Audi unveiled a lavishly redesigned A8 sedan at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002, but it wont go on sale until the 2004 model year. The German automakers flagship vehicle, which is still available in regular- and extended-length (A8 L) forms, gets only a few revisions in option-package content for 2003. The A8s Premium Package now includes heated front and rear seats, a navigation system, xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, a heated steering wheel, a tire-pressure monitor, five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, and a power rear sunshade and manual rear side shades.
The 2003 A8 L may be equipped with 18-inch wheels. Its Premium Package includes a front and rear Parktronic parking-assist system, a navigation system, a tire-pressure monitor and five-spoke 17-inch forged wheels.
Both A8 sedans use a 310-horsepower, 4-2 liter V-8 engine that teams with Audis permanently engaged quattro all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. A high-performance S8 offshoot joined Audis lineup in 2001, and it comes with a 360-hp version of the V-8 power plant. A Limited Edition Package that includes special wood trim and polished, nine-spoke 18-inch RS wheels is available for the 2003 S8.
All Audi sedans bear a family resemblance. In standard form, the A8 rides a 113.4-inch wheelbase and measures 198.2 inches long overall. The A8 L is a little more than 5 inches longer. The skeleton-like frame and most body and suspension parts are made of aluminum. Audi claims that this makes the sedan 300 to 500 pounds lighter, stronger and more fuel efficient than rivals built mainly of steel.
The A8 L sedans interior differs mainly in rear legroom, which is nearly 3 inches greater than that in the base model; this permits limousine-like accommodations. Standard leather upholstery comes in a choice of colors. Two decorative wood inlay types are available: burled walnut or polished sycamore.
Under the Hood
Generating 310 hp, the A8s 4.2-liter V-8 engine works with a Porsche-derived Tiptronic five-speed-automatic transmission and Audis permanently engaged quattro AWD system. A Sport mode permits manually selected gear changes using steering-wheel controls. A 360-hp version of the 4.2-liter V-8 with higher compression goes into the high-performance S8.
Audi leads the league in airbags with a total of eight. Two dual-stage driver and front-passenger airbags are complemented by four door-mounted side-impact airbags that protect all outboard occupants and two curtain-type airbags that drop from the roof lining and deploy along the side windows. Antilock brakes are standard. An optional Parktronic sonar system detects obstacles to the front and rear of the vehicle while parking.
Packed with posh comfort and convenience features, the A8 delivers a thoroughly luxurious experience. The easy-to-drive A8 is a superlative, subtly sophisticated road car thats not a flashy automobile.
Performance is brisk and assertive. The ride approaches bliss and handling is highly adept, and the AWD system helps on wet pavement. Passing and merging are accomplished without a worry as the energetic V-8 responds forcefully. Automatic-transmission upshifts are gentle, and downshifts are prompt and positive. While engine noise is satisfyingly muted, road sounds emerge on certain surfaces.
The controls are excellent, but some arent located in the most convenient spots. Visibility is good, except for thick B-pillars that limit the view over the drivers left shoulder. The seats are comfortable and supportive.