In short – it is.
Like the Mercedes S-Class, Audi’s flagship A8 is undoubtedly a big car. But it’s the little things that make it. Though at first glance you mightn’t notice too much difference from the previous model, as the proportions haven’t actually changed, extra lines down the bonnet add a sleeker, sportier look, as do new rear lights and a more sculpted boot. New chrome lines through the rear lights and above the redesigned twin rhomboid exhaust pipes add to the new, more sporty A8 design.
Just like the S-Class, the A8 is the first in the Audi stable to benefit from the latest in technological advances, eventually trickling down through the range to the rest of the fleet. Most remarkable is the new MatrixBeam headlight system, which is astonishingly impressive though optional (standard on the new S8). Other car brands such as VW have made attempts at similar designs, but with the A8, Audi have perfected it. The 25 individual LED high-beam system can use the car’s navigation system to quickly detect when the car is leaving urban areas – the high-beam lights are deployed automatically when you leave the town behind and speed up beyond 30 km/h. It can also use data from the navigation system to focus the headlines into corners and bends, long before the car will reach them. And, when the on-board camera detects other vehicles ahead, the headlights mask the relevant section, making sure the other driver isn’t blinded by shutting down several of the LEDs, while the rest remain lighted.
Inside the car, it’s all comfort and technology – lavish trim, comfortable upholstery and acres of room (including a 520L boot) are married with a new park-assist system, a nifty head-up display which can project your current speed alongside the local speed limit, night vision assistant which can detect and distinguish humans and animals from 300 metres. There’s also active lane assist, adapative cruise control and the MMI Infotainment system which now includes Audi Connect, meaning if your passengers don’t manage to fall asleep in the spacious cocoon that is the rear seats, they can always while away the hours on the internet. You might think you’d be overwhelmed with all of these technological gizmos, and at the very beginning, you’d be forgiven for being right. But very quickly all of these additions fade, doing their job in the background, letting you just sit back and enjoy driving the beast.
‘Beast’ mightn’t be the best word to describe it; though the new A8 has taken on something of a sportier persona, what with its sleeker lines and chrome additions, it’s still very much a luxury car, something you’d associate with ferrying around important people in the back. It’s comfortable over the road bumps and even on the back roads around Maynooth, which aren’t exactly the best example of Irish road engineering, you might well have been gliding along a freshly-laid motorway, courtesy of the smooth-shifting eight speed automatic transmission, the quattro all-wheel drive system (standard on the 4.2 TDI and up), the lightweight frame and electromechanical steering. Even the surge of power you get when you put your foot down is refined – it pauses for a moment, almost as if to say ‘really? That’s how you’re going to drive me?’ and then duly obliges, launching forward at a speed which is almost unbelievable, with 0-60 times of 5.9 seconds.
Our particular test model was aided by a new 3.0L TDI engine producing 260bhp, the version Audi believe will be the most popular, though five petrol and diesel engines will be available to the world. For the Irish market, there will also be a 4.2 TDI option, with 385bhp and 850Nm of torque on tap. Audi are quite proud of the fact that despite increasing power output, they’ve actually managed to reduce CO2 emissions. The new 3.0L TDI has ten more horsepowers yet drops 14g of emissions (to 155g) which will leave you with an annual road tax bill of €390 and combined fuel figures of around 47mpg. In the coming months, there’ll also be two 8 variants coming to Irish roads, though undoubtedly in smaller numbers than the standard A8. The S8, the sports version, will house a 4.0L TFSI 520bhp engine with a top speed of 250 km/h, which is capable of catapulting you from 0-60 in just 4.1 seconds, should you wish to experience hyperspeed in comfortable surroundings. In addition, the mouth-watering LWB-only W12 will be available from April, pre-ordering beginning this week, with lucky drivers sitting on a 6.0L W12 engine and 625 Nm of torque all yours for just €155,160.
While the standard 3.0L TDI does seem affordable in comparison to its more powerful relations, unfortunately for the majority of us it still costs from €92,000. Let’s be clear here – it’s a car for visiting dignataries and wealthy businessmen, as likely to be driven as they are to drive it. That being said, if you’ve got €100,000 or so to spare (the A8 comes with an impressive array of extras as standard this year, but there’s always room to improve), and you’re not sure what to spend it on, spend it on this. You won’t be disappointed.