As much as I like to drive, and as dynamically brilliant as this car is—except for one or two little hiccups—the best seat in the house is in the back.
This is the “L” variant of Audi’s flagship A8 sedan, longer by 5.1 inches.
That doesn’t sound like much, but those inches were applied behind the front seats. The rear of the A8 was hardly cramped to begin with; now there’s room back there to land a hang glider.
With the Rear Seat Comfort Package, both back seats are independently adjustable as well as heated and cooled. Furthermore, the front passenger seat can be controlled from the back, so the CEO can motor it forward—maybe squeezing her executive V-P a bit in the shotgun seat, but gaining that much more space behind.
Keep on ticking the option boxes and the rear seats become more and more luxurious, topping out with recline and massage features, power sunshades, a fridge and dual 10-inch computer screens.
By now we’ve spent the price of an economy car in the back seats. But the pilot’s seat of an A8L is a nice place to be too. Not only is it adjustable (18 or 22 ways), heated, cooled and massaging, it also provides access to what’s under the hood: A silky twin-turbocharged 4-liter V-8 that squeezes out 420 horsepower and 444 pounds of torque. All the torque is available at just 1,500 RPM, so a mere dip of the driver’s toe accelerates this cruiser like a sports car. (A hushed and serene sports car.)
The swell of power flows through an 8-speed transmission that shifts almost seamlessly, while the adaptive air suspension and the Quattro all-wheel drive absorb bumps and straighten out corners just as we’d expect them to.
Mere performance, comfort and refinement are no longer enough to impress the well-heeled, however, and so Germany’s Big Three are locked in an arms race to overwhelm us with techno-tronics. BMW has iDrive, Mercedes-Benz has COMAND, and Audi calls its computerized control system MMI, for Multi Media In your face—sorry, Interface. It’s a dial/buttons/screen combo that adjusts most of the car’s functions, from suspension and steering to the five distinct movable parts of each front seatback, and accesses the array of connectivity features.
Audi has now fed Google Earth into its satnav, to provide zoom-in maps—alongside traffic, weather and news alerts as well as AM/FM/XM radio, all under manual or voice command. An A8 is even a mobile WiFi hotspot.
MMI can cause heart palpitations among seniors, but anyone comfortable with a smartphone should be able to cope. Furthermore, once everything is set, we’re left with easy one-click operations to toggle between Normal and Sport driving modes, pick radio stations, and work the windshield wipers or seat heaters.
Given what Audi has invested in digitalism, I’m almost abashed to complain about something so humdrum as driving, but let’s go back to the snags I mentioned: From a full stop, the A8 sits for a moment before it responds to the throttle. I thought this might be the fuel-saving engine stop-start feature, but disabling it didn’t solve the problem.
I suspect the lag is programmed into the transmission to allow the motor time to restart—even if it isn’t needed. Annoying. I’d also like a bit more self-centering in the steering as the car comes out of a corner—a slight lack that might be due to the longer wheelbase, or even the four-season tires on our car.
Audi A8L 4.0T prices start at $87,200. Our sample came with extra driver assists (active cruise control with automatic stop & go, various alert sensors and a 360-degree, top-view camera) plus LED lights, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear Comfort Packages and other options, but the sticker was still slightly below a hundred grand. It can, of course, go well north of that. (A8s also come with 333HP V-6 or 500HP W12 engines, priced accordingly, and there’s an S8 sport model too.)
If you’re wondering how to fit such a vehicle into your budget, here’s a suggestion: Get rid of the company jet, lay off the pilots and cancel the maintenance contract, and then order one of these stretch Audis.
What the heck, get two of them! Even with a full-time chauffeur, and even if you fly first class when you do need a plane, you’ll save 20 or 30 million bucks and be more comfortable too, especially in bad weather.