First drive: Audi A8 TDi V8

4 April, 2014 | by Lance Branquinho

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Many seasons of television ago, before Audi was validated and accepted as a superior German automotive brand, it marketed a tragic fail of a limousine.

The car in question had a sophisticated V8 engine and all-wheel drive, a combination Audi has never attempted before. It was handsomely styled and the cabin architecture was a precursor to the designer Audi interiors of 2014. It even triumphed in motorsport, winning back-to-back German touring car titles.

Despite all this, Audi’s original V8 limo was ignored by the plutocrats, who favoured Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class and to a lesser extent, BMW’s 7 Series. Two and a bit decades later, much has changed. Audi owns Lamborghini – and Ducati. It markets a supercar, the R8. Consequently, many successful people, inevitably the offspring of successful parents, are not ignoring the BMWs they were familiar with as child passengers for Audi ownership as adults.

All told, this has been a remarkable brand ascent for Audi, yet the notion that its A8 is a novel option instead of a compelling S-Class or 7 Series rival persists.

To counter this, Audi’s third-generation A8 is now available in South Africa with all manner of 2014 model year upgrades. Yes, the front grille is still rather massive, but the new bonnet, headlights and some finessing of the exterior styling details realise a car which has presence, without invoking ire from fellow road users.

Inside, it is not quite the Star Trek command deck experience provided by Merc’s latest S-Class, but the material blends, colour and texture contrasts and comparative ergonomic fluidity of engaging infotainment and comfort features make A8 an environment one easily familiarises with. It’s gratuitously luxurious without being intimidating: think personable luxury hotel experience, instead of cold, indifferent high-end accommodation detailing.

LUXURY DIESELS

Audi’s launching its 2014 A8 with two turbodiesel engines, adding the W12 and S8 petrol in May. This is a trifle ironic, considering that A8’s antecedents were renowned for debuting Audi petrol V8 power technology to market. The turbodiesel engines are either a 3-litre V6, good for 190kW and 580Nm, or 4.2-litre V8, booting to 283kW and 850Nm.

The 3-litre TDi is sufficiently swift but obviously, if you are buying a seven-figure car, there’s no sense in considering relative value propositions. As such, the 4.2 V8 is most certainly the one to have: with 850Nm and ZF’s staggeringly capable eight-speed auto, it’s a veritable diesel limousine Q-car.

“Diesel limousine Q-car? Rubbish.” Factually, though, there is no arguing with a turbodiesel limousine that runs 0-100kph in 4.7 seconds and cruises with such superb sound insulation that your chauffeur can deduce even the most furtively whispered merger details being planned over the phone from the rear seat. Consider an average consumption figure of 7.4l/100km and you really wonder why anybody will order the petrol-powered W12 A8 when it becomes available in May.

Ride and handling? Well, allow us the use of a terrible automotive writer’s cliché: but A8 really does shrink around the driver. Even in long-wheel base configuration, A8 4.2 TDi never feels ungainly. Ride quality is good, but it’s not quite as mesmerising as the Mercedes-Benz Magic Body Control system on S-Class.

Quattro is overkill for a fair-weather market such as ours, but if you are ever parked-in on the embassy or estate lawn, and your only exit is an incline, neatly saturated by the evening sprinkler system, then yes: all-wheel drive will be quite handy.

ENTER THE MATRIX

A particularly novel driving aid on 2014 A8 is its appropriately named Matrix LED system. Audi’s renowned for its LED technology (at times, getting a touch carried away by the application), and with its latest Matrix LEDs, where high-beam illumination is managed by 25 individual diodes, is quite remarkable. It uses predicative SatNav route data to illumination corners perfectly, and will keep the road ahead perfectly lit at full beam, without blinding other road users, thanks to millisecond perfectly calibrated adaptability.

Beyond LED fetishists, who is going to buy a new A8? The 4.2 TDi is a very handsome car. It’s very fast too. Massively quick, in fact, with impressive endurance too, theoretical range totally just over 1000km on a tank.

As the only V8 diesel limousine available in South Africa right now, it’s very much the nonconformist choice for the influential and wealthy, something we suspect, ironically, might be its salient selling point.

Audi A8 3.0 TDI R1 101 500

Audi A8 4.2 TDI R1 390 000

Audi A8 3.0 TDI LWB R1 257 500

Audi A8 4.2 TDI LWB R1 545 500

     

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