Road Test: Audi's A8 L is the boss of luxury saloons

For such a car as the A8 L, the long-wheelbase version of Audi's flagship saloon, it's necessary to start this review from a seemingly unlikely spot - the rear seat.

Normally, the rear seats are an afterthought in road tests; it's a place where the kids are put and told to be quiet (or, as is the norm today, kept quiet by shutting down their brains with a DVD player). And that's if the car even has a back seat. But with the A8 L, extending the wheelbase gives this car a whole new raison d'être, a completely different focus altogether. Because the focus is now on the passenger.

Open the rear door and sit inside - it's incredibly easy access, as the entire 130mm stretch compared to the base A8 has been put into the rear quarters. The car is also 2mm taller than the normal-wheelbase A8, too, giving passengers more headroom. This one has the optional separate power seats in the back, and if you're putting in an order for a car like this, it would be unfathomable not to tick this box - in fact, I almost think they should come as standard equipment. Because these rear seats in the passenger compartment elevate the A8 L from simply a large luxury car to a higher level, a level normally associated with the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

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It's not nearly as opulent inside, of course, but the area is swathed in high-end leather all around, and there's enough room to stretch out your long legs. Both chairs independently recline like an airline seat and seem to adjust infinitely, and both are heated and cooled. There is a footrest and DVD screens behind the seats and controls for the stereo and climate systems in the middle. Sun screens cover all the glass with the touch of a button and private vanity mirrors with lights pop down from the roof. In other words, if you are lucky enough to be driven in the back of the A8 L, there isn't much you'd want for in terms of luxury or comfort.

If you are lucky enough to be back there, chances are you're some sort of VIP, the kind that gets driven to and from a very shiny, glass-walled office in some urban financial district. You are distinguished, and you expect more than just a certain amount of respect. And you'd get that in this big Audi. The body seems to be chiselled out of a solid block of aluminium (what the chassis is built of, by the way); it not so much parks as it looms, and I'd even go so far to say it has more presence than any of its rival German luxury saloons. Long, flat flanks are broken by flared wheel arches, bookended by jewelled tail lights and headlamps, and led by that Audi gaping grille for a mean, businesslike front end. It's distinguished, it's assertive, it's imposing - everything you'd expect a CEO to be.

If you are riding in the back seat, you are probably a person who expects the best, and who expects things to be done for you. Well, that's too bad, because you'd be missing out on a nice experience up front. Yes, it's another typical Audi interior, and by "typical" I refer to the fact that the company builds some of the highest quality and most stylish interiors on the market. Solid aluminium switchgear fit perfectly into the wood-and-aluminium dash and console, while supple leather covers the doors and dash, combined with soft-touch plastics of different hues. And if you really want a treat, drive at night: the red lights emanating from the switches soothes, while the neon accent lighting in the headliner casts a soft glow over the interior.

The MMI infotainment and climate control system is one of the better ones on the market, but the control knob is a little far from easy reach. I found resting my wrist on the huge, wooden gear selector helped, but I much prefer how Mercedes has their controller fall right at hand on the centre console.

Speaking of technology, that MMI system also has a small touchpad; to dial a phone number, all you do is trace the number with your finger on the pad and it recognises it. This also works for spelling out names for the navigation system and it's eerie how well it works.

The A8 L is packed with technology, but what's possibly most surprising - especially if you've already driven it for a bit - is what's packed under this bonnet. Because where you'd normally think a V8 would be is a 3.0L turbocharged V6, and the surprising part is the bigger V8 isn't missed at all. The 290hp is more than enough for relatively quick acceleration - helped by gobs of torque at low rpm - and the eight-speed gearbox helps keep it all in the right powerband. The only things missing were the frequent fuel station stops, as this big car realistically gives back a combined fuel economy of about 10L/100km, and that's impressive.

In fact, it's a strange thing to be talking about, austerity and the A8 L - it's almost ridiculous, really. But when you consider the fact that you get just about as much luxury and respect with this as you would have with a larger, petrol-guzzling SUV or even more expensive luxury saloon, it would make good business sense to go for the Audi.

Maybe that's why you deserve to be riding in the back seat.

The Specs

Price, base / as tested Dh308,000 / Dh366,000

Engine 3.0L turbocharged V6

Gearbox Eight-speed automatic

Power 290hp @ 4,850-6,500rpm

Torque 420Nm @ 2,500-4,850rpm

Fuel economy, combined 9.3L/100km


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