A person looking for the ultimate sedan without compromise.
Comparable cars in this class:
BMW 745iL, Infiniti Q45, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS430, Mercedes S-430
2005 Audi A8 Road Test
You say youve decided on an expensive German sedan something north of ,000 and south of six figures - and your heart is set on Audi.
Few will consider that a bad choice. But now for the big question: A8 or A8 L?
The difference between the long and short of it is a mere five inches and the price differential is about ,500. Since everything else about the two cars is basically identical, the roomier A8 L would seem at first glance to be the logical choice.
At least the folks at Audi sure thought so. When the newest A8 was introduced to Americans in 2003, the company didnt even bother to bring the short-wheelbase version to our shores.
But there has been an obvious change of heart. For 2005, it has added the standard-size A8 to the U.S. lineup. To those of us who have now been behind the wheel of both, its obvious that the differences are greater than what simply meets the eye. And its equally obvious that the A8 has special charms of its own.
In fact, the whole question of long versus short boils down to one simple question: Will the new Audi be bought primarily for the driver or for its passengers?
Lets take a look at where those five inches okay, 5.1 inches fit into the picture.
All other dimensions are within a half an inch of each other.
Clearly, the only important benefit of the longer car is to those back-seaters who will be able to luxuriate in a limousine-like atmosphere.
This is no small thing to the executive who will spend time in the rear seat reviewing important papers or talking deals on the telephone while his driver whisks him from place to place in quiet comfort. And it certainly sweetens the traveling experience for the wealthy who prefer to leave the driving to their chauffeur.
But for those buyers who will actually be spending the bulk of their time behind the wheel, the benefits of the standard sedan are equally clear. Both cars drive and handle well, of course, but the A8 is the more agile of the two cars.
Hustle the A8 along scenic country two-lanes, maneuver it through a thicket of traffic on the freeway or simply pull into a parking space narrowed by two hulking SUVs at the local mall. Youll notice that this sedan responds more crisply than its counterpart, thanks to its shorter wheelbase and slightly tighter turning radius.
The A8 also encourages the use of some Audi technology that is standard on all models but probably doesnt get as much of a workout in the longer car.
For example, the slick-shifting, six-speed automatic transmission can be engaged in sport mode, which delays upshifts for greater acceleration and speeds up downshifts during deceleration for added control through engine braking. It can also be flicked into manual mode to let the driver select his own gears via the console-mounted shifter or optional paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
In addition, the adaptive air suspension not only adjusts automatically to changing road and driving conditions, it can be regulated from inside the car to maximize a comfortable ride or sporty handling.
When I was cruising along in an A8 L, I never had the need, or even the urge, to bump the slick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission into sport or manual mode and I never saw a reason to adjust the adaptive air suspension from its softest, most luxurious ride setting to its stiffest, most roll-resistant setting. It simply wouldnt have seemed right to jostle the passengers out of their reverie.
In the A8, however, driving turned into a more involving and enjoyable experience. From time to time I found myself altering the suspension settings, dropping the transmission down a gear or two, and using the rush of the 335-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8 engine to power my way through the kinks in the back road.
And lets not forget Quattro, the Audi all-wheel-drive system that transfers traction from front to back and side to side as required for maximum traction. Nor should we pass over the rack-and-pinion steering, or the antilock disc brakes, or the supportive front bucket seats.
The test car had optional 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, a ,700 premium over the standard 17-inch wheels. They probably contributed to the Audis handling acumen, but Im certain the car would be even more sure-footed with performance oriented tires.
All of these features work to enhance the driving experience in all A8 models, but the enthusiast driver of the standard A8 is more likely to appreciate their availability.
Now, lets get back to that back seat. Although space is not as generous in the A8, the rear passengers are not left to suffer. Two adults of almost any size will have no trouble staying comfortable over the long haul. A third, middle seat rider wont be particularly happy in either car over an extended distance.
When it comes to luxury, call it a wash. If you can get it on the A8 L, you can get it on the A8. Ditto the superb leather and wood-accented interior. Ditto the long list of safety features. (For a detailed list of A8 special features and performance figures, check out the A8 L review right here on carparts.com.)
The Audi A8 I drove has a base price of ,310, including delivery charge. That buys a whole lot of standard features, but youll be hard-pressed to find an A8 that isnt equipped with some options. With only a few of nearly 20 available add-ons, the car I drove showed a bottom line of ,210.
Two of the options on the test car are worth special mention.
The adaptive cruise control (,100) adjusts the driver-set speed to make the Audi stay a safe distance behind slower-moving vehicles. It really can make a journey in clogged freeway traffic more relaxing if the driver is willing to stay in one lane.
The convenience package, at ,000, would not make my check list. It consists of electric rear and manual side shades, a power trunk opener/closer and Advanced Key, which makes it possible to lock, unlock and start the car without taking the ignition key out of pocket or purse. After all these years, Im so accustomed to taking the key out of my pocket that I almost always forgot that I didnt have to.
To my mind, Audi designers have come up with the most handsome megabucks luxury sedans available. But, while the A8 and A8 L are both beautiful cars, Ill give my admittedly subjective vote to the A8 simply because I think its shorter rear doors blend better into the cars overall design.
So, if my ship ever comes in (Im not expecting a real big one.), Ill trade it in for an A8. If you see it the other way, thats okay. The A8 L is a fine driving car, too. It just didnt bring out the boy racer that still lives inside this aging motorhead.