2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI: First Drive

Audi’s new flagship A8 sedan gets added sport, luxury and an even bigger grille

2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI: First Drive
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The A8 has been Audi’s flagship luxury saloon since 1994. Now in its third generation, the 2011 Audi A8 takes on the über-competitive full-size four-door market sporting a complete redesign, more power, better efficiency, improved technologies like the Multi Media Interface and new ones like mobile broadband internet access and location-based Google nanny services.

FAST FACTS

1. North American 2011 Audi A8s are powered by a 4.2-liter V8 with direct gasoline injection making 372-hp and 328 ft-lbs of torque.

2. The 2011 A8 weights 350 lbs less than its predecessor.

3. Thanks in part to a new 8-speed transmission and a sleek aerodynamic shape, Audi claims the 2011 A8 gets a 13 percent improvement in fuel economy, although no official mpg numbers are available.

4. A long wheelbase version will follow in 2011.

THE GOODS

Over here, the 2011 Audi A8 will come exclusively with a 372-hp 4.2 FSI V8 producing 328 ft-lbs of torque at 3500 rpm via a new eight-speed tiptronic auto transmission with DSP and sport program.

Other markets like China and Europe will get both 4.2-liter V8 engines (the other being a 350-hp TDI with, oh, 591 ft-lbs of torque) with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, as well as a 250-hp 3.0-liter TDI V6 for FWD models.

No matter. This engine and tranny combo is a significant improvement over the second-gen A8 (2002-2010) with its six-speed automatic, delivering a 13 percent increase in fuel economy – although no official EPA numbers are yet available. Currently Audi has not said if the new TDI will arrive stateside, although tougher upcoming CAFE standards could help Audi make the decision.

Suitors will get to choose between the normal wheelbase or longer A8 L, which currently accounts for 90 percent of A8 sales in the U.S. So, it’s worth noting the wheelbase (117.8-inches) on the third-gen A8 is only a couple inches shorter than the outgoing LWB model (121-inches). The front and rear tracks have also been widened by 0.86- and 1.02-inches (to 64.7- and 64.37-in. respectively) with a new overall length of 202.24-inches. Meaning, there’s plenty of interior room fore and aft, plus a vast trunk boasting 19 cu.-ft. of luggage space.

THE DRIVE

The 4.2 FSI has a self-locking center differential that helps distribute torque evenly from back to front. And, with optional 20-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber installed, my fully-loaded A8 4.2 FSI mule is eating up the drive route.

It’s springtime in Spain and the flagship four-door is proving it has more than just curb appeal on the southern A7 coastal highway. I’m driving in and out of heavy rain along the smooth tarmac ribbon that winds along the coast for several miles toward Gibraltar. There are round-abouts every few miles, but they’re essentially just chicanes with cars merging and exiting them as I zip through.

For a 4,000-lb saloon, it handles very well. In fact, as much as that number sounds big, for a full-size luxury sedan it’s not that significant and Audi boasts cutting as much as 350 lbs from the previous generation model. An adaptive air suspension system with continuous damping control and three-stage height control offers a good combination of comfort and sportiness.

The body leans a bit through these chicanes in the suspension’s default mode, but the car makes up for it by lowering itself 0.78 inches automatically when it’s going faster than 74 mph for more than 30 seconds to minimize drag (0.26) and maximize fuel economy. Drivers can also select Comfort, Dynamic or Lift modes via the A8’s touchscreen interface, each with its own set of ride height and damper stiffness settings.

The speed-dependent power steering is direct, though does lack a precise feeling when in the default driving mode. Putting the ECU into sport mode, however, seems to cure this. Sport mode, which is enabled by simply pressing the D/S button on the gear selector, quickens throttle response and holds gears longer to 6000 rpm.

To be clear, the A8 doesn’t pretend to be a RS4, RS6, R8 or anything like that, in spite of its capability of going from zero-to-62 mph in 5.7-seconds. Top speed is electronically-limited to 155 mph.

THE LUXURY

There’s no shortage of comfort or technology (for driver or passengers) in here. The interior exudes luxury, quality and comfort with an abundance of soft Valcona leather upholstery complemented by real ash wood and brushed aluminum trims.

The front seats feature 12-way electric adjustability with memory, heat and cooling functions. Rear passengers get electric window blinds on all rear glass for privacy or shade plus generous amounts of head and legroom, reclining rear seats and optional four-zone climate control and Alcantara headliner.

That gearshift has been redesigned to be more compact and ergonomic than before. It sits lower to the well-appointed console and allows access to the near-by MMI touch-pad feature, which allows users to input characters onto a tiny touch-pad near the shifter using their fingertip instead of more traditional touch-screen, button-press or dial-turn methods, to access phone and navigation functions. Google look-up services are only available in Europe, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

The driver information display is, well, vast and nestles neatly between the analog speed and 8K redline tachometer gauges where the driver can easily access navigation, music, phone and other important information. There are shift paddles on the multifunction steering wheel too, along with redundant controls for the great-sounding Bang & Olufsen advanced audio package that boasts 19 speakers and 1,400 watts of power.

Audi’s lightweight aluminum space frame affords good collision protection with an array of airbags and belt tension limiters, for front and rear occupants. The A8 has side airbags in the backrests of the front seats and the outside rear seats for side collisions. The head airbag system extends from the A-pillar to the C-pillar.

Besides its long list of advanced safety features, LED headlights come standard on the 2011 Audi A8. Some of the other new driver assistance systems, include infrared night vision with pedestrian recognition, adaptive cruise control, lane monitoring and blind spot warning systems, as well as front (with full automatic emergency braking) and rear pre-crash protection.

The Audi A8 has been pretty successful in North America (the second-gen scores well in reliability and owner satisfaction) and so pricing for the new 2011 Audi A8 FSI quattro will be very aggressive versus the current model.

They’ll begin arriving here in the third quarter and, although pricing won’t be made public until the very last minute, we now know the long-wheelbase version will be revealed at the 2011 Shanghai Auto Show next April. Audi just revealed the A8 Hybrid at the Geneva Auto Show and according to some recent reports we’re likely to see the return of the S8, using a twin-turbo V8.

THE VERDICT

Having spent hours behind the wheel and taking the time to enjoy the adjustable seats and other amenities in the rear passenger compartment, the next A8 will be a force to be reckoned with for other luxury flagships. I’m looking at you BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS460 and Mercedes S Class. Okay, you too Porsche Panamera.

LOVE IT

  • Powerful engine and several driving modes
  • Exquisitely appointed interior, comfortable and laden with technology
  • Classy exterior design, LED headlights especially

LEAVE IT

  • Rear seat doesn’t fold, with only a tiny pass-through, for long objects
  • MMI touchpad seems like a step backward
  • Sooo many controls and adjustments to figure out

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