The new A8

In typical Audi fashion, the A8's appearance at Paris was a subdued affair. As always, Ingolstadt is happy to let the cars themselves do the cheerleading, so there were no overblown press conferences or scantily clad young things leaping around the place.

But the message couldn't have been clearer - with the new A8, Audi wanted to create a car that takes the dynamic, lightweight design of its forebear even further down the road. With an added splash of electronic driver aids to bring the package into line with our multi-media age.

There are few carmakers who understand proportion as well as Audi (if any). The A8 simply does not have a bad angle and every surface is millimetrically precise. It has real muscle in its flanks, beautifully judged overhangs and a stance that looks like it just grew out of the ground. One thing that it doesn't have, though, is the presence and grace of the car it replaces. It's also more difficult to identify as Audi's flagship sedan. I've seen the new A8 on the road, and significantly, I mistook it for an A6 on more than one occasion. That's not a mistake you'd make with the old car. Ever.

But just like the old car, the new A8 is an aluminium space frame construction. Further development, though, has meant torsional rigidity has been improved an incredible 60%, which should yield real improvements on refinement and handling.

You can choose between two V8s with either 4.2-litres and 335bhp or 3.7-litres and 280bhp. Also new for the A8 is a six-speed tiptronic shift, complete with Formula One-style shift paddles behind the steering wheel. This is just the first clue to the car's sporting intent.

From behind the wheel, the A8's cockpit feels even more enveloping, as though the car is wrapping itself around you. But the two defining features are the controller knob in the middle of the console and, when you start up, the 7-inch monitor, which rises gracefully from a hiding place under the wood dash. It's a beautiful piece of electronic theatre.

The controller knob operates the Multi Media Interface - now don't run away screaming; this isn't nearly as complex as is sounds and it makes BMW's i-Drive look like a Space Shuttle launch program. Basically, it controls the car's audio, navigation, climate control and vehicle control systems. And you only need to know four simple rules to operate it - I've played with the system and can vouch for its foolproof simplicity. And that colour monitor is perfectly located for sightlines, too.

The other major advance for the A8 is the adaptive air suspension, which broadens the car's spectrum of dynamic control from stiff and sporty to soft and absorbent. It's just another clue to how serious Audi is about creating a much more sporting image. Even for its biggest, brashest sedan.

Why I love Paris Motor Show

There is always quite a special buzz about the Paris Motorshow. It marks the end of the summer and is a signal that the serious business of new car launches is underway again. It's also the one show where you are guaranteed to see all of the heavyweights, the Pischetsrieders and the Piechs.

The downside is that you will walk about 20 miles in the course of a day. Inevitably, the carmakers you need to visit are separated by massive halls full of commercial vehicles, re-tread manufacturers and other honest toilers that don't hold much interest. So like much else that is French, the layout of this particular show doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But you know, I still love the place.

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