What Car? says...
The Audi A8 and other flagship luxury cars play an important role for their makers. Not only do they give manufacturers the chance to show off their latest technologies, but they’re also often used by heads of states as a form of soft power. After all, if the chancellor of Germany rides in the back of an A8, it must be good.
Speaking of which, Angela Merkel was known to alternate between brands to project neutrality and support the German car industry in general. That meant she spent plenty of time in the Audi A8, but also travelled in its closest rivals, the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class.
Like those rivals, the A8 can be had in standard-wheelbase form (ideal if you’re a private buyer looking for the ultimate luxury saloon) or as a stretched, long-wheelbase 'L' model, which provides even more leg room for those sitting in the back. If you’re wondering, Merkel preferred the A8 L.
Audi gives you a choice of four engines, including a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) called the 60 TFSI e, which is handy for going into your Central London office without burning any petrol. The other options are a 282bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel (50 TDI), a 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol (55 TFSI) and a high-performance version called the S8, with a 563bhp 4.0-litre V8 petrol.
The PHEV model pairs the same V6 petrol as the 55 TFSI with a 126bhp electric motor and a 17.9kWh (14.4kWh useable) battery for a combined 456bhp output. That gives it an official electric-only range of 36 miles, which is disappointing compared to the 63 miles offered by the latest PHEV S-Class.
So, the crucial question is: "Is the Audi A8 good enough to beat the 7 Series and S-Class for comfort, luxury and technology?" In other words, is it one of the best luxury cars around? Over the next few pages of this review, we'll give you all the answers, as well as recommendations for which engine, trim and options to go for.
Whichever luxury limo you decide is the one for you, don’t forget to check out the deals available through our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It could save you thousands of pounds off the list price of most makes and models of car, and has lots of new luxury car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Audi A8's 50 TDI diesel engine is smooth and quiet, if not quite as refined as the 400d engine of the rival Mercedes S-Class. It's not as powerful as that engine, either, although performance is more than adequate and there's a healthy swell of acceleration from low revs.
If you spend a great deal of time in a city or you’re simply worried about the future implications of buying a diesel, the 60 TFSI e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is a convincing alternative, allowing you to complete many of your urban journeys on battery power alone. If plugged in regularly enough, it could be far cheaper to run than its petrol and diesel stablemates.
The PHEV’s electric motor is potent enough to accelerate up to motorway speeds on battery power alone, making for a beautifully serene experience for passengers, with no engine noise or noticeable gear changes disturbing the relaxed ambiance. While its official electric-only range is 36 miles, the rival Mercedes S580e PHEV can go quite a lot further in near silence, with an official range of 63 miles.
If you’re a private buyer and don’t have access to a home charger, you'll be better off looking at the petrol 55 TFSI. It doesn't quite have quite the low-down grunt of a PHEV or diesel engine, but it's still well-suited to the A8. Its power delivery is buttery smooth, and when you want to get a shift on, the 55 TFSI revs more keenly and is ultimately faster than the 50 TDI diesel, although the petrol Mercedes S500 is quicker still.
To read about the quickest variant of the A8, see our Audi S8 review.
Whichever engine you choose, you get an eight-speed automatic gearbox. In the petrol and diesel, it can be rather slow-witted. Whether you’re at a standstill or on the move, there’s often a delay between you pressing the accelerator pedal and the A8 gaining speed. This isn’t a problem in the PHEV, though: the car always saves enough battery so you can pull away using the electric motor, which responds immediately.
Every A8 has Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system, providing impressive all-weather traction and reassurance, while range-topping Vorsprung models also get four-wheel steering.
At low speeds, this steers the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts, improving manoeuvrability and making the A8 feel shorter than it is in tight spots, such as multi-storey car parks. At higher speeds, the wheels move in the same direction for greater stability when, for example, changing lanes on the motorway. It’s especially useful on the long-wheelbase model and if you spend a lot of time in urban environments.
While the A8 is easy to drive and is very surefooted thanks to huge reserves of grip, its big body wallows on its standard air suspension through bends, in a similar manner to the latest S-Class. If you want a really sharp handling luxury car we’d point you towards the driver-focused S8 or the BMW 7 Series.
