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Audi A8 4.2 Test

Too many flaws to justify its supercar reputation.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Dreadful visibility
  • Unexciting performance
  • Unacceptable ride characteristics
  • Excellent safety and quality
  • Lots of well integrated interior features
  • Brilliant seats
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This is the second time Audi’s A8 ‘supercar’ has failed to impress.

In our test of the entry-level A8 3.7 (see Audi A8 3.7 Road Test) we were left wondering where the big Audi’s strengths lie. Cabin space is poor, the ride is flawed and the straight-line performance is unspectacular.

Well, despite costing AUD$206,900, the more upmarket 4.2 litre version is not much better.

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With a 0.5 litre capacity advantage, the DOHC 4.2 litre V8 is listed at 246kW and 430Nm. That’s 40kW more than the base 3.7 but it’s still not enough to give 1780kg A8 exciting performance. In ideal test conditions, the best 0 – 100 km/h time we could manage was 7.1 seconds – about the same as a garden-variety Holden Caprice.

We’re not sure where Audi’s official 6.3 second time came from...

In urban and city driving, the A8’s 6 speed automatic transmission performs seamlessly and keeps the 4.2 V8 in its optimal rev range. But get bogged down in traffic and performance falls away dramatically as everything heats up under the bonnet.

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Achieving 246kW from a naturally aspirated 4.2 litre engine is an impressive tuning achievement – but it is sensitive to temperature and fuel octane. The relatively high 11.0:1 compression ratio means 95+ RON fuel is mandatory.

Fuel consumption is respectable for such a large vehicle. We averaged 15-16 litres per 100km during our demanding road test. Expect lower consumption in normal conditions.

Cruising on the open road, the A8 is well composed and relaxed. Audi has obviously spent a lot of time tuning the suspension to suit the German AutoBahns.

But we’re not in Germany.

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Faced with the B-grade road surfaces of Sydney, the A8’s ride is uncontrolled and occasionally harsh. The rear of the big Audi hops sideways over sharp irregularities and pot-holes cause a horrible thump through the cabin. This thump is largely due to the low-profile tyres necessary to run 19 inch wheels. With three-mode adaptive air suspension, the big Audi can be set to Comfort, Dynamic or Auto ride settings. Comfort mode is the only one to use in urban driving.

And it must be said that the A8’s AWD system is now falling behind the times.

Using a simple Torsen centre diff, the Audi is put to shame by the current range of Volvo AWDs that employ an electronic torque-split system (see Volvo S60 R Test). Straight-line traction is never a problem for the Audi, but throw it into a tight corner and the big car will do nothing but understeer. A smooth slow-in, fast-out approach is essential.

The A8’s Servotronic steering is nicely weighted but it doesn’t transmit enough feedback. You can never tell when the front 255/40 19 tyres are on the edge of adhesion.

But braking performance is well up to standard. The ventilated discs are simply huge and are controlled by ABS, EBD and emergency brake assist systems. Unfortunately, the front wheels are rapidly blackened with pad dust.

However, there is one area where the A8 undoubtedly excels: interior gadgetry.

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Using the central MMI (Multi Media Interface), you can navigate though the A8’s sound system, climate control, television, phone book data, owner’s manual, suspension settings and DVD-based navigation. (Note that a SIM card is required to access the ‘net and operate the in-built telephone). MMI information is displayed on a retractable 7-inch LCD screen, which has excellent resistance to flare. The BOSE 350W sound system is also brilliant – powerful and crystal clear.

Another impressive feature is the A8’s optional radar cruise control system. Once set, the radar cruise system watches for cars in front and automatically adjusts road speed to maintain a preset following distance. The system controls both the throttle and brake but driver interaction is required for heavy braking situations.

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The doors to the A8 can be unlocked and the engine started without needing to remove the key from your pocket. So long as you are carrying the key, you can unlock the doors by touching a button on the exterior door handle. The engine can then be started using the A8’s fingerprint recognition pad - this also adjusts the seats, mirrors, audio and climate control to your personal settings.

This is the kind of thoroughness you get for more than AUD$200,000.

Other features include fold-down front centre armrests, 4-zone climate control, an electrically-operated handbrake, LED courtesy lighting and multi-way adjustable electric seats. The A8’s leather seats must be the most comfortable fitted to any production car. An optional electric tilt/slide glass sunroof was also fitted to our test vehicle.

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Occupant safety is another of the A8’s strong points. The cabin is fitted with eight airbags and active front head restraints and the body has been extensively crash tested. The standard Xenon headlights and adaptive side lights (which illuminate when cornering below 70 km/h) also perform superbly.

In contrast to these efforts, the A8 has abysmal visibility. The A, B and C pillars are extremely thick, the door sills are high and reverse parking is a nightmare. Bumper proximity alarms help but where’s the rear-view camera?

Click for larger image

The rear passengers also miss out on equipment. There is no climate control switches or entertainment system – all you get are ventilation outlets, cup holders, a fold-down armrest and reading lights. Rear passenger space is also disappointing - a Holden Caprice offers much more rear space than the A8.

This reason for this lack of rear passenger space is apparent when you open the A8’s boot – it’s simply gigantic. We would gladly sacrifice boot space for more rear passenger space.

But it’s hard to criticise the big Audi’s body styling.

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The A8 has an on-road presence that few other vehicles can compete with. The body is smooth and the 19 inch multi-spoke wheels instantly grab people’s attention. This is obviously a high-end car.

As you’d expect, paint and panel fitment are to an extremely high standard. The same standard applies to the interior fit-out. Build quality cannot be faulted.

But let’s get to the bottom line.

With its flawed ride, lack of space and (still) unexciting performance, the Audi A8 4.2 is far from perfect. Its value for money is also poor when compared to Australia’s locally manufactured V8 luxury saloons - at AUD$206,900, the A8 4.2 is approximately four times the price of a Holden Caprice.

The Audi is a better car – but it’s nowhere near four times better.

The Audi A8 4.2 litre quattro was provided for this test by Audi Australia. www.audi.com.au

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