2011 Audi A8L

The A8L has taken Audi to a new level. David Booth is impressed by the new mark of luxury.

The rear seats in the Audi A8L recline almost as much as some first-class airline seats.
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In Audi's parlance, a true, top-flight luxury sedan must have equal measures of presence, power and poise to capture the hearts and, more importantly, the wallets of the independently foolish. The first gets their attention, the second guarantees they don't get humiliated by lowly Suzukis and the third is important because a) everyone expects poise from a German luxury sedan and b) on the crazy speeds common to the German autobahn, poise is so much more than a mere marketing tagline, it's an absolute necessity.

In consumers' estimation, however, previous iterations of the A8 have offered plenty of the latter two, but unfortunately failed to deliver on the first. Technological advancements like Audi's Aluminum Space Frame and FSI direct injection went largely unnoticed because jet-setters raised on a steady diet of BMWs and Mercs were just not ready to give Audi the props necessary to fork out so much money on an automobile. That Audi's range topper also features somewhat somnolent styling did not help the A8 project that ever-so-necessary gravitas.

The 2011 edition, especially in the long-wheelbase L version, may reverse that trend. For one thing, the new A8L is truly of a grand scale, some 130mm longer than the base car and, at 5,267mm in overall length, a large car by any standard. Its styling is also more aggressive, sleek as topflight luxe-sedans are likely to be, with a grille that looks positively shark-like. Top it off with dramatically styled LED headlights guaranteed to fill the rearview mirrors of other cars with dread and you have a car that finally has the presence to back up the poise it has always engendered. Perhaps even more importantly, it would seem that, as a result of Audi's many recent successes, consumers are also finally ready to give an Audi luxury sedan its props.

From behind the wheel, it certainly deserves it. We're quickly up to 200 kilometres an hour and the all-wheel-drive quattro A8L might as well be loafing. Set in either its comfort or dynamic settings - accessed through Audi's Drive Select programme that modifies everything from suspension damping, steering effort and even throttle response - the A8L is as steady as the Queen Mary in calm waters. And the A8's calling card, especially in the aforementioned comfort setting, is a ride unmatched even in this rarefied segment. It is compliant without being mushy, cosseting but still stable.

It remains, however, not quite as sporty as the two leaders in this segment, BMW's stalwart 7-Series and Jaguars parvenu new XJ. Almost certainly, there's enough handling and grip to satisfy 98 per cent of any clientele rich enough (that should be read "old enough") to afford the car, but it "feels" larger than its two competitors. It's certainly fleet of foot thanks to the 4.2L FSI V8. Now imbued with a much-more-than-adequate 372hp, the A8 may be a few ponies shy of Jag's base 5.0L, which boasts 385hp, but it nonetheless scoots to 100kph in a very competitive 5.8 seconds; aided, no doubt, by its close-ratio, eight-speed automatic gearbox. The 4.2L is also wondrously sophisticated, perhaps the smoothest V8 in, again, this most competitive of segments.

It should be noted that Audi's W12, now in 6.3L guise, pumps out 500hp, up from 450. And, yes, it's mighty quick; Audi claims 4.7 seconds to 100kph, for instance. It was enough to lure a cohort of mine into getting a ticket in speed-mad Germany. Silent, smooth and deadly is the W12. But the best engine of the bunch is Audi's 4.2L V8 turbodiesel. The sophisticated oil-burner boasts 350hp and 800Nm of torque, making it quicker than the 4.2L petrol engine (100 klicks in just 5.6 seconds), yet rates a frugal 7.8L/100 km in the European driving cycle compared with the petrol 4.2L's 9.7L/100km. Plus, it's incredibly smooth and quiet.

Where the A8L, like all current Audis, excels is inside its expansive cabin. Generous in the extreme in the rear legroom department, the rear seats also recline almost as much as first-class airline seats. Like all new Audis, the materials inside the A8 are exquisite. And the seats, fore and aft, are heated and cooled, this last far more effective than other cooled seats I've tested. Think frosty.

New this year is an all-new centre console and Multi Media Interface (MMI) control mechanism, Audi having reduced the number of knobs and switches required to operate the climate control and audio systems. As well, the MMI system gains a touch pad that can be used to more conveniently enter phone numbers and addresses for the navigation system. The new system is more convenient. Audi has finally arrived at a station where consumers should be ready to accept the A8 as an equal competitor in the luxury yacht sweepstakes. It always had the power and the poise. Now, it has the presence.

The Audi A8L will arrive in the UAE in November, initially with quattro and the 4.2L V8. Pricing has not yet been confirmed. motoring@thenational.ae