The 2011 A8 marks a full redesign of Audi's full-size flagship sedan, which competes in a class with the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ that's dominated by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The fourth-generation A8 brings evolutionary exterior styling, a revamped interior, improved gas mileage and standard all-wheel drive.
The all-aluminum A8 enters the U.S. market in normal-wheelbase form with a V-8 engine and will be followed by a long-wheelbase version with more backseat room.
The 2011 A8 is 3 inches longer and 2 inches wider than the 2010. The styling isn't a radical change, but it's marked by the incorporation of Audi's distinctive white LED daytime running lights — this time in the shape of checkmarks underneath the headlights. Taking it a step further, Audi makes all the lights available as LED, including low beams, high beams, signals, markers and cornering lights. In this arrangement, the low beams themselves comprise multiple LED segments that follow the checkmark curve of the running lights, and the LED high beams remain at the top in a more conventional projector-beam shape.
Audi says the navigation system provides information to the lighting controller so the cornering lights can activate in anticipation of turns.
The A8 seats five. The interior has been modernized, especially in terms of high-tech features. The automatic transmission's gear selector is now a shift-by-wire handle on the center console, an approach similar to what BMW used in its recent 7 Series redesign. The A8's Multi Media Interface has been upgraded with improved menus and a touchpad that recognizes handwriting, giving a new way to input characters for the standard navigation system.
A new premium Bang & Olufsen stereo option has 19 channels, 19 speakers and more than 1,400 watts of amplifier power.
Under the Hood
Initially the A8's only engine is a 4.2-liter V-8 with 372 horsepower, an increase of 22 hp over the previous generation. Teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the car does zero to 60 mph in less than 5.7 seconds, according to Audi. Mileage ratings aren't available as of the start of the 2011 model year, but Audi promises a 15 percent improvement over the 2010 model.
The A8 comes exclusively with Quattro all-wheel drive, which follows other Audi models in adopting a 40/60 torque split (front/rear), giving the car more of a sporty rear-wheel-drive feel. Audi also offers an optional rear sport differential.
As in the previous generation, the 2011 model lets the driver select driving modes that vary the engine, transmission, steering and suspension characteristics. They include Comfort, Dynamic and Auto, along with the new Individual, which is programmable to suit the driver's preferences.
The A8 has eight airbags, including the front pair and seat-mounted side-impact bags for all four outboard seats, along with side curtains that cover the side windows alongside all seats. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control are all standard. Also available are active safety features that include blind spot warning and lane departure warning systems. New to the A8 is night vision, which shows the road ahead on the instrument panel and can detect and highlight pedestrians and animals.
The most sophisticated safety provision uses the adaptive cruise control's radar sensor to detect impending collisions. At first, the system sounds a warning and jolts the brakes momentarily if the A8 closes too quickly on an obstacle. If a crash is unavoidable, another available system can initiate full braking to soften the impact.
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