At first glance, it's a big, luxurious and very pricey Audi. And while it's handsome in a moneyed way, we wish that the new A8 had the lithe beauty of the superseded model and that there was some hint of the car's lightweight structure.
Ever since the first A8 graced the world's roads in 1994, the range-topping Audi's body has been made from lighter, but more expensive, aluminium rather than steel. With a 4.2-litre V8 sitting under the bonnet the A8 weighs 1835kg. This isn't svelte in an absolute sense, but is a significant amount lighter than the BMW 750i at 1945kg and Mercedes-Benz S500 at 1955kg. Bear in mind, though, that the Audi's competitors are rear-wheel drive, while the Audi comes equipped with a four-wheel drive system that adds a good 100 or so kilograms to the car's mass.
Audi isn't big on bling, but the big chrome grille, and LED driving lights and turn indicators make the A8 instantly recognisable, especially at night. LEDs also grace the tail-light and folding wing mirrors. The car's standard xenon headlights can be replaced by a set of (AU$2700) LED lights that can switch automatically between standard and high beam. Neither headlight option swivels with the steering wheel to help illuminate turns, although the adaptive headlight system does adjust beam range and automatically engages cornering lights as required.
All four doors and the boot softly pull themselves shut when they're left slightly ajar. So you'll never drive off with the car softly chiming away. It goes without saying that keyless entry and start are standard, but hold down the appropriate button on the key fob and the A8 will open or close all its windows and the sunroof too.
Even in an A8 that's not quite as specced up as ours was, it's hard not to feel pampered and well taken care of, with rich detailing all around the cabin. The instrument cluster has an uncanny resemblance to the one in the R8 supercar and given the sheer quantity of ashtrays it's probably wise to assume that the big end of town likes puffing on nicotine sticks.
Almost every conceivable surface is covered in wonderfully tactile materials, whether it be the brushed aluminium strips that run the length of dashboard and doors, leather clad seats and dashboard, velour door insets or, even, the wood trim. At night, thin LED tube lights in the headliner, door panels and foot wells provide mood lighting that can customised for intensity and colour.
Measuring some 5.1m long and 1.95m wide, the A8 naturally provides plenty of seating space for its five occupants. The front two seats can be electrically adjusted in 22 ways -- everything from seat length, tightness of the bolsters, lumbar angle and shoulder tilt -- with two memory settings available.
Say, for example, you've configured your seat to grip you tightly. When you switch the car off and alight, the steering wheel will move away and the seat unfurl itself like a flower to the morning sun, enabling an easier egress. And then when you plant your butt and insert the key fob into a dashboard cubby, the seat goes from flat to a warm embrace in a matter of seconds.
During our first day with the A8, the temperature outside ventured on the wrong side of 30 degrees Centigrade and humidity peaked at 1000 per cent. So, with a long freeway jaunt back home, we were glad our review car came fitted with the optional (AU$5500) massaging seats with heating and cooling elements. Similar seats can fitted for the benefit of those in the back -- not only will they set you back a further AU$9440, but they also reduce seating capacity from five to four.
Storage is decent, if not outstanding. The boot swallows up some 500 litres of gear, but space can't be extended as there's no ski port and the rear seats don't fold down. There are, however, lidded boxes in each door armrest. Each of the four outboard passengers is catered for by his/her own climate control region.
Like any sedan that's priced from AU$225,904, the A8 comes packed with enough goodies to sink the Ile de France. Although some of cutting-edge items available in Europe, such as the Wi-Fi hotspot feature and navigation system that utilises Google Earth mapping, aren't available, even as options, in Australia.
On the safety front there's a healthy complement of airbags, stability control and Pre Sense Basic that tightens the seat belts, and closes the window and sunroof if an accident is imminent. The radar-guided cruise control (AU$5395) system made highway driving a snap as it was able to not only maintain a set speed, and maintain safe and configurable distance to the car in front, but also brake the car as we headed downhill and also bring the car to a complete stop. Not only that, but the systems works well in stop-start city traffic too. Lane assistance lights mounted on the wing mirrors is a further AU$3685 on top of the cost of the smart cruise control system.
To help drivers avoid unseen pedestrians, black and white images from the night vision camera (AU$5400), hidden in the grille, are displayed in the instrument cluster. Especially in partially lit suburban settings, people tend to blend into hotspots, so the system highlights humans with the prominent yellow rectangle.
Given its not inconsiderable dimensions, parking is easy thanks to the included reversing camera and parking sensors, although there's no self parking facility. If you're ferrying passengers who are photosensitive or would rather see than be seen, there's an optional set electric blinds (AU$2670) for the rear and side windows. A tilt-and-slide sunroof, and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers are standard.
Entertainment and navigation
We can't speak for the V8's standard 14-speaker 600W Bose sound system, but the (AU$14,430) Bang & Olufsen unit is fantastic -- our editorial policy prohibits us from filling the sentence with "bloody" and a large variety of expletives.