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2019 Audi A8 L Review: 'A' Is for Adequate

The verdict: The A8 L is a big, luxurious sedan — but at this price, it needs to be more than just comfortable, and the car lacks the “wow factor” its rivals have.

Versus the competition: Other vehicles in this class offer more pizazz and better powertrains, but the A8 L remains a comfortable, sure-footed cruiser — and it offers some value, as well.

The redesigned 2019 Audi A8 L is the fourth generation of Audi’s largest and most luxurious sedan. It’s stuffed full of luxury features and technology, but as it comes to American shores it feels a bit incomplete. Our jealousy of the European auto market usually has to do with the abundance of fun hatchbacks and wagons they get that we never do. In the case of the A8 L, we get the car — but not all of the features.

Thanks to an array of 24 sonic, camera and radar sensors, the A8 L in Europe can be outfitted with Level 3 autonomous capability. But due to regulatory issues and a lack of uniformity among U.S. roads, the system won’t be coming here — and if you buy a 2019 A8 L here, Audi says it can’t be updated to use the system because the U.S.-spec car won’t come with all the necessary hardware. Darn.

Even without this system, there are still plenty of changes for the new A8 L: Its engine options have been condensed and exterior styling has been tweaked, but most notable is a new control scheme in the center console that largely eliminates conventional mechanical controls. Compare the 2019 A8 L with last year’s model.

Competition for the A8 L is stiff, including the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS 500. Compare all of these cars.

How It Drives

Last year’s model offered both a V-6 and V-8 engine option, but there’s only a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 that’s new for the 2019 sedan, making 335 horsepower and 369 pounds-feet of torque. It also features a mild-hybrid system that both supports the engine and doubles as the main electrical system for the vehicle, powering the infotainment, luxury and driver assistance features. An eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are standard.

These specs set the Audi apart from its competitors, which offer versions of their flagship sedans with gigantic V-8s (or even V-12s) making gobs of power. The turbo V-6 is it for the A8 L (though an S8 L that’s rumored to show up in 2020 is bound to have more power).

The powertrain is up to the task of moving the A8 L’s significant 4,751 pounds of bulk around, but it does so with less impetus than I’d like. Like most luxury vehicles, the A8 L offers a few drive modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. In Comfort and Auto, I noticed a problem in the A8 L that’s common among the Audis we’ve tested of late: lackadaisical accelerator response. I much preferred the feeling of the steering in Dynamic mode, which adds sufficient weight to the wheel and makes it easier to keep the car centered.

The different drive modes also change the suspension feel. In Comfort mode, the ride has an agreeable plushness, with impressive isolation and true luxury composure. There’s a noticeable amount of body roll in this mode, but not so much that it threw me or the car off balance. Dynamic mode tightens up the suspension noticeably; it was my preferred setting on winding roads, but other than that, it was pretty much Comfort all the time.

I was thankful for the A8 L’s Individual mode, which allowed me to put the car in my preferred setup (suspension in Comfort, steering and powertrain in Dynamic). Ideally that’s what Auto mode would be able to figure out on its own, but it’s a maddening middle ground instead.

The A8 L offers a few other suspension upgrades, including all-wheel steering and a predictive active suspension. The predictive active suspension scans the road ahead and can adjust the suspension for upcoming bumps or imperfections in the road, as well as raise or lower the height of each wheel to make the ride even more comfortable.

Up Front

The A8 L features Audi’s new center console design that forgoes many physical controls in favor of a pair of touchscreens. There are a few touch-sensitive buttons beneath the lower screen — covered in black plastic that makes them appear to be part of the screen — but the vast majority of the car’s functions are controlled within the two screens. Even the car’s vents have touch-sensitive controls to turn them on and off.

This echoes a change that’s made its way across the Jaguar Land Rover lineup, starting with the Range Rover Velar. There are some key differences between the two systems, however, that work in Audi’s favor. The first is that the lower screen doesn’t have a series of menus to swipe through; it’s mostly static. The shortcuts up top can be customized, but the climate controls are locked into place.

The second is that it’s easier to tell when you’ve activated something because the system comes with haptic feedback response. Button presses are met with a satisfying bump sensation you feel and a click you hear. The system works on both the lower and upper screens (though if you activate smartphone mirroring with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, the click goes away).

