In America, we like things big: our trucks and SUVs, our hulking V-8 engines, even our super-sized French fries. That may be why Audi decided, after it launched its A8 super luxury sedan in Europe, to bring to the United States only the
long-wheelbase version, the A8 L. That's L as in longer, L as in legroom, L as in limo-like rear seating. With a 121.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 204 inches, the L model is a full 5 inches longer than the standard A8. And all five of
those inches have been located right inside each rear door, where long, sumptuous pockets of seating (more than 40 inches of legroom — Yao!) give rear seat passengers that sense of being driven in a limousine. Make no mistake, this is one big
car. And were it not for Audi's use of an aluminum frame, aluminum body panels, aluminum suspension parts, and other lightweight materials throughout, this car would feel more like a big ol' Bentley than the 21/4-ton executive sport sedan. What is
remarkable is that, much as we like things big, this car drives small — and that's great. I fully expected, chauffeuring my kids to soccer, baseball, and softball games, that I'd feel just like that — a chauffeur piloting the bosses
around. I expected wide, sweeping corners on back roads, tough turns in the supermarket parking lot, big cruising on the highway. Instead, I got a surprisingly adept and snappy ride, and those extra 5 inches seemed to vanish into the thin air of
agility. Part of that was the ability of a subtly powerful engine to haul around this big car. It is powered by a 4.2-liter V-8 that produces 330 horsepower and a tough-tugging 317 lb.-ft. of torque. Mated to a 6-speed Tiptronic transmission (thank
you, Dr. Porsche) with a very low first gear, the engine delivered snapping takeoffs, steady power in steep climbs, quick acceleration out of corners, and sure, swift passing. Audi says it will do 0-60 in 6.3 seconds. Disc brakes of more than 14
inches in diameter up front and more than a foot in the rear, bring it to rapid, flat stops. All that weight, length, power, and sudden stopping require flexible yet solid support, of course, and it is in the suspension system that the A8 L really
shines. The car features, as standard fare, an adaptive air suspension and automatic damping system that lets the driver choose among four settings and then goes to work in mega-computer fashion, making countless adjustments in milliseconds.
Sensors watch steering angle, wheel travel, braking, and acceleration, and adjust to intended driver input or error. Couple this system with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system and you have one fine, stable, weather-beating, high-performing car.
The suspension system — air bellows combined with twin tube shock absorbers, air suspension struts, a compressor and pres
sure tank — can be set on automatic, dynamic, comfort, or lift. Automatic runs the car according to terrain and performance; dynamic offers stiff damping for fast, hard driving and lowers the car automatically at speeds greater than 75 miles
per hour; comfort softens the ride for highway cruising; lift gives the car nearly 6 inches of ground clearance — certainly not in the SUV zone, but a nice touch if you want to use that AWD system to get through fresh-fallen New England snows.
Inside, all that space is elegantly appointed with sweeping swaths of leather and gleaming touches of wood and brushed metals. Central to the cockpit is what Audi calls its multimedia interface, or MMI. Now, I am no fan of over-complicated systems
(see BMW 7 Series) that tangle you up as you try to complete even the simplest of tasks (say, switching the radio from AM to FM). But Audi's system did start to grow on me, although I think it would take many days in th
car for it to become an intuitive operation. The MMI features a series of buttons on the center console behind the shifter. They are arranged around a center control that turns like a knob and is clicked up and down like a computer mouse. In various
combinations and through menus and sub-menus, the knobs and buttons control suspension, audio, climate, and navigation systems, among other functions. Much of what can be done by reaching for that collection of controls can also be done through buttons on
the steering wheel. Audi gives you two choices of watching what you are doing: functions can be displayed on a pop-up, 7-inch screen at center dash, or, that screen lowered, functions appear in a smaller screen between the gauges behind the steering
wheel. This is not an inexpensive car, of course. Start with a base price near $69,000, add a few optional packages: winter package (heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, ski sack for thru-door in rear seat — $1,100);
convenience package (electric rear sun shade, front seat ventilation, rear seat vanity mirrors, tire pressure monitors — $2,500); 19-inch, 12-spoke wheels ($700); and you are suddenly tooling around in a $75,000 automobile. The US market will
not get the shorter version of the A8, though an S8 model is coming. Both will go up against such luxury rigs as the BMW 7 Series; S-Class Mercedes-Benz; and Jaguar XJ. With its light snappiness, electronic wizardry, luxury, and remarkable ride, it
will compete just fine. Nice touch: The heft of the four-spoke steering wheel. You can feel the car through its bulk even as it gives a perfectly clear view of all gauges. Annoyance: Why with such a roomy rear seat should the middle passenger have
to sit on a lump?