Be careful when the Audi salesman opens the rear left door and asks you to check out the executive seat option in the new A8 – chances are that you’ll swipe your Amex Black on the spot and return home with a gift-wrapped luxury limousine.
In a country where even Tata Nanos are chauffeur-driven, the attention that carmakers give to the rear seats is half-hearted, at best. And in a category like this, it’s the rear seats that will clinch the deal, rather than ‘irrelevant’ stuff like lightning-quick gearshifts or steering feedback. While rear legroom, massage feature, vented seats and power settings are standard fitments in cars like these, Audi has gone one step ahead with the executive seat option. The biggest feature in it is a powered footrest that folds down from the back of the front passenger seat, allowing you to stretch like you were in the business class section of an aircraft.
With Pablo behind the wheel, I decided to conduct a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of this much talked about speciality of the new long wheelbase A8, extending for the better part of an hour. It took him about five minutes to wake me up afterwards. My only regret is that I didn’t put up those powered window shades – I am not exactly a wonderful sight to behold when asleep. So is this the most comfortable road test I have ever done in my entire career? No doubt about that! But there’s more to the evaluation of the new A8, right?
The Germans have got this segment sewn up and the fight between them is only going to benefit the customer. The A8 is a classic example of that. Since it’s the newest one around, Audi has fitted it with a raft of features that the competition does not have – you can see all that elsewhere in these pages. But more importantly, when you fit your car with the kitchen sink and all the associated plumbing, it’s bound to become heavy and that always leads to ponderous driving dynamics – even if you power it with a Rolls-Royce Trent engine. To avoid that, Audi has wielded a scalpel, sorry, an axe to bring down the overall weight of the car. The aluminium body shell – something which Ingolstadt has been a pioneer of with the Audi Space Frame technology – is huge, but it is light too. Other critical but heavy duty components of the car use something called fusion alloy, which as you guessed, is light but strong. Even the doors use a new lighter concept to incorporate the window frames. So you get a car that’s bigger (wider and longer than the S and the 7), features all-wheel drive, comes fitted with the kitchen sink, yet maintains its weight. That’s quite an engineering feat, and there is so much hi-tech manufacturing prowess and electronic wizardry hidden under the skin of the car that it is better it remains hidden. We may have to place the A8 on a pedestal and worship it otherwise.
Also, because of Audi’s weight-watching, they can get away with a smaller V8 than what the Star and Propeller offer. The 4163cc FSI motor, that develops 372 horses at 6,800 revs and 45.4 kgm of torque at 3,500 revs, is paired with a new electronically controlled 8-speed tiptronic transmission. Power, of course, is transferred to both the axles, under normal conditions 60 per cent to the rear and the balance 40 to the front. The V8 is exquisite in its refinement, and despite its cubic capacity handicap, never feels stressed. Whether you are crawling mm by mm or storming the autobahn, the V8 is flexible enough to straddle both extremes. As far as outright acceleration is concerned, the A8 L 4.2 is mighty quick – 100 kph comes up in under seven seconds, while the mid-range figures (80 to 100 kph and 100 to 140 kph) are terrific when you see how huge this bedroom-on-wheels is. When your chauffeur is driving it as if his Guccis were on fire, inside, the A8 is serene and calm. Wind and tyre noise are kept to the minimum while the engine noise is a faint whir. That apart, the adaptive air suspension with controlled damping ensures – pretty well, I may add – that you won’t be disturbed while you hatch that diabolical hostile takeover plan. In your dreams. Bad roads are simply distant thuds and the suspension absorbs impacts without letting your priceless bottom feel troubled.
Called the Audi Drive Select, it adapts stuff like the air suspension, the transmission, the steering and the ECU to fit your selection. There are three modes – comfort, auto and dynamic – plus an individual mode that allows you to customise it even further. The dynamic mode is an attempt to become BMW-like while the comfort mode is Mercedes-like. Stick to auto and let the car decide what’s right for you. The powertrain responds to your inputs rapidly and a dab on the pedal translates to quick downshifts and virtually instantaneous acceleration. The steering lacks feel but it’s a minor quibble when you look at the overall car. The A8 is a big car to go corner hunting, but with Quattro, you are in the safe zone. Even if your driver decides to be Tom Kristensen one day, especially on winding roads, the A8’s reassuring neutral dynamics will ensure you reach your destination safety. What’s most important however is that, for the driver, the A8 does not feel as if he is piloting a mothership. It’s thanks to all the elements that have gone into making this car taut and integrated – at the risk of repeating myself, it really is a spectacular feat of engineering.
The A8 does everything right and there’s nothing you can fault it. What’s missing in the A8 is the heft and the feel that a limousine like the S-Class has. Also the A8 is cold and emotionless.
But I am sure it’s going to be a big hit with the moneyed classes in India, especially the younger ones who’d like the A8’s newness and its jaw-dropping jamesbondery. Two other A8s are on their way – the 3.0-litre TDI this month and the flagship W12 in July. And I am sure all three will be worth stretching out in... zzzz.