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2011 Audi A8 — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.2

Bottom Line:

The 2011 Audi A8 has officially come into its own as the flagship of the Audi brand. With a stylish new body, well-sorted interior and an excellent 8-speed transmission, the car is the new pinnacle of all things Ingolstadt.
Pros:
  • Excellent interior
  • New 8-speed transmission complements the 4.2-liter V8
  • Highly intuitive driver interface and display
Cons:
  • Heavy steering in Dynamic mode
  • No 3.0 TDI V6 at launch
  • 4.2-liter V8 falls short of turbocharged competition from BMW and Mercedes-Benz

It's been a long time (seven years, to be exact) since Audi re-examined its range-topping A8. But this year, the German automaker is treating its flagship to a complete makeover, and we say better late than never. Scheduled for release in the United States next fall, the all-new 2011 Audi A8 will retain its legendary strengths (i.e., an elegant interior and standard all-wheel drive), but will get a little bigger and add a host of new electronic gadgets. And, the newly designed sheet metal is both clean and strikingly muscular.

Model Lineup
When the 2011 Audi A8 makes its way to American dealerships, it will be available only as the standard-wheelbase version. The company says we can expect a long-wheelbase version to show up shortly after the base car makes it to market. Along with a little extra legroom in the rear of the car, the A8 L will likely feature a host of standard equipment that's otherwise optional on the base A8. Expect a slightly steeper price tag, too.

Under the Hood
Audi has simplified the buying process for consumers by offering the A8 with only a 4.2-liter V8 — for now. The all-aluminum engine benefits from a number of technologies that boost both horsepower and efficiency and, as a result, the car now develops more horsepower and 3 extra lb-ft of torque compared with the current A8. The engine tops out at 372 horsepower and 328 lb-ft of torque, thanks to a variable intake valve system and reworked electronic control unit. Although larger in every direction than the 2010 A8, the new car has shed 364 pounds from its curb weight, dropping the total to 4,045 pounds.

As impressive as the extra 22 horsepower is, the really surprising figures come in the efficiency department. While the EPA numbers are still forthcoming, the car could see up to 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway if the company's claims are accurate. Audi says the new transmission will improve the A8's fuel economy by 15 percent compared with the existing model.

That efficiency claim is in large part due to the 8-speed automatic transmission. There's a gear for every speed, allowing the sizable V8 to breathe easier. Coupled to the company's illustrious quattro all-wheel-drive system, the transmission also returns a satisfying driving experience. As in all new Audi vehicles, the quattro system has been tweaked to send 40 percent of power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear to deliver more rear-wheel-drive characteristics.

Inner Space
Audi has swaddled the interior of the new A8 in all the finery you would expect in this segment, but the real story is the onboard tech. The navigation system is tied in with Google Maps, and while owners will have to pony up to AT&T after six months for the privilege of knowing where they're going and where they'd like to be, this new type of navigation system is worth it.

Even above the navigation system, the new touch-screen-based multimedia interface is a millennium ahead of the old system. Want a specific album? Simply flip through a cover flow display just like some MP3 players. Want to adjust your seat? A helpful graphic shows you how the controls manipulate seat position, while controls stay logically on the seat side. Everything from the climate controls to vehicle system information can be altered via the display.

That's nothing new for this segment, but Audi didn't stop there. A new MMI touch pad replaces the cumbersome type-on-screen system of old. If you want to know the location of the closest mall, simply draw out the letters M-A-L-L on the pad with your finger. Skeptical? So were we, but the system is fast and accurate — packed with millions of character symbols, and in any language.

On the Road
Although there is no a huge jump in horsepower over the third-generation A8, the 2011 car simply feels faster. For example, stomp on the throttle in eighth gear when you're crawling, and the 8-speed automatic transmission will jump all the way down to second. The result is a rocket-ship ride in a Titanic-size sedan. Opt for quattro with Sport Differential and you can really feel the forced turn-in on tighter corners.

As before, the A8 comes with air suspension, which can be set to your choice of Comfort, Dynamic or Auto modes, where the more aggressive setting will provide noticeably increased throttle response along with a marginally stiffer ride. The Dynamic setting may make steering a bit stiff for a 2-ton luxury car, but then again, we can't honestly see A8 owners ever switching the system from Auto.

Right for You?
Audi makes no bones about the intended 2011 A8 customer. The company says the average owner will make more than $500,000 a year and be worth more than $1 million. If that sounds like you and you're still wondering why you wouldn't go for the equivalent BMW 7-Series, trust us when we say the A8 is more car in every aspect, minus the engine. But with the 8-speed transmission, even the naturally aspirated V8 is more than enough.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB03 - 8/23/2014 2:53:38 AM