Dubspeed Driven Road Test: 2005 Audi A8L – Leave the corporate jet at home.

Words by: Zerin Dube – Dubspeed Media Staff
Photos by: Matt Chow, Zerin Dube and Todd Spoth

In today’s world of global partnerships and remote offices, executives find themselves needing to travel more and more in order to meet the needs of their businesses. Airlines are taking advantage of this new era by touting their “new and improved” business class seating just about everywhere you go. Each airline tries to one-up its competition, offering just a little more leg room, or a place for you to plug in your laptop or other electronic gadgets, all in an effort to try and seduce the would-be business traveler to fly their airline.

The exact same scenario holds true with the automotive industry in the full-size premium luxury segment. BMW, Mercedes, and Audi all have top-end models that are targeted at business professionals looking for executive transportation on the ground. Each offers the highest level of comfort and convenience, and each tries to out-duel the other in hopes of winning a prospective customer.

As the youngest player in the game, Audi has the most to prove to potential buyers to sway them away from the 745iLs and S500s of the world. Enter Audi’s latest offering in the premium luxury segment, the 2005 Audi A8L (The “L” denotes long wheelbase). The current generation Audi A8L was originally launched in June 2003 and has already won several industry awards, including being named one of the “Top 10 Cars for CEOs” by Chief Executive Magazine. The A8L is touted by Audi as the “World’s Most Intelligently Designed Car.” This bold statement is part of Audi’s young-upstart attitude and meshes with Audi’s “never follow” design and marketing philosophy.

With a base price of $69,900, the A8L comes equipped with a 335 horsepower version of Audi’s 4.2 liter V-8 and is mated to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Power is transmitted to the wheels by way of Audi’s quattro IV permanent all-wheel drive system. The base price also includes a whole laundry list of standard features and amenities, such as MMI, anti-lock brakes, plush full leather seating, a fully adjustable air suspension, six-disc CD changer, navigation system, and a whole compliment of other standard features. Our test car, as equipped with adaptive cruise control, convenience package, XM radio and 18” aluminum wheels, retails for $76,970, and includes the $720 destination charge.

The A8L also incorporates Audi’s Space Frame construction that consists of an all-aluminum frame with aluminum alloy body panels. This allows the A8L to weigh in at a very respectable 4400 pounds despite its rather large proportions. In comparison, the BMW 745Li weighs in at 4464 pounds, yet does not have the added weight or all-season benefits of an all-wheel drive system.

Design

To call the Audi A8L one of the most gorgeous sedans I have ever seen would be an understatement. Most cars these days might look great from the front, or have a very nice side profile, but always seem to have a disappointing angle that leaves one wondering if the designers ran into a time crunch or simply gave up during the design process. This is not true of the A8L. The lines of the entire car seem to work with such synergy that there simply is no bad side. Every aspect of the A8L has been designed to create a very understated, yet elegant and sporty look that is very consistent with Audi tradition. This car has greater presence on the road than any of the A8L’s competition.

The front fascia of the A8L maintains a consistent family resemblance with the rest of Audi’s lineup, but does not incorporate the wide-mouth grille now seen on the A3 thru A6 models unless you opt for the 12 cylinder A8L. Subtle chrome accents around the upper and lower grille along with the chrome accents on the front rub strips add a touch of class. The bi-xenon headlamps do a good job of marrying several design elements together seamlessly (grille, hood, and front fenders), without drawing extra attention to themselves at the same time The lower integrated chin spoiler keeps with the elegant theme, but also hints at the Audi’s trademark sporty soul.

The side profile of the A8L is one of the most striking views of the entire car. The A8L’s long 121 inch wheelbase and one-third to two-third proportion of glass to metal, help give the car a very limousine-like appearance. This along with the flowing waistline to the rear, subtle fender flares, and muscular rear shoulders of the car give the A8L a very executive and confident look. Most cars that try to use the same proportions end up with strange slab sides and ultimately end up having lines that never seem to work quite right together. There is no other car on the road that has managed this type of styling perfection.

The rear of the A8 is also one of the most gorgeous rear ends I have ever seen on any car. The LED tail lamps integrate perfectly with the simple lines of the car and blend converging design cues without becoming focal points themselves. and the touches of chrome give the car a definite upscale look. The dual exhausts tell the drivers behind you that while the A8L is big, it is still very athletic, and ready to play.

Overall, the A8L is a better-looking car than any of its competition. No other car in this class has more road presence, elegance, and simplicity of design. Nothing on the A8L is unnecessary and keeps with Audi’s design philosophy of function over form. Audi does a great job of integrating both and ultimately achieves a very low and slippery drag coefficient of 0.27, lower than that of a C6 Corvette.

On The Inside

As with any car in the premium luxury segment, the interior of the car is perhaps the most important aspect for prospective buyers. They are, after all, desiring to have every amenity at their fingertips, riding in comfort from meeting to meeting, and impressing important clients during their everyday driving regimen.

