barren brick of a cell phone. Today’s high end phones all offer Bluetooth functionality and the A8 L is setup to utilize handsfree to its fullest extent. In fact the A8 was the first car worldwide to be available with a handsfree car phone with cordless receiver.

Once connected, all important telephone functions can be operated via the MMI control unit. The TEL key provides access to the menu as well as the telephone directory integrated in the SIM card. Most importantly, the driver is able to operate the most important telephone functions straight from the multifunction steering wheel meaning never letting go of the wheel.

The reality is that the interior of the A8 L, even at speed, is ghostly quiet. This plays perfectly with the integrated handsfree functionality because users do not have to compete with typical road and engine noise.

Long Wheelbase

Want to be chauffeured around like you are somebody special? OK I admit it – I had my wife drive me around so I could spend a little time getting acclimated to the back half of the A8 L. While I am clearly not that special (my wife reminded me of that fact continually throughout the drive), I did get to enjoy the immense amount of space offered by this vehicle.

The “L” in A8 L just adds the something special that isn’t available in nearly any of the production cars out there. This is the long wheelbase special and Audi made it credible by extending the wheelbase by over 5 inches (also stretching the rear doors by over 5 inches in the process). All of the increase in the cars length has thus been smartly incorporated between the B and D pillars, allowing the additional space to be fully deployed to the rear seats.

Quite simply this means that even if Shaquille O’Neil is driving (and trust me, the front seats do go way, way, way back), passengers in the back seat will have more than adequate legroom. More hip owners will of course have a wicked assortment of aftermarket rear seat entertainment installed to make use of this additional space, but I digress.

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