2013 Audi A8: Not your father's luxury car
All luxury cars used to be large and come standard with big engines, cushy seats, soft rides and rear-wheel-drive. Nowadays, it's practically impossible to find that combination.
Take the 2013 Audi A8. Our test car large, with plenty of room for five adults. But it had a supercharged 3.0-liter V6, sport bucket front seats, a firm suspension and standard all-wheel-drive.
As a result, the Audi A8 is anything but an old-fashioned land yacht. Although it floated over broken pavement at low speeds, under power it turned into a fast, hard cornering sport sedan, easily capable of running with Mustangs and Camaros.
And that's not unusual for large luxury cars these days. The big BMWs, Jaguars and Mercedes are equally athletic. So are the top of the line cars from Acura, Infinity and Lexus, even though they aren't as large. Although the new Cadillac XTS is not quite as sporty, it still performs far better than the company's earlier large sedans. And though it's technically a midsize, the new Lincoln MKZ is getting good reviews especially when equipped with all-wheel-drive.
Those unfamiliar with the Audi lineup may be a little puzzled by the designations. Like most manufactures, it offers a selection of small, medium and large sedans. They are they A4, A6 and A8. But, contrary to common sense, the designations don't indicate engine availability. Both the A4 and A5 only come with a turbocharged four cylinder engine. The A6 is available with a turbo four or V6. And the A8 can be ordered with a supercharged V6, a turbocharged V8 or a normally aspirated W12 for those with money to burn.
Our test A8 came with the smallest engine, the 3.0-liter V6. But although that's less than half the size of the available 6.3-liter W12, the performance was very impressive, thanks to the supercharger that increased out power to 333 horsepower and 325 foot pounds of torque. Since superchargers are always running and pumping more fuel and air into their engines, off the line acceleration was instantaneous aided by Audi's patented quattro all-wheel-drive system that kept the tires glued to the road. Freeway passing power was also always on tap, and the quattro system encouraged aggressive cornering, too.
The standard eight-speed automatic is perfectly suited to these tasks. It responded quickly in normal mode and even quicker in Sport mode. Paddle shifters allow a semblance of manual control if you want even more fun.
But all this excitement seemed far way inside the A8. With the windows up, it was as quiet as the most well insulated Cadillac or Lincoln from the Detroit's former glory days. All of the surfaces were wrapped in leather, suede or wood, adding to the feeling of isolation from the passing world.
Our test car was extra roomy inside because it was the long wheelbase version, designated as the A8L. Most of the extra length was in the back seat, which boasted impressive leg room for even the tallest passengers.
When it comes to styling, the A8 does not flaunt its capabilities. The most distinguishing feature is the large corporate grill and LED lights in the headlights that give it a slightly sinister appearance. But everything else is somewhat generic. Yes, the lines are sleek and supple, but they are more understated than those on the big Jaguar and less aggressive than the treatment of the larger BMWs. The tail lights are surprisingly small and restrained, considering what some manufacturers are doing to call attention to themselves these days.
Strangely, there was no quattro badges anywhere on our test car. Audi must figure everyone already knows their cars come with AWD or don't care.
The overall effect should appeal to those who don't feel the need to announce they've arrived.
Like all high-end luxury cars these days, the A8 comes with a wealth of technology that needs to be studied and mastered. For example, simply changing the fan speed is a little tricky. There is only one fan button on the control console, not two for faster or slower. Touching the button brings up digital control knobs on the display screen. But the screen is not a touch one. Instead, when the jobs are displayed, they are controlled by the temperature knobs on the console. When they go away, the temperature knobs go back to controlling the temperature. It works just fine, once you've figured it out, but it's not exactly intuitive.
Luxury cars aren't cheap, of course, and the A8 is no exception. It starts at around $72,000 with the base supercharged V6. Our was a little over $84,000. thanks to a few options. The base V8 version starts at over $80,000, while the W12-equipped model begins at about $134,000 almost twice the entry-level version.
But considering how much more the A8 offers than luxury cars from not that long ago, the prices are not out of line with its competitors.
Facts and figures (all models)
Model tested: A8.
Class: Full-size luxury sedan.
Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.
Styles: Four-door car.
Engines: Supercharged 3.0-liter V6 (333 hp, 325 lbs-ft); turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 (420 hp, 444 lbs-ft); 6.3-liter W12 (500 hp, 463 lbs-ft).
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with Sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 18/28/21 (3.0); 17/28/21 (4.0); 13/21/16 (6.3)
Price: Beginning at approximately $72,000 ($84,250 as tested).