The Ride:

2012 Audi A8L

The Review:

The first thing you notice about the Audi A8L is its front grille, it’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s vastly oversized, unsegmented, has eight pairs for chrome strips in case anyone could miss it and it stretches all the way to the fascia’s flat bottoms edge. The grille quickly sets the opulent mood for the A8, this car exudes over the top luxury. Next to the grille sit the $1600 LED headlamps — a truly “because I can” upgrade — although fantastically cool looking they really have no relation to the rest of the car’s design aesthetic.

The sides of the car are slightly less drastically designed. A pair of character lines subtly curve in towards one another, but their function seems lost as they tend to make the rear of the car look undersized. The length of the car and its sheer size when paired to that massive grille are what truly give the A8L a commanding road presence expected of a sedan in this class. I still, overall, prefer the exterior styling of the previous A8.

The interior of the car, however, is absolutely magnificent – easily Germany’s most attractive. The Alcantara door panel coverings look rich and luxurious. The Multimedia Interface (MMI) controls now sit ahead of the shifter and the shifter is a new all-electronic and fighter jet-inspired T shape. Seat comfort in the A8 is fantastic. The seats are firm and have the perfect amount of contour for a large, luxury sedan. The seats offer great lateral support thanks to the optional $2,000 Premium Package, which includes power-adjustable bolsters. If you’re a big guy you’ll really appreciate the roominess, it’s outstanding.

Audi’s display screen retracts when not in use which cleans up the dash nicely when you don’t want a screen to look at, but realistically it’s almost always in use. Even seat adjustments and massage info is displayed there — not to say that is a bad things as the possible seat adjustments are quite numerous. The screen itself looks fantastic, it’s bright, easy to read, has a high resolution and through the MMI controls is very easy to navigate.

Audi’s Bose sound system sounds very good in both the front seats and rear and using the MMI system for handsfree calling was a breeze to setup and use. The car’s navigation system is outstanding using Google Earth to supply satellite imagery. The system does suffer a bit from over complication. Controlling everything from your seats massage setting to the music on your iPhone from a single screen can get a bit overwhelming.

Passenger options persist even in the rear seat. Each rear door includes four switches and a button to operate four sunshades (overhead, each side window, and the rear window), both power windows, and a venting rear panel in the optional panoramic sunroof. With a few more costly options added to the car rear passengers can enjoy power rear seats, dual-zone rear HVAC, and the dual-display entertainment system. Nearly all of the lengthier wheelbase of the L must go to the rear seats, where you get 42.9 inches of legroom. The size of the back seats can actually get comical. My fiancé (5′ 4″) looked like a small child out for a ride.

My car also included the $3000 Driver Assistance Package which includes shift paddles on the steering wheel, an adaptive cruise control system that monitors distance to the vehicle in front via radar sensors and Audi lane assist which monitors blind spot areas and warns you via LED lights in the exterior mirrors.

Audi has the smallest-in-class unblown 4.2-liter V8 which yields 372 horsepower. Getting 372 horsepower from 4.2 liter requires 6,800 RMP, a lot of revs. Because there’s less power at low-to-moderate RPM with a smaller engine the A8 has less torque then some of its competitors. Personally, I didn’t find it to be a big deal. If you’re a numbers guy you might. The 4.2-liter V8 is smooth and sounds fantastic, which makes working it a bit harder than a larger V8 no issue at all. While the A8 might not launch as hard as a larger V8 it still gets moving plenty quick and once its rolling accelerations are plentiful. The eight-speed transmission worked without a hiccup and manual mode via steering wheel paddle shifters truly adds to the fun.

Working a smaller engine harder usually isn’t good for fuel economy, but the EPA rates the 2012 at 18 city and 28 highway. Impressive numbers for such a large, powerful, all-wheel-drive car.

The A8L handles like a dream. For such a large, heavy and long car you would expect it to plow into turns but the car actually feels quite agile. That’s not to say it drives like a small R series. This is still a giant car so while it wears an XXL it drives like an XL. My car did benefit from the improved handling characteristics of the $2,300 “Audi drive select plus,” which includes active steering and an active, torque-vectoring rear differential.

“Audi drive select” is a standard option the “plus,” however, is not. The standard system allows for the throttle, steering, suspension, and seat belt tensioners to each be independently set to Comfort, Dynamic, or Auto. With many systems the differences between settings can be difficult to notice. Not a problem with Audi’s. Set the car to “comfort,” and the car floats over the road. Dial to “dynamic,” and the steering becomes very firm and the suspension becomes much tighter. Ride quality, predictably, suffers a bit in “Dynamic,” but overall the car remains more than comfortable.

The Competition:

The BMW 7 series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz CLS

Bragging Rights:

The Audi A8L is easily the sportiest of the cars in its segment offering luxury without sacrificing handling.

The Price:

A large car, full of top notch materials and high-end technology doesn’t come cheap. The 2012 Audi A8L starts at $84,700, price for my tester car $119,125.

Windup:

The new Audi A8 is easily the sportiest car in its segment.  The car’s exterior could be both more distinctive and more attractive. Also, the relatively small V8 doesn’t churn out quite enough torque for a satisfying launch.  If you’re a driving enthusiast who needs a very large car, the A8 wins by just about any measure.

The Photos: