The Audi A8 Hybrid is a new flagship model for the company’s A8 luxury car range.
It combines a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre petrol engine (a first for the A8) with an electric motor, giving a combined output of 242bhp, while helping it average almost 45mpg and emit just 147g/km of CO2.
It all runs through a revised version of Audi's eight-speed Tiptronic auto transmission, with three driving modes: EV gives priority to the electric motor, D works the two power sources in tandem and S is the sporty option.
From the outside, the Hybrid is distinguished from other A8s by its turbine-style 19-inch alloy wheels, hybrid badges and unique paintwork, while it has a list of standard equipment over and above the existing SE.
Three-zone climate control, LED headlights and a Bose stereo with a DAB radio are all standard, along with sat-nav, adaptive air suspension and Noise Cancellation technology that improves the car’ refinement.
What’s the 2012 Audi A8 Hybrid like to drive?
The first thing that strikes you is the eery silence as you pull away in all-electric mode. The car is whisper-quiet as you gather speed from rest.
Sadly, that doesn’t last long, because the petrol engine soon kicks in; and, while there’s not much wrong with the performance it gives – especially with the electric motor to lend a hand – the noise it makes is not what you’d expect of a luxury car.
The trouble is, the 2.0-litre unit has only four cylinders, and while that might be okay for a family car, its harsh note when revved hard is completely at odds with the ambience you want in a luxury saloon.
Worse still, it’s not something you hear only under full-throttle acceleration; it’s there even at relatively modest speeds.
To cap it all, the rev-hungry nature of the petrol engine doesn’t work well with the automatic gearbox. The changes aren't especially smooth and it occasionally struggles to pick the most appropriate gear.
If you’re just pootling around town or keeping up a steady pace on the motorway, these things aren’t an issue. However, we think that will rarely be the case, and the shortage of refinement is our biggest issue with the car.
Sadly, it isn't our only issue. For all the A8’s sure-footed feel on the road and through bends, the ride is too often firm and unsettled.
What’s the 2012 Audi A8 Hybrid like inside?
As far as the driver is concerned, the most obvious difference between the hybrid and other A8s is the Powermeter on the dashboard (where you’d expect to find a rev counter in a normal A8), which shows how the hybrid system is operating.
Otherwise, the A8 hybrid is identical to any other A8 inside, with a cabin that's beautifully built, stylish and stuffed with kit.
There's plenty of space for four six-footers, too, and all the seats are comfortable and supportive.
As ever, Audi’s MMI control system takes some getting used to, but once you’ve cracked it, it’s relatively easy.
The only real compromise you have to make for the hybrid system is that the battery eats up quite a large part of the boot space.
Should I buy one?
Even if you do want to buy an A8 Hybrid, you’ll have to wait the best part of a year. First deliveries are expected in early 2013.
However, the crucial element missing in all this is how much the car will cost in the UK. All Audi will say is that it will be ‘competitively priced within the A8 range’, but in Germany the car costs about the same as an A8 3.0 TDI.
If Audi can sell the car for that sort of money in the UK – just under £60,000 – then the maths will work out in its favour.
You see, the Hybrid is both more economical than the 3.0 TDI (currently the range’s top-seller, and by some way) and has lower CO2 emissions, so it will have considerable attraction to business users; especially as it won’t suffer the 3% surcharge imposed on the diesel car or on the diesel-engined rivals that are the only luxury cars to come close to this level of emissions.
That won’t solve the problem of the four-cylinder engine’s poor refinement, of course – and those who can afford to do so, will doubtless still stick with a six-cylinder car – but for those kind of financial savings, company accountants may well be willing to turn a deaf ear to its shortcomings in that department.
What Car? says…
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