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2008 Audi A8 L W12 review:

2008 Audi A8 L W12

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LEDs on the side mirror mount light up when a car is in the lane next to the A8 L.
But, your chauffeur will also get to use the A8 L's cool driving assistance gadgets, making it a good idea to give him or her the day off occasionally so you can take the wheel. The A8 L gets Audi's blind-spot detection system, which turns on orange LEDs in the side view mirror mounts if a car is in the lane to either side. The lights will flash if you use the turn signal. This system works well when it is active, but it only works above about 40 mph. We prefer the Volvo BLIS system we recently saw in the Volvo S80, which works at all speeds.

The A8 L also has a lane-departure warning system. Although we've seen these systems in other cars, such as the Volvo S80 and the Infiniti M45X, Audi's is unique in that it warns the driver by buzzing the steering wheel. But like the blind spot system, it only works above certain speeds. We also found that it didn't do a very good job of recognizing faded lane markings.

And finally, the A8 L has adaptive cruise control as an option. You set your speed as normal with cruise control, and the car uses forward-looking radar to determine the speed of any cars ahead, matching your speed with theirs if they are going slower. You can set four following distances. We found Audi's version of this system to be as capable as we've seen in other cars. Our only niggle is that the controls are on the standard cruise control stalk, placed behind the wheel on the lower left, making it difficult to quickly see what you are doing.

Under the hood

The W12 engine in the 2008 Audi A8 L is kind of like two six cylinder engines set side-by-side and then mashed together. Each of the 12 cylinders gets 4 valves, making 48 valves in all. This is a complex piece of work. Each of those cylinders also displaces half a liter, making the engine six liters in all. The result is a very powerful but smooth engine. Fitting the car's luxury status, the engine operates quietly and with minimal vibration. But you feel it when you step on the gas, as the A8's W12 engine puts out 450 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 428 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Audi claims 5 seconds to 60 mph.

The W12 engine is a complex machine, using 48 valves for its 12 cylinders.
That power is all fed through a six-speed automatic with sport and manual shift modes. There are even small paddles attached to the wheel. Similar to the engine, the transmission shifts quietly, maintaining that luxury feeling within the car. Although the big A8 L doesn't seem like a car you want to be flogging around the corners, we gave it a try anyway and found that the transmission in sport mode downshifted quickly when we braked before entering a corner, maintaining the lower gear as we came out.

The standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system helps out the surprisingly good handling, keeping all four wheels gripping. Even more surprising was how flat it stayed in the corners. The A8 comes with an air suspension that can be set to dynamic or comfort modes, or you can leave it on automatic and let the car figure out what sort of driving you are doing. This suspension plays a key factor in counteracting lean and sway, which would be a big factor on a car of this size and weight. When we had it in the corners, it did feel like a big car, yet we also felt it pivot nicely when the pressure was really on.

You can set the air suspension for comfort, sport driving, or an automatic mode, which adjusts for your driving style.
During normal cruising, the kind of thing you would generally expect to do in the A8 L, the air suspension delivered an exceptionally smooth ride. We could hear when the car went over various road imperfections, but it transmitted little of the actual jolt into the cabin.

As we would expect, fuel economy is very poor in the A8 L. The EPA rates the car at 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, subjecting it to the gas guzzler tax. During our time with the car, we had an average of 15.3 mpg, with the trip computer reporting averages of up to 18.5 mpg during freeway driving.

But our city averages were very low, with numbers around 10 mpg showing up as we dealt with stop lights and general traffic in the city. The A8 L has a 23.8 gallon tank, but even with that much fuel we couldn't expect to go much over 300 miles. For emissions, the A8 L only meets the California Air Resources Board minimum LEV II rating.

In sum

The base price of a 2008 Audi A8 L W12 is $120,100, putting it in seriously high-end territory. The Palace Blue paint job on our test car came in at $2,500. We also had $6,300 for the Bang & Olufsen audio system, $3,200 for the car's 20-inch alloys, $2,100 for the adaptive cruise control system, $1,400 for lane departure and blind spot warning, $1,500 for the rear seat refrigerator, $200 for the heated steering wheel, and $790 for a sun roof embedded with solar panels, which can add juice to a battery drained by all the car's electronics. The total, taking into account the $1,700 gas guzzler tax and $775 destination charge, comes out to $140,565. Two serious competitors that come in a little cheaper are the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG and the Lexus LS 600h, although neither boasts quite as nice of a stereo system.

For our rating of the Audi A8 L, it earns an excellent score for its performance tech. We were impressed by the transmission's sport-shifting characteristics, how such a big car can handle so well, and the smooth ride. We just have to ding it for its generally poor fuel economy. In the area of cabin tech, the A8 L brings in some high-end features, such as blind spot warning and adaptive cruise control. The audio quality just blew us away and we like how we can use a number of different audio sources. The refrigerator and rear seat DVD are nice bonuses. But the navigation system lets it down a bit by not offering any advanced features. And we found a few niggles with some of the other cabin features, such as the trunk-mounted DVD changer. For design, the exterior is nice and refined, while the man/machine interface (MMI) makes infotainment functions easily accessible, helped along by voice command.

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