For the past decade, Audi has invested heavily in technology intended to establish itself once-and-for-all on equal terms with German heavyweights BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The company's flagship sedan, the 2005 Audi A8, suggests Audi has not only matched its primary rivals in most areas, but surpassed them in some.
The A8 is Audi's largest, most sophisticated sedan: Comfortable, fast and very smooth. Yet those qualities are the baseline for full-size cars in this price range. The A8 is the newest of Germany's Big Three luxury sedans, and it raises the performance bar in many respects. It's more refined that the Mercedes S-Class, and more handsome to many than BMW's 7 Series. Nor is Audi resting on the A8's achievements. All new for model year 2004, the A8 nonetheless adds features for 2005. The line has been expanded with two new variants, including the ultra-luxurious, 12-cylinder A8 L 6.0.
A8's redesign a year ago was thorough. Its wheelbase was stretched to provide even more room and comfort for rear-seat passengers, which can be crucial in this type of executive-class transport. Its 4.2-liter V8 engine was revised to generate more power, and matched to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic that allows better fuel mileage than the previous five-speed automatic. This drivetrain delivers instant response to the driver's demand for acceleration, while quattro all-wheel drive and an adaptable air suspension provide a seemingly ideal balance between handling and ride quality. Audi's unique Aluminum Space Frame, a lightweight, highly rigid structure that bonds the car into one cohesive unit, augments the supreme sense of control with Gibraltar-like stability. The A8's cabin is elegant and comfortable, and tops the class in finish quality. Audi's Multi-Media Interface, which comprises the company's attempt to integrate controls for various features and electronic systems, is easier to learn than BMW's controversial iDrive.
For 2005, Audi has launched a shorter-wheelbase A8 in the United States. A standard in Europe for years, this A8 delivers all the performance and luxury for buyers who don't need such a cavernous backseat, and makes parallel parking easier. Audi also launches the elite A8 L 6.0, with its unique look, unusual W-configured 12-cylinder engine and a whopping 440 horsepower. It's the only 12-cylinder sedan from Germany's Big Three luxury brands with all-wheel drive. Finally, all A8s get two new features: Soft Touch doors, which pull the side doors shut from a partially latched position, and Automatic Key, which allows the owner to unlock the doors and start the car simply by walking up and sitting down.
Better still, the new standard wheelbase A8 ($66,590) and the A8 L 4.2 ($68,500) are priced below the long-wheelbase BMW 745Li ($72,500) and standard-wheelbase 745i ($68,500), which don't offer all-wheel drive. The A8 also has a significant price edge on the rear-drive Mercedes S430 ($72,600) or S500 ($81,000) and the all-wheel-drive S430 4Matic ($75,500). The advantage holds with the 12-cylinder models as well.
The 2005 Audi A8 is available in three variants: the A8 4.2 quattro ($66,590); the A8 L 4.2 quattro ($69,900); and the A8 L 6.0 quattro.
New to the United States this model year, the A8 4.2 is known within Audi as the "normal wheelbase" car. It has all the power, technology and convenience features of the A8 L 4.2, which was introduced here in June 2003. The difference? The A8 4.2's wheelbase, and overall length, are 5.1 inches shorter than that of the A8 L (L stands for long wheelbase). Inside the car, those 5.1 inches translates entirely into a reduction in rear-seat legroom. Choose the A8 over the A8 L if squeezing into tight parking spots is more important than a vast rear seat, remembering that the standard A8's rear accommodations are still quite expansive by typical sedan standards.
The 2005 A8 4.2 models are powered by a 330-horsepower 4.2-liter four-cam V8 with Audi's five-valve-per-cylinder technology. A six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift control is the only transmission offered, feeding power to Audi's standard quattro fulltime all-wheel-drive system.
The A8 4.2s come loaded with all the luxury features you'd expect at this price point. The air-conditioning system, for example, uses temperature, moisture, and infrared sensors to detect and demist the windows before they can even think about fogging. Similar to that of the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ series, the A8's parking brake is electromechanical, which in other words means a switch.
Option packages for both the A8 and A8 L include a Cold Weather Package ($1,100) with heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a ski sack; and a Convenience Package ($2,000) with Advanced Key, electric rear sunshade, manual side sunshades, and power trunk open/close. New standalone options for 2005 include: adaptive cruise control ($2,100); choice of XM or Sirius Satellite Radio ($550 plus installation); and three-spoke multifunction wood steering wheel ($480). Additional options: solar sunroof panel ($650); front and rear Parktronic park-assist ($700); power door-close assist ($450); and front seat massage and ventilation ($1,500). There's a choice of 18-inch five-spoke cast alloy wheels with all-season tires ($1,150) 18-inch nine-spoke cast alloy wheels with all-season tires ($1,700), or 19-inch 12-spoke cast alloy wheels with performance tires ($1,900).
The A8 L 6.0 features Audi's unique, 440-horsepower W12 engine (literally two Vs), and ultra-luxury amenities. These include power sunshades for the rear windows, heated power-adjustable rear seats, and leather upholstery on the door panels, console and dashboard. The 6.0 also comes standard with a full-length rear-seat center console, housing elaborate climate and seat adjustments, and limiting seating capacity to four. (Pricing for the 6.0 model was not known at press time but it's expected to retail for about $115,000 when it goes on sale in January 2005.)
The A8 L 6.0 offers three options: a 20-inch wheel/performance tire package, upgraded from standard 19-inch wheels and not offered by BMW or Mercedes; radar-managed Adaptive Cruise Control, which maintains a prescribed distance to traffic ahead; and a rear-seat entertainment package with DVD player and two LCD screens in the back of the front headrests. The rear center console can be deleted in favor of a three-place bench seat.