Audi obviously understood the importance of impressing buyers with the rich interior of the A8L. Our particular test car was equipped with a gorgeous color combination which Audi calls Black / Amaretto. Combined with the sycamore wood trim in the dashboard, console and door panels, as well as alcantara door panel inserts, the interior has such a pleasing contrast that can’t help but impress you. Nearly everyone who was able to see the interior complimented the design and color combination.

The 16-way (Yes, 16) adjustable Valcona leather seats were very comfortable, but I wish there was an added control to adjust the width of the side bolsters. I am a small-framed person, and felt that I was never fully supported laterally. Front legroom and headroom is more than adequate even for the tallest person. I also would like the armrest on the door panels to be about an inch higher. I never felt totally comfortable resting my arm there since it felt too low. The steering wheel is thick, and very comfortable to hold in all positions, which is especially important for long trips.

I hesitate to call the rear seat of the A8L a rear seat for it is more like a rear lounge. Even with the front seats in position for the average driver to be comfortable, there is enough rear seat room to install recliners. Owners of the A8L will never again have to ask, “Do you need me to move my seat up?” Rear seat occupants also get their own AC vents, lighting controls and rear sunshades for the side windows. Our A8L was equipped with the convenience package, which includes fold-down vanity mirrors for the rear seat occupants.

The interior of the A8L is laid out in a very straightforward manner, and every function of the vehicle is within easy access of the driver. Gauges are large, easy to read, and located straight ahead of the driver. A color trip computer screen, located between the odometer and tachometer, displays things such as fuel economy, mileage till next fill up, radio station preset lists (which can be controlled from the steering wheel), as well as navigation instructions. This display is also large, clear and easy to read in all lighting conditions. To the right of the driver is the gearshift and MMI (Multi-Media Interface) controls are within easy reach.

MMI is the heart and soul of the A8L’s interior. From one simple knob and a few buttons, the driver can control almost every aspect of the car’s functionality. Within driver’s view is the MMI’s seven-inch display screen which extends while the car is on and is cleverly hidden when the car is turned off. MMI integrates radio, suspension, navigation, tire pressure sensor, and several other controls into the interface. Operation of the MMI is handled by rotating the knob left or right, then pushing down on the knob to make your selection. Surrounding the knob are four buttons that correspond with menu choices on the screen. Below the knob is a forward, backward and return to home menu button. The logical layout of these buttons makes MMI a breeze to use. The MMI controls were fairly easy to learn, and after about two hours’ drive time I felt like I could navigate through the menus without having to look down at the buttons.

While the MMI system as a whole is well thought out, the radio controls within the MMI system are not. I found it extremely difficult to navigate through my radio presets due to MMI defaulting to a sort of dynamic radio list. The dynamic radio list is supposed to put stations in some strange order of most recently listened stations. I found this extremely aggravating; as I had to hunt for the stations I wanted. Another gripe concerns the Bose DSP function. You are supposed to be able to optimize sound for the driver, passenger, or rear seat occupants. All I noticed was some form of time alignment, with removal of any hint of mid-bass and mid range. All that was left was the harsh sound of screaming tweeters and some overly boomy bass. I turned DSP off for the rest of my tenure with the A8L. My other complaint is with the standard six-disc CD changer. In order to load and remove CDs, the driver must reach over to the glove box and try to push buttons to load the slow-moving CD changer. I do like the thought of not having to walk to the trunk to change CDs, but would also like a single-slot dash mounted CD player. The MMI screen retraction articulation is also somewhat rough. Instead of moving in one smooth action, it went down in 2 jerky motions. This may have been something that was isolated to our particular test car, but is something that should not exist in a $75,000 car. Despite my objections, the A8L has one of the better factory stereo systems.

The A8L’s climate controls are located dead center of the dash and low in the console. The standard dual zone climate control allows driver and passenger to set the temperature and vent configurations exactly as they please. While very easy to use, I wish that the entire climate control panel was located about 1” forward since I felt myself reaching too far to adjust temperature. I also wish there was an easier way to synchronize the driver and passenger’s cabin temperature settings rather than flipping through multiple menus in the MMI interface. A simple “SYNC” button would suffice.

One of my personal favorite aspects of the A8L’s interior is the ambient lighting at night. There is subtle ambient white lighting everywhere from the armrests to the foot wells to the center console. The lighting makes controls extremely easy to see at night, and shows Audi‘s usual careful attention to the smallest details.

Overall, the interior of the A8L alone would be enough to make me buy one over the competition. With
the rich seating surfaces, interesting color combination, and ease of use of the MMI, Audi has created an all around wonderful package that will make even the most die-hard BMW fan jealous.

