2011 Audi A8: Up Close

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Luxury carmakers wouldn’t have you think we’re in a recession. This is high season for the big guys: BMW’s redesigned 7 Series came out not two years ago, and Jaguar unleashed a new XJ for 2010. Now we have the 2011 Audi A8, a car that deserves a look if you’re considering either $70,000-plus sedan.

For better or worse, the cabin has a businesslike asceticism that’s missing in the XJ’s over-the-top wood-and-chrome trimmings. But materials are still good, with wood trim that looks straight off a pricey coffee table — not at all lacquered, like it is in most luxury cars.

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LED headlights are standard, with arched low-beam sections that Audi calls the “wings.” It adds a bit of visual interest to an otherwise conservative design; so does the massive I-might-eat-you grille. At a glance, though, the A8’s horizontal lines and broad overhangs recall its predecessor — and the A6 or A4, if taken from the rear.

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Inside, the automatic’s gearshift looks like BMW’s automatic shifters from a couple of decades ago — short and wide, like a boat’s throttle. I hope it retains the seamless pop-into-gear movement of Audi’s other automatics; little things count, and that’s one of my favorites in any Audi. Headroom up front isn’t voluminous, but thanks to a number of factors — a dash that slopes more forward that upward and a center console that doesn’t impose — this is a more open-feeling cabin than the XJ’s. Backseat legroom is rather modest for a full-size car, but Audi says an extended-length A8 is on the way, which should address those concerns.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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