April 6, 2004

Road Test: 2004 A8L 6.0 quattro
Article by: Gavin Conway, UK Correspondent

Take a look at that grille. And then imagine it filling your rear view mirror. That was certainly a view enjoyed by a few dozen German motorists as we explored the unlimited sections of Autobahn, the only place that allows you to get anywhere near the limits of Audi's big-hitter A8. And I can reliably report that the sight of a rapidly closing long-wheelbase 6.0-liter W12 A8 is about as effective as a rocket-propelled grenade at shifting slower moving traffic. It was almost embarrassing. Almost.

And if you don't like that weapons-grade grille, blame the Chinese. Audi quietly concedes that one of the reasons the top-of-the-range, long-wheelbase A8 L 6.0 quattro gains that giant chrome edged grille is that Far Eastern clientele don't like subtle statements of wealth. They like luxury cars to have massive presence, so Audi has given the A8's restrained nose a large dose of attitude for its flagship model, courtesy of a grille that echoes that of the famous Auto Union racers of the 1930s. Most of my colleagues think that it's a bit much, but I quite like it. I should add that most of my colleagues are wimps.

Behind that Carnegie Hall of a grille, you'll find a 444bhp version of the W12 engine that also powers the VW Phaeton and Bentley Continental (how's THAT for provenance). And with 427lb ft of torque, the resulting performance is epic for a car of such inflated dimensions. It'll reach 62mph in just 5.2 seconds - that sort of performance was the preserve of supercars not so long ago - and will haul itself effortlessly to its electronically limited 155mph top speed.

The six-speed automatic, which is marvellously responsive, can also be operated with paddles located behind the steering wheel, Formula 1 style. With the added security of four-wheel drive, the A8 6.0 is a formidably effective way to cross very large chunks of (damp) Europe. It's a refined powertrain, too, although the noise the W12 engine makes when pushed hard isn't a patch on that melody played by Audi's sensational twin-turbo V8.

It does, though, make brilliant use of its extra size; the A8 L 6.0 gains a hugely useful 130mm of length in the wheelbase. Crucially, though, this added length hasn't spoiled the proportions of the car - it still presents the best looking profile at this end of the market, much better looking than, say, a long wheelbase 7-Series. Inside, the stretch results in a simply huge amount of space, where two very tall people can sit happily one behind the other. The rear seats can also be electrically reclined and I can report that, short of a Rolls Royce Phantom, there is no finer place to spend time. Otherwise, the A8's cabin remains one of the very best in the business, with the intuitive MMI `infotainment' system along with tasteful and beautifully assembled combinations of wood, alloy and leather. The feelgood factor in this cabin is off the scale.

Audi aims to take on the likes of the Mercedes Benz 600 Limousine and BMW's 760Li, and it is priced competitively with these. You can, though, spend a vast amount of cash `personalising' your A8 L, taking what is already an expensive car into the financial stratosphere. Far from being shy about this fact, Audi is positively proud that an A8 can now, theoretically, cost more than a Bentley Continental. The company reckons that such a phenomenon means that Audi has joined the elite rank of marques with customers for whom money really is no object. One Audi spokesman commented that some customers don't even know or care what the options cost, just that they want them. That said, in my very limited experience, hyper-rich folk know exactly what everything costs. And they care a lot.

So how do you option up an A8 to cost so much? Apart from seats with their own internal cooling and massage function, you can specify a rear seat television entertainment package, Audi Exclusive seatbelts, Audi Exclusive Coolbox with bar compartment and Audi Exclusive carpet with contrasting leather piping. You can even specify solar panels in the sunroof so that the car is ventilated when left parked in the sun. The options list goes on (and on) in that vein, culminating with something called Perforated Valcona Leather. You know that option comes in very, very expensive.

So it's tempting to buy Audi's line about this A8 being for those for whom money is no object mainly because this isn't a purchase that makes much economic sense, and mainly because I can envision these buyers having a garage full of motors to suit every occasion. They don't have to choose between the A8 and a Bentley - they can have both.

If you do have to justify the price of full-house A8 L 6.0 quattro just think of it as a half-price Maybach or, alternatively, as a RPG for all those Buicks that just won't more over.