First seen at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002, Audi’s latest flagship model was introduced as a 2004 model at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show and then at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January 2003. Offered initially in long-wheelbase form, with an additional 5 inches in length, the full-size sedan is known as the A8 L.
Introduced to the United States for the 1997 model year, the A8 featured aluminum construction in its previous generation. For 2004, an all-new aluminum body was developed at Audi Aluminum Center in Germany. This one promises 60 percent better structural rigidity than its predecessor. Audi’s third-generation space frame uses fewer components and weighs 300 pounds less than the prior iteration. The number of body elements that accompany the completely closed space frame has been reduced by using more functional large castings and extruded sections.
Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8 engine features five valves per cylinder and produces 20 horsepower more than its predecessor; it’s now rated at 330 hp. A new six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission replaces the prior five-speed unit and incorporates a Dynamic Shift Program that reduces the number of gear changes needed. An adaptive four-setting air-spring suspension features continuous shock-absorber damping control for a refined ride, and it also permits speed-dependent lowering of the body for increased directional stability at higher velocities.
Permanent quattro all-wheel drive is standard on the 2004 A8 L. A new Multi Media Interface (MMI) controls various elements of vehicle information either at the console or on the instrument panel by using a 7-inch fold-out screen. The menu structure is only four levels deep, and the deepest two are normally accessed only once.
Sales began in June 2003, and Audi expects to sell about 6,000 A8 Ls in the United States annually. An A8 L 6.0 quattro sedan with a 450-hp W-12 engine debuted at the 2004 North American International Auto Show. It goes on sale late in the year. At the 2004 New York International Auto Show, Audi introduced a regular-wheelbase A8 model that reaches dealerships in mid-July 2004.
The styling has not changed dramatically from the previous A8 generation. Audi describes the sedan as “a harmonious combination of clarity and sporting character, grace and elegance.” The A8 L rides on a 121-inch wheelbase, but a shorter-length A8 sedan goes on sale in mid-July 2004. The low front end features a short overhang, contrasted with the sedan’s high tail and wedge-profiled body. Audi says a “crouched silhouette,” a high belt line and a shoulder line that rises toward the rear highlight the A8 L’s sporty appearance.
Not only is the sedan’s extended wheelbase incorporated between the B- and D-pillars (to increase usable space), but the rear doors are also 5 inches longer than usual for easy entry and exit. Seven-spoke alloy wheels hold standard 17-inch tires, but 18- and 19-inch tires are also available. Speed-sensitive Servotronic steering has new steering-angle sensing assists. A solar-cell sunroof is optional.
Five passengers may luxuriate in the A8 L, whose long wheelbase promises abundant legroom in the backseat. Rear headroom, and elbow and shoulder space, are greater than in the prior-generation sedan. The driver faces a multifunction four-spoke steering wheel and uses an electromechanical parking brake with a “starting assistant.”
Fine wood trim — Amber Vavona or Beige Grained Birch — extends to the sides of the interior, complementing the Valcona leather upholstery. Power front seats can be equipped with massage, heating and ventilating functions. Optional four-zone automatic air conditioning includes individual backseat settings. A new moisture-sensing system reduces the risk of fogged windows. The premium Bose Surround Sound system includes a CD changer and 12 speakers and is integrated into the MMI system.
Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8 engine produces 330 hp and drives a six-speed-automatic transmission that offers Tiptronic manually selected gear changes and a Dynamic Shift Program. Audi claims a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 6.3 seconds. All A8 L sedans have quattro all-wheel drive.
Ten airbags — including new knee airbags, front and rear side-impact airbags, and a curtain-type airbag system — are equipped in the A8 L. Antilock brakes are standard.
Instead of being flamboyant, Audi’s flagship sedan is civilized and refined and accomplishes most things in a manner that’s close to flawless. Next to luxury, maneuverability is the A8 L’s foremost strong point.
As promised by Audi, the A8 L drives like a smaller automobile. On narrow two-lane roads, this full-size sedan whips from one curve or corner to the next with ease, snapping smartly into place as the direction changes. Going precisely where you steer, it stays beautifully flat in curves and responds immediately to driver inputs. Even when the road gets seriously narrow and windy, staying in your lane is easy. There’s just a touch of occasional uncertainty that occurs on straight expressway runs.
The ride is elegantly smooth, and the A8 L displays total control. In Comfort or Automatic mode, occupants can hardly ask for more riding pleasure. You get an abundant rush of energy when the pedal is pushed, but considerable downshifting occurs on even fairly moderate upgrades. Fortunately, those downshifts take place smoothly, promptly, positively and devoid of abruptness.
There’s an enormous amount of backseat legroom, but toe room isn’t huge. Visibility is good in all directions, and the MMI setup is easier to use than some rivals’ systems.