Built largely of aluminum, Audis flagship sedan gains a Symphony II stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer for 2002. The Porsche-developed Tiptronic five-speed-automatic transmission adds a Sport mode that can hold each gear longer while accelerating. Manual gear selection can be achieved by using rocker switches on the steering wheel. An improved lateral-skid control system called Electronic Stabilization Program is installed and incorporates Brake Assist. New options include a tire-pressure monitor and a communication system called Audi Telematics by OnStar.
The full-size sedan comes in two sizes: the regular A8 and the stretched A8 L, which rides a longer wheelbase. Both use a 310-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 engine and drive Audis permanently engaged quattro all-wheel-drive system. Side-impact airbags are mounted in all four doors, and curtain-type airbags deploy along the side windows during a side-impact collision.
A high-performance S8 sedan joined the lineup in the spring of 2001 and comes fitted with a 360-hp version of the V-8 power plant.
All Audi sedans bear a family resemblance, but the A8 is the largest model in the lineup. In standard form, the A8 rides a 113.4-inch wheelbase and measures 198.2 inches long about 6 inches longer than the midsize A6. The A8 L sedan is a little more than 5 inches longer than the regular A8 in both wheelbase and body length, stretching 118.5 and 203.3 inches, respectively. Most of that extra length shows up in the rear doors. Both versions are 79 inches wide and 56.6 inches tall.
Most A8 body and suspension parts, as well as its skeletonlike frame, are made of aluminum. Audi claims that this makes the sedan 300 to 500 pounds lighter, stronger and more fuel efficient than rivals that are built mainly of steel.
The A8 L sedans interior differs mainly in rear legroom, which is nearly 3 inches greater than that in the base model. As a result, backseat passengers in the A8 L luxuriate in limousinelike accommodations. Standard leather upholstery comes in a choice of five colors. Two decorative wood inlay types are available: burled walnut or polished sycamore.
Steering-wheel controls can operate the audio system, Tiptronic automatic transmission and cellular phone. The steering column has power tilt and telescoping features. Power front windows have one-touch up/down operation. A Premium comfort option package includes heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a power rear sunshade.
Under the Hood
Generating 310 hp, the A8s 4.2-liter V-8 engine works with a Porsche-derived Tiptronic five-speed-automatic transmission and Audis permanently engaged quattro all-wheel-drive system. This transmission permits manually selected gear changes using controls mounted on the steering wheel. Audi claims a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 6.7 seconds. A 360-hp version of the 4.2-liter V-8 with higher compression goes into the high-performance S8 sedan.
The A8 leads the league in airbags with a total of eight. Beyond the required front airbags for the driver and front passenger, four door-mounted side-impact airbags protect the occupants of outboard seating positions. Two curtain-type airbags drop from the roof lining and deploy along the side windows in both the front and back during a side collision.
Antilock brakes are standard, and an emergency inside trunk release handle has been installed. An optional Parktronic sonar system detects obstacles to the front and rear of the vehicle while parking it.
The A8 possesses just about every posh comfort and convenience feature that a reasonable person could want, and it delivers a thoroughly luxurious experience. Though its not a flashy automobile, the A8 is a superlative, subtly sophisticated road car that aims to please its fortunate driver.
Performance is brisk and assertive, and the ride is close to blissful; the A8s handling is highly adept. Quattro all-wheel-drive handling gives Audis largest model a leg up on its rear-drive rival, the newly redesigned BMW 7 Series, when the pavement becomes slick. This Audi feels lighter than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and tops the elegant rear-drive Jaguar XJ for surefooted highway behavior.
Space inside is huge more so in the long-wheelbase A8 L and the interior is filled with handsome wood and leather. Passing and merging are accomplished without a worry as the energetic V-8 responds forcefully. Automatic-transmission upshifts are gentle, and downshifts are prompt and positive.
The A8 is exceptionally easy to drive. Once you get accustomed to the sedans abundant dimensions, the A8 is highly stable on the highway and maintains its composure through quick curves. The suspension reacts to any sort of pavement assault, which minimizes distraction to the cars occupants even when rough spots occur. Engine noise is satisfyingly muted, but road sounds emerge on certain surfaces and noise is not absent.
In general, the controls are excellent, but some arent located in the most convenient spots. Visibility is good, except for thick B-pillars that limit the view over the drivers left shoulder. Seats are comfortable and supportive, despite rather short bottoms. The A8s trunk is huge and easy to load. All told, the sedan feels solid and tight with terrific panel fit, as if created from a single block of aluminum.