A8L Carries Audi to New Super-car Levels

John Gilbert

 

 Audi A8L sets new standards for fitting luxury features into a high-end luxury sedan. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Audi A8L sets new standards for fitting luxury features into a high-end luxury sedan. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Expansive use of Audi's signature grille covers from headlight to headlight. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Expansive use of Audi's signature grille covers from headlight to headlight. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

When you can spend $30,000 on a compact sedan, $50,000 on a midsize crossover SUV, and $90,000 for a pickup truck, it only stands to reason that a full-out luxury sedan will cost well over $100,000. So those negotiating to buy a luxury sedan don’t spend a lot of time haggling over payment rates.The list is not long, and stopping short of the Rolls Royce type of uber-luxury, we’re looking primarily at the German Big Three of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Or, to be alphabetical, Audi, BMW and Mercedes. It’s a topic that comes up once in a while, and even when the proliferation of SUVs and pickup trucks proves distracting, it is interesting to go back and check the current climate of luxury superstars.

Today’s topic, then, is the Audi A8L. While the S Class Mercedes and 7-Series BMW models meet all the requirements of super car, it is possible that the 2019 Audi A8L is unsurpassed when it comes to checking all the boxes for superlatives.
The test car I spent a week with came during the familiar tradition of Minnesota’s State High School Hockey Tournament Blizzard. This one was worth 8-12 inches on top of freezing rain, so it made driving a real challenge. That made driving the A8L from Duluth to the Twin Cities for the tournament, and returning four days later, especially intriguing. Because driving was no challenge at all.

The top Audi provided an instant challenge for the top Mercedes and BMW models a couple decades ago, when it came out with a shockingly new body, made of aluminum. Airplane-quality aluminum is stronger than most steel, and Audi was able to save a lot of weight and avoid rust problems with the aluminum A8. Naturally, that technique has been developed and the new A6L is constructed out o three types of aluminum, plus two kinds of steel, some magnesium here and there, and carbon fiber for further lightening, and enlightening. The new car is 24 percent more rigid than the 2018 model, which is remarkable.

 

Long A8L looks even longer in silhouette, but handles with sports-sedan agility. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Long A8L looks even longer in silhouette, but handles with sports-sedan agility. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

Making the A8L as light as possible is a good thing, because the car starts out being heavier, with standard quattro — Audi’s long-standing standard of all-wheel drive. Driving the front axle and the rear takes added weight, and yet the contemporary level of perfection in the A8L means it never feels ponderous. It feels sports-sedan agile, sports-sedan quick, and it looks sports-sedan streamlined. As for its features, some of it is sports-sedan quality, but always with a super-luxury-car underline to its comfort and features.

To define the A8L requires explanation. The “L” means it is the elongated version, but that’s the only one they will ship from Ingolstadt, Germany, to the U.S. That also allows standardizing the powertrain. It comes with Audi’s well-engineered 3.0-liter V6 engine, twin turbocharged to deliver 335 horsepower and 369 foot-pounds of torque. Audi’s magic touch means that while you need to rev the engine to 6,400 RPMs to reach the horsepower peak, you only need to nudge it to 1,370 RPM to attain the torque peak. In tests, the A8L has hit 0-60 in somewhere between 5.3 and 5.6 seconds — definitely sports-sedan territory.

The sweeping look of the A8L makes it appear longer than it is, and it is long — over 208 inches  — and it weighs 4,995 pounds, and yet is is well-disguised by the car’s active suspension and variable mode driving commands. You can click it from comfort to dynamic to automatic to individual, which allows specific alterations for steering, suspension firmness and engine response.

 

Comfortable and inviting interior features top of the line materials and imaginative use of features. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Comfortable and inviting interior features top of the line materials and imaginative use of features. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

But to make the A8L seem worth the investment takes some extras. And while the base car might seem worth the $83,800 price tag, the test car was $124,000, so it’s that sticker it has to justify. Of course, all the modern safety elements are in place, such as lane-departure warning and lane-centering, as well as front and rear object detection. Again, though, Audi takes the A8L much farther down the safety road.

