New engines are a big feature of the reworked Audi A8 saloon

New engines are a big feature of the reworked Audi A8 saloon

Sitting at the pinnacle of car image are three big name German manufactures: Audi, BMW and Mercedes. All-new models from these iconic makers are relatively rare and when they do arrive they attract attention from all who are interested in cars.

Audi is the latest to make a move in this high-class field and we have just spent two intense days reviewing the Audi A8 at its global launch at Dusseldorf in Germany.

While many can only dream about owning a new saloon in this ultra-expensive class, wise people are well aware that the topline German cars introduce features that will eventually find their way down to affordable cars. Only 20 years ago items such as fuel injection, electronic stability control and anti-skid brakes would have been well out of reach to the majority of us – in 2013 it’s all but impossible to find a car without all of them.

The latest technology in the 2014 Audi A8 advances the somewhat mundane system of headlights to a totally new level of safety and sophistication. Using Matrix LED technology headlights can be left on high-beam all the time. Then 25 small, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) on each side are automatically switched on and off, or dimmed individually.

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The headlight system ‘sees’ then reacts to other vehicles and blanks out sections of light with great precision while continuing to fully illuminate the rest of the road. You can see duller areas where the system is making life easier for other drivers, while at the same time fully lighting up everything else by using high beam.

Amazingly, the headlight system tunes into the GPS via the car’s satellite navigation to pinpoint its position so that it can turn the lights into corners the moment the bend arrives.

Revisions to the front of the new Audi A8 include a flatter design of the headlights, a bonnet with more pronounced sections to give it a powerful look and revisions to the front bumper. At the rear the changes are minimal, with LEDs being the biggest difference. When the blinkers come on their light travels outwards to really draw the attention of other drivers.

The sharp edges of the body corners, introduced in 2009 with the fourth generation Audi A8, remain unchanged. Which is no bad thing as they continue to remind us of the shape of the A8’s upper-crust cousin – the Bentley Continental GT.

Audi_A8_interior - CopyInside, the style of the cabin continues as before, with detailed changes to the soft and hard materials. Audi has long been recognised as a master at cabin design and the gen-four car continues that tradition.

Overall there are close to a billion possible combinations in the latest Audi A8, fabrics, leathers, stitching, paint colours, wheels. Talk to your local dealer about the offerings from the enormous ‘Audi exclusive’ range.

The biggest changes in the revised Audi A8 are out of sight under the new-design bonnet. All engines have been completely reworked to increase power and torque, shorten acceleration times and, most importantly of all, cut emissions.

The biggest seller is likely to be the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel that now produces 190 kilowatts of power. This TDI powerplant has an officially measured fuel consumption of just 5.9 litres per hundred kilometres, coincidentally the zero to 100 km/h time is 5.9 seconds.

CH9Q7006There’s also a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol with 228 kW, and a V8 turbo-diesel displacing 4.2 litres and coming out with 283 kW and an amazing 850 Newton metres of torque.

Topping out the powertrain list is a stunning W12 (virtually a V12, but with cylinders that are slightly offset in each bank to minimise length) that now displaces 6.3 litres. Its power curve tops out at 368 kilowatts, or 500 horsepower. This engine is used in the long-wheelbase model to provide express transport for those being cosseted in a pair of individual rear seats.

CH9Q6919Each engine is connected to all four wheels by Audi’s sophisticated quattro system. There is a choice of eight forward ratios in the automatic transmission. Manual overrides are there for the taking but with the sort of torque spread offered it’s unlikely you will ever really need to do so.

A fascinating option in the long-wheelbase A8 L model is the small refrigerator between the backrests of the seats. Just the place for a bottle or four of the best champagne.

Having praised the space in the rear of the long-wheelbase models we should point out that legroom in the standard variants is on the tight side unless those in the front are wiling to give up a bit of their seat travel.

CH9Q6845Quality of finish is close to perfect and the interior of the big Audi is a testament to the craftsmanship and patience of those who cut, stitch and finesse the end product with lavish attention to detail.

The most noticeable sensation when we first got behind the wheel of the new Audi A8 was near silence. That’s due in the first place to an excellent basic design of the body, as well as special glass in the windows. The biggest feature is an excellent noise cancelling system that uses the Audi’s stereo system. As with noise cancelling headphones, the system listens for unwanted sounds and does all it can by putting out cancelling sounds on the opposite wavelengths.

Power and torque are there for the taking and even the ‘small’ 3.0-litre diesel will have enough power for most drivers. The big W12 is all but imperceptible in the way it provides power – that is until you give wide-open throttle to overtake in a ridiculously safe distance.

Cruising at 175 km/h for extended periods was serene and easy. We took our test cars over 200 km/h several times, feeling secure in the knowledge of excellent aerodynamics, big brakes and – most important of all – intelligent driving by others on the road around us.

Outstanding mechanical and electronic technology crammed into a lightweight aluminium body makes the new Audi A8 something very special in the automotive world.

The latest Audi A8 goes on sale in Europe in about two weeks and will reach us downunder sometime in the early months of 2014. Prices and full specifications are yet to be finalised. Audi Australia advises it will be priced in much the same range as the about to be superseded models. Expect the price list begin around $190,000 for the 3.0 TDI and top out about a quarter of a million dollars for the 4.2 TDI with long-wheelbase.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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