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Audi A8 3.7 Road Test

How good is the 'cut price' AUD$175,000 Audi A8?

By Michael Knowling

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The AUD$175,000 Audi A8 3.7-litre quattro - what is it? A luxury limousine or a prestige saloon with a sporting edge? That’s what we couldn’t work out after our test of the entry-level A8 – it’s an impressive vehicle (which you’d damn-well expect for the money!) but it lacks direction.

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Interestingly, the A8 3.7-litre is priced to within just AUD$2000 of the new Lexus LS430 (see New Car Test - Lexus LS430) and it’s obvious where Audi has been able to shave the price. The engine. Having just stepped out of the creamy smooth Lexus LS430, the NVH shortcomings of the A8’s little V8 were immediately noticeable. This isn’t the sort of luxury car that instantly bowls you over with its engine quietness. In fact, we likened the amount of engine noise to a current Mitsubishi V6... Ahh, yes, but a bit of engine noise is excusable given the A8’s sporting edge - isn’t it?

Here’s where the A8 3.7 gets tied up.

The decision to put a relatively small 3.7-litre engine into the snout of the big A8 initially seems nutty, but it isn’t total insanity given the sensational job Audi has done keeping kerb weight to a minimum – the A8 3.7 weighs an extremely impressive 1770kg. This has come through use of a sophisticated aluminium space-frame, all-alloy engine and various other features, such as magnesium valve covers. But are these weight saving measures enough to get by with just 3.7-litres?

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With 206kW available at 6000 rpm, the A8 3.7 can accelerate swiftly when there’s revs onboard, but it lacks the authoritative mid-range thrust of – say – the rival LS430. Not surprising when you compare the Lexus’ 417Nm at 3500 rpm to the 3.7-litre Audi’s 360Nm at 3750 rpm. Audi has done a good job of calibrating the electronic throttle control and 6-speed transmission to mask the torque deficit but there remain times when it feels dull.

The engine itself is impressive – it would really shine in, say, the smaller Audi A6. Displacing 3697cc, the DOHC V8 uses an 11.0:1 compression ratio, 3-stage variable intake manifold and is controlled by the latest Motronic management system. As mentioned, it’s not the quietest engine but it does score points for general drivability and specific power output.

The A8 comes with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission boasting Audi’s Dynamic Shift Programme (DSP) and sequential shift. The steering wheel paddles for making up- and down-shifts integrates well and there are no complaints about transmission performance. After passing through the trans, every available Newton-Metre is transferred to the ground by Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system, which incorporates a Torsen centre diff. We experienced total traction at all times.

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Due to the relatively highly-tuned nature of the little V8, you’ll need to fill the A8’s 90-litre fuel tank with 95+ RON unleaded. With the fitment of dual knock sensors, the engine feels sensitive to ambient temperature and heat soak conditions. As such, our hand-timed 0 – 100 km/h times varied between 8.1 and 8.6-seconds. Not too bad, but it’s no sports saloon.

Chances are most cashed-up A8 buyers won’t care much about the fuel bill, but the little V8 does give decent fuel consumption – we recorded a 12.5-litre per 100km average during our test.

Enough on the driveline.

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Onboard, the A8 exudes quality and there’s no mistaking it as a top-line Euro. Unfortunately, the cabin has a very enclosed feeling due to its high waistline and low roofline. Combine these with thick A, B and C-pillars and huge rear headrests and it’s fair to say the A8 has poor all-round visibility. Sure, there are standard-fitment proximity sensors to aid parking but a reversing camera would be nice. The LS430 comes with one of those...

But – without trying to make this a LS430 duel – the Audi does strike back with a number of features that the Lexus doesn’t have. The A8 comes with a brilliant MMI (Multi Media Interface) system that integrates a 7-inch LCD television, audio controls, satellite/DVD-based navigation, phone book data, owner’s manual and a display for suspension settings. We must also give accolades to the Bose 10-speaker sound system - this is quite simply the best OE arrangement we’ve ever heard. It delivers tremendous imaging and clarity, thunderous bass and the ability to crank louder than you can handle. Kick back in the beautifully comfortable leather front seats and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in a recording studio.