If you or I were to try to concoct a car to be worth such a lofty price, we might run out of ideas pretty quickly. Not Audi. New cars use sensors to make their cars safer and to warn the driver of potential problems; Audi uses 24 sensors that include lasers, radar devices, sonar, and cameras to keep you apprised of everything you can see, or should see, or can’t possibly see. On the large navigation screen on the center stack you get two views of your car, including a 360-degree top-down view, helping you avoid any little obstacle.

 

Altering the instruments can bring up a Google-map navigation view between gauges... Photo credit: John Gilbert
Altering the instruments can bring up a Google-map navigation view between gauges... Photo credit: John Gilbert
 ...Click again, and the gauges get smaller while the nav scene fills 12.3-inch spread. Photo credit: John Gilbert
...Click again, and the gauges get smaller while the nav scene fills 12.3-inch spread. Photo credit: John Gilbert

My favorite feature is the virtual cockpit view the driver gets, which is similar but expanded upon from other Audi models. You hit the “view” button on the steering wheel and a google-map navigation map comes up between the large tach and speedometer, and hit it again to reduce the size of the tach and speedometer and give you a 12.3-inch expanse of navigation ahead, including lakes, trees, buildings and anything else on either side of your trajectory. I didn’t try it, but I believe you could switch up the magnification of that map and make it large enough that you could drive to work using the nav screen instead of the windshield.

On the center stack screen, you can use it like a computer screen, where you can press buttons, scroll or swipe to change from navigation to climate control, for example. Or to the audio controls.
The audio is a Bang & Olufsen gem that is called 3D Sound, with 17 speakers tucked all around you in the interior, and it comes to life with power and clarity that will surprise your ears as well as your sensibilities.
The interior appointments are classic Audi — understated but classy everywhere you look or touch, with real leather, real aluminum or real carbon fiber, soft-touch everywhere. The seats themselves are what the A8L deserves as well. Supportive buckets up front, and in the rear, if you so choose. It might be that your family will change its focus from everybody wanting to sit in the front passenger seat to insisting instead to sit in the rear.

Rear seats have their own remote to adjust audio or video or heat or cooling. With the comfort seat option in the package you also get LED lights that’s are infinitely adjustable for size, aim, brightness for reading or whatever else you might want to do back there. And if you really want to relax on a long trip, you can fold down the panel on the front seat backrests and discover a way to give yourself a foot massage. Obviously, normal seat massage controls are already in place.

On the outside, the smooth and large grille is distinctively Audi, while many other companies are still searching for a “signature” look to the front end. The grille wraps smoothly into the headlights, which are an LED array that is dazzling, whether your in the driver’s seat or outside, watching it approach. The matrix-design LED headlights not only wrap around curves, on the European A8s they are able to stay bright but exclude that brightness while engulfing oncoming cars.

The taillights, also, are strikingly unique. The rear is simplified from previous models, and the new ones feature LED taillights that blink in sequential form, inside to outside, to signal your direction of turning. My older son, Jack, made me get out and look at the taillights when I shut down the A8L. When you stop and shut off the engine, the taillight LEDs encircle the entire rear before going out. It’s like your own private light show every time you shut it down.

The A8L sold in the U.S. lacks the hybrid version that, we’re told, is coming, but it comes with a 48-volt electrical system, which has a lithium ion  battery and an alternator-starter that is belt driven to power the engine stop-start at stoplights, and it also can cut engine power and start it up again at urban speed up to 14 miles per hour.

 

Cavernous trunk is covered by stylish rear, which features encircling red LED lights. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Cavernous trunk is covered by stylish rear, which features encircling red LED lights. Photo credit: John Gilbert

 

Audi also allows you to save selected settings for comfort, driving, lighting and virtually every other choices. In fact, it says you can configure 400 different profiles. If you think there could still be more, there could be, on the European-only A8 with more powertrain and size variations. Also, the super sedans all stress safety, and it’s common knowledge that side impacts can be absorbed much more safely if the intruding vehicle gets to the lower chassis, which is pretty impenetrable. On the European spec A8, the car anticipates a side impact and actually will cause the impact side to rise a few inches, to better absorb the impact and make the safe occupants even safer.