On The Road

Audi has always been known for never losing sight of their sporty heritage, even in their luxury vehicles. As big as the A8L is, I was somewhat of a skeptic as to whether or not Audi could retain a sporty side in a car designed to be as quiet and comfortable as possible. Not only did Audi prove to me that you don’t have to sacrifice performance for luxury, but Audi actually built a car that feels and handles like a car half its size.

The cabin of the A8L is extremely quiet, and there is no evidence of wind noise even at high speeds. The only noise entering the cabin could be attributed to a loud set of tires, and the very muted yet soothing rumble of the engine under wide open throttle. Audi engineers helped accomplish this by triple sealing doors, and even felt lining the wheel wells, all in an effort to make the cabin as acoustically isolated as possible.

The cornerstone of the A8L’s drivetrain is the time-tested 4.2 liter DOHC, 40 valve V8 which produces 335 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 317 lb/ft of torque at just 3500 rpm. Mated to the 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, the hearty V8 propels the A8L like a rocket ship. Despite the A8L’s 4400lb curb weight, the torque really helps get the A8L going, whether from a dead stop or accelerating in traffic.

This car is fast when called to be, and that is even before trying out the transmission’s Sport mode. When in Sport mode, the A8L locks out sixth gear and switches to a much more aggressive shifting pattern. The transmission keeps the RPMs about 600 – 700rpm higher in Sport mode than in standard mode. Mash the throttle in sport mode and you will wrap the tachometer out all the way to the 6500 RPM redline before shifting. I really had to pay attention to the speedometer while driving since the rate at which this car gathers speed is so smooth, it can be deceiving. Audi claims a quarter mile time in the neighborhood of 15.1 seconds, which is faster than many cars weighing 1000 pounds less. I observed about 19 miles per gallon in mixed city and highway driving, which is very respectable for a car with a V8 engine.

While I love the way this engine performs, I am less impressed with the transmission. The 6-speed Automatic is VERY clunky in normal drive mode. Upshifts are a little slow, but downshifts are extremely abrupt and can be felt by all occupants. When rolling out from a dead stop, I felt there was entirely too much delay in the time between stepping into the throttle and when the transmission actually engages. This results in a very sudden launch from a standstill. This is not only annoying; it can be very dangerous if unexpected. I suspect these issues could be fixed with a software revision that changes the way the transmission handles shifting in D mode. In Tiptronic or Sport mode, the transmission did not exhibit any of these traits.

Handling wise, the Servotronic speed sensitive power steering does an excellent job of boosting steering assistance during low speed maneuvers, while quickly firming up for normal highway driving. This really made parking lot maneuvering very easy, which is welcomed on a car of this size. At highway speeds, there is never too much resistance or play in the steering wheel.

The adjustable air suspension also does a great job of helping the A8L respond to ever changing road conditions. With the suspension set to dynamic, the suspension adjusts strut dampening instantly, and always just the right amount to keep the car taut but still very smooth over bumps. The car never made me feel like I was in anything less than a world-class luxury car. The A8L soaked up the bumps with ease, but never once gave me the floaty feeling that one might expect from a luxury car.

Cornering is solid in the A8L thanks to the Quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, and the ability of the pneumatic suspension to adapt immediately to different conditions. Even when I felt like I had the car at its limits, the suspension worked harmoniously with the Quattro system to hold the line. As one would expect of a car this size though, the A8L displays quite a bit of body roll during hard cornering maneuvers.

Pulling a 4400lb car down to a stop is a tall order, but the A8L’s brakes were up to the task and did not display any real signs of brake fade under panic stop situations. The car tends to nosedive under hard braking, and the pedal feel was a bit soft. Still, the A8L’s braking characteristics are excellent and never once made me lose confidence.

Some buyers shopping the A8L might feel that the suspension is too taut for their tastes. If that is the case, I would like to point them in the direction of their nearest Buick dealer. Most of the people who drive the A8L will come away having one of the most invigorating yet comfortable driving experiences they will find in this segment. The car is pure luxury and comfort when it needs to be, and sporty when asked.

Wrap-Up

Being that I am 26 years old, I am not in the demographic that Audi is targeting for the A8L. The A8L is meant to appeal to an older, more executive crowd with its lavish interior, physical dimensions, and quiet and comfortable ride. It says something then, that as a younger person that has mostly been interested in sporty cars, the A8L has managed to really impress me. The outside of the A8L is amongst one of the most gorgeous and timeless designs on the road today, and appeals to any age group. The inside of the A8L is filled with enough technology and luxuries to satisfy the needs of technophiles everywhere. At the same time, these technologies and luxuries are so easy to use, even the technophobe will find them a breeze to use. The car is mild mannered and docile for the times you just want to drive people around in style, but can become very agile and quick with a blip of the throttle and a jerk of the steering wheel. Young or old, Audi has managed to build a car that appeals to nearly everyone. With this combination of elegance and dynamism, I believe the Audi A8L really is one of the the “World’s Most Intelligently Designed Cars.”

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Zerin Dube

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