I would still prefer physical controls for things like climate control, drive mode and a tuning knob, but there is a case to be made for Audi’s direction in terms of future-proofing and getting consumers used to these larger, touch-based interfaces. But it also means there’s a bit of a learning curve to the system, even if it’s not as large an obstacle as I first thought it would be. The screen’s feedback when you do activate something is helpful, and the screens are placed well — easy to reach from either of the front seats without leaning forward too far. If I have to use a touchscreen, this is a setup I ended up liking. One thing to watch out for: The screens are fingerprint magnets, so keep a microfiber cloth handy — in sunlight it’s hard to see and just looks dirty.

The cabin does have some drawbacks. It’s lacking in front storage, and there are only two USB ports throughout the whole car (the backseat is especially egregious, with only a pair of 12-volt outlets). The wireless charging pad is in the center storage bin, which makes it super shallow — you can fit maybe your phone and a pack of gum in there. There’s also no storage compartment for sunglasses, the door pockets aren’t especially large, and the center of the dashboard is taken up by the screens, meaning there’s no good place to store any of the miscellaneous objects people like to keep in their vehicles.

The backseat area is massive, with what feels like an acre of space between the rear seats and the front ones. Audi offers the A8 L in both four- and five-seat configurations depending on the number of rear seats you need. My test vehicle came with the Rear Comfort Package and five seats, so it didn’t have the ultimate comfort of a padded, massaging footrest on the passenger side, but there was still plenty to like in back. The outboard seats are heated and ventilated, and will even give you a light massage. There’s a small tablet that pops out of the fold-down armrest that can control the seats and the car’s various entertainment functions.

Still Plenty of Safety Features …

I could spend more time lamenting what the A8 L doesn’t have, but what it does have works pretty well. Its list of safety technology is long and formidable, though little of it is standard — strange for a car that costs this much (the A8 L starts at $84,795 including destination charges). Forward automatic emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors, and a backup camera are pretty much all you get without paying extra. I know it’s unfair to harp only on Audi for this when competitors do it, too, so I’m going to harp on all the luxury cars in this price range: Add more standard safety features!

My car also came with Audi’s Driver Assistance Package ($2,750), which adds adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, lane keep assist and a feature Audi calls Turn Assist, which monitors oncoming traffic when you’re making unprotected left turns (turns without an arrow, where oncoming traffic has the right of way). The package also adds exit assist, which detects oncoming bike riders or vehicles as you attempt to open the door from inside and locks it to prevent a collision. The Executive Package ($4,150) added a lot of luxury features, including lane change assist, a rear pre-collision detection system, and a 360-degree camera system with many customizable views.

The systems work as advertised. Audi’s traffic jam assist is a low-speed system that allows the car to come to a complete stop in traffic and helps with steering (but you have to keep a hand on the wheel for the system to remain active). The lane centering is pretty good; the car doesn’t bounce noticeably from side to side in the lane, and the system seems to work well in a variety of lighting conditions. There’s one system, however, that I would leave off: Predictive Control, which ties the cruise control speed to the car’s traffic sign recognition system. It gets confused by various signs, such as the lower speed limits for off ramps or the signs for trucks or trailers, much like I found in a 2018 Audi A5 I tested in 2017.

… But It Needs the Missing One

I keep coming back to the A8 L’s missing autonomous functionality because I think the car really needs something like that to spice it up. As is, the A8 L is a big, comfortable cruiser with above-average ride quality and lots of luxurious materials and technology on the inside, but it’s missing a certain “wow” factor you get in competitors — whether it be the S-Class’ stellar materials, the 7 Series’ big engine options or the LS 500’s … well, maybe the Lexus has some work to do, as well.

My test vehicle checked in at $101,095 after adding its various options. This isn’t nearly the top of the pricing heights to which the A8 L can climb; you can option one up to over $120,000 with relative ease, especially if you opt for the $7,550 two-passenger Executive Rear Seat Comfort Package (the three-passenger Rear Seat Comfort Package in my test vehicle has fewer additions and cost only an extra $3,500). But at my test car’s lower price, I found myself wanting more.

Though the A8 L is a good vehicle by any objective measure, much of it feels too ordinary to give it lasting appeal over competitors. At this price, and against this set of rivals, good isn’t good enough.

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