The navigation system works very well with comprehensive route information displayed on the central LCD screen and in abbreviated form on the panel immediately in front of the driver. The dual-zone climate control system also performs without fuss, as does the electric tilt/slide sunroof and cruise control. Another nicety is the ability to unlock and start the A8 without ever needing to find the key in your pocket – there’s a convenient start button that combines finger print recognition security. For a full feature run-down we suggest you look through the official specs list – there’s plenty to plough through!

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In terms of safety, the A8 offers a total of six airbags, as well as active front head restraints, seatbelt pre-tensioners and other more mainstream safety features. The adaptive headlights (which follow steering angle) are another effective safety touch. As you’d expect, the cabin feels extremely rigid and there’s minimal road/aerodynamic noise.

And just when you could be forgiven for pigeonholing the A8 as a luxury limousine you sit in the rear seat...

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This is not a true limousine – not when a current Holden Statesman/Caprice offers a greater amount of rear space. Sure, the leather seats are supremely comfortable and there are air-con outlets on the B-pillars but that’s about all you can give praise to. The only rear passenger appointments of interest are roof-mounted vanity mirrors, adjustable reading lights and a fold-down armrest containing a first aid kit. It’s difficult to understand how even a 73k Holden Caprice scores twin seat-back DVD screens - let alone the comparable LS430 with its standard electric rear window blind, seat heating and massaging...

Now can you understand how this is a vehicle with no clear niche?

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One of the biggest design features of the A8 is its adaptive air suspension. Using an in-cabin adjustment dial you can select between Auto, Comfort and Dynamic ride modes - each of these modes providing a different ride height. Not surprisingly, Comfort mode provides the cushiest ride – but we found it too far in that direction. In Comfort, the whole car can be felt bouncing up and down long after you’ve driven over a speed hump at average speed...  Dynamic mode is relatively taut and provides the A8’s best handling. The 235/55 17 Dunlop tyres yowl in tight manoeuvres but the A8 always remains very stable and safe. The Electronic Stability Programme (which combines ABS, EBD and ASR) serves to maintain total control in adverse driving conditions. But regardless of the adaptive suspension setting, we noticed also a strange lateral jump from the rear-end over sharp road irregularities.

The A8’s power assisted rack-and-pinion steering is pleasantly firm and, although a bit dead, it’s decent overall. The four-wheel-disc brakes put in an impressive performance during our test – the pedal is responsive and the emergency-assisted stopping power is phenomenal. One unusual braking feature is the electro-mechanical handbrake. This system eliminates the need to manually release the handbrake on hill starts, but we found its operation noisy during parking.

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Take a stroll around the A8 and admire it from afar; this is one classy looking machine that never fails to stand out. There’s a powerful body profile and clean lines highlighted by chunky 5-spoke alloy wheels. The aerodynamic integration of fog lights, door handles and exterior mirrors look brilliant.

The build quality of a top-line Audi is nothing short of breathtaking, right? Well, not if our test car is anything to go by. The chrome strip along the driver’s doorsill aligned poorly and the front ashtray flap refused to close once opened – the ashtray kept popping out and fouling the flap. We also noticed that the gear selector surround had been irrevocably scratched with only a few thousand kilometres of driving. We might be prepared to make less fuss about such things in other cars, but you’ve got to be picky when assessing a car worth nearly ten times as much as a conventional family sedan... As you would expect, the doors close beautifully and paint quality is very high.

So what’s our verdict of the A8 3.7?

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We can imagine many buyers will purchase an A8 3.7-litre, love it to pieces and never have any problems. But what exactly is it that’ll make those people happy? The abundant performance? No. The huge amount of accommodation? Nope. The on-road dynamics? Possibly. But to make the A8 a convincing prestige sports saloon you’d be better off with the 4.2-litre version.

It’s obvious the 3.7-litre Audi A8 has been created to be price competitive in the marketplace – and perhaps because of this, we think the A8’s overall direction has been lost.

Why You Would

  • Quality interior feel
  • Interior features integrate well
  • Awesome sound system
  • Great on-road security
  • Powerful brakes
  • MMI system works well
  • Looks the bizz

Why You Wouldn’t

  • 3.7-litre V8 not up to the standard of the rest of the car
  • Not a huge amount of rear space
  • Poor overall visibility
  • Some poor ride characteristics
  • Some quality issues

The Audi A8 3.7-litre Quattro was provided for this test by Audi Australia.
www.audi.com.au

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