The balance of power at the top end of motoring has just shifted towards Audi with its new A8 flagship. After many years in the shadow of cars wearing S-Class and 7-Series badges, the A8 is a revelation.
It is dripping with luxury, finished like a private suite in a luxury hotel, loaded with the latest safety and entertainment technology, and drives as tight and quiet as you expect in the CEO class.
The A8 hasn’t always been this way, or this strong against Mercedes-Benz and BMW, but the fourth-generation car is truly a game-changer.
Driving over familiar home roads in Australia, not just a brief taste test in a controlled environment in Europe, proves the all-round ability of the A8 package and the degree of cosseting it provides in a class where a $192,000 price tag sits it right in the heart of the action.
Make no mistake, the A8 is a big car. Very big. Yet it manages to look balanced and elegant while offering great space for four adults.
However, for limousine duty and high-net-worth individuals, you can specify an extra 10 centimetres of rear legroom for just $15,000.
This top-line package also brings the ability to set the left-rear seat like a business-class airline seat, even winding the front-passenger seat forward to provide reclining space in the back.
Engines are turbocharged petrol or diesel V6s – the most likely choice for hire-car drivers – and the mechanical package includes Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic.
But it’s the luxuries that are more important in the A8, which means everything from a full leather interior to aircon with settings for each individual seat, fully-digital instruments, a heads-up instrument display in the windscreen, Bang and Olufsen sound and even satnav with Google Earth.
For the back seat, there is a tablet to take control of the cabin, and Audi has even added ‘haptic feedback’ - which creates an analogue feel and sound - to the twin touch screens between the front seats. The main screen can even respond to the driver’s handwriting and the A8 has voice control of major controls.
Safety is handled by everything from auto safety braking and radar cruise control to a 360-degree camera system for parking, but the Level 3 autonomous driving systems which are touted in Europe are still locked out in Australia.
On the road
The A8 is a traditional, old-school limousine with the sort of whisper-quiet cabin that was once provided exclusive bragging rights for Rolls-Royce.
The difference is that Audi is pushing the edge on modern luxury with a great-looking cabin and all sorts of early-adopter technology while retaining a giant boot in the back and seats and space which are irresistible for flagship followers.
The leather is succulent, the alloy and wood is real, the aircon can create a giant fridge, the 8.2-inch central screen is as clear as a big-screen television and the 10.1 inch instrument display makes driving easier with the clearest readouts in the car world.
The A8 is no sports car, and your ride can be troubled by potholes and sub-standard Australian roads, but there is grip and go that goes beyond the demands of a luxury car driver. More importantly, the cabin is wonderfully insulated against the nastiness outside.
One minor niggle is that the new haptic touch screens result in messy fingerprints, but otherwise there is nothing in the cabin that’s likely to create complaints.
Overall, the Audi A8 is a car that’s easy to love and super-easy to enjoy – and even measured against the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S Class (often considered the gold standard in luxury motoring) the A8 can easily hold its own.