The A8's softer edge has an important up side too: it's not only the best-riding car in its class, but also one of the most comfortable cars full stop. It simply glides along any stretch of road, seemingly untroubled by all but the most pronounced bumps. Whether you’re sitting in the front or the back, you’ll enjoy unparalleled levels of comfort.
If we’re splitting hairs, the PHEV isn’t quite as supple as other versions over urban imperfections because the weight of its batteries gives the suspension more to deal with. The equivalent S580e plug-in is a touch better in this regard, especially over coarse surfaces.
We recommend opting for the smallest wheels possible (18in ones are available) to maximise ride comfort, although even on massive 21in wheels, the A8 remains surprisingly supple and road noise is well contained. Wind noise is kept to a minimum, even at motorway speeds, and you can option double-glazed side windows for a reasonable cost.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Slide behind the Audi A8's steering wheel and you’ll find a huge range of adjustment for the supportive, 22-way electrically operated seat. Four-way powered adjustable lumbar support is standard, and even the steering wheel moves in and out, and up and down, electrically.
The A8’s interior is also beautifully constructed. You can’t help but marvel at the consistency of finish of its materials and the almost seamless precision with which those materials fit together – it feels hewn from solid rock. That said, we suspect a number of buyers will be disappointed at just how conservative the A8’s interior design is compared to the glitzy Mercedes S-Class and its richer use of materials and ambient lighting.
The A8 is easier to see out of than most of its luxury car rivals. Its broad side windows and large rear screen provide a good view in all directions, and you get front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera on all trims.
If you need a little more help, a surround-view camera is available as part of the reasonably priced Comfort and Sound Pack. Standard LED headlights make for outstanding visibility at night (digital matrix LED versions, which shield oncoming traffic from being dazzled while maintaining main beam, are available as an option on S line trim and above, and standard on Vorsprung models).
And despite having so many gadgets on board, the A8 is relatively easy to interact with. The 12.3in digital instrument display behind the steering wheel (called Virtual Cockpit) conveys a lot of information with admirable clarity, as does the standard head-up display that projects selected information on to the windscreen so it's even closer to your line of sight.
Meanwhile, the dashboard itself features two high-definition touchscreens – a 10.1in top screen and 8.6in one below it – which dominate the dashboard. These are easy enough to use when you're parked up but can be a little distracting when you're on the move; imagine trying to operate an iPad while driving and you'll get the idea.
True, the graphics are sharp, the system responds quickly to commands and you even get haptic feedback from the screen so you know that your prod has been registered. The infotainment system in the rival BMW 7 Series is more user-friendly, though.
Of course, with luxury coursing through the A8's veins, it’s not just those in the front who have access to the car's gadgetry.
Rear passengers in the long-wheelbase L version benefit from a standard tablet stored in the centre armrest, which can be used as a remote control for several of the car's functions, including the climate control system and the optional electric rear seats. Plus, you can add a pair of high-definition 10.1in screens to entertain back-seat passengers, and the optional Rear Comfort pack adds electrically adjustable and massaging rear seats.
The standard stereo features a six-channel, 180-watt amplifier and 10 speakers, including a subwoofer. If that’s not good enough, a 19-speaker, 755W Bang & Olufsen upgrade is available as part of the Comfort and Sound Pack (it comes as standard on Vorsprung models).
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Passengers in the back of the Audi A8 are treated to first-class levels of space – especially in the long-wheelbase 'L' version, which of course provides even more room to stretch out your legs.
There's actually slightly more space than in the back of an equivalent long-wheelbase BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class but all three are ridiculously roomy. The optional electrically adjustable rear seats give you the ability to tailor your seating position for using a laptop, a snooze and anything in between.
All A8s offer decent interior storage, too. There are two cupholders in the front and two in the back, plus a rear central armrest and deep door pockets.
For those who love a stat, the boot's capacity is 505 litres, which means the load bay is roughly the same size as that of the S-Class and is big enough to hold eight carry-on suitcases. It also means there’s room for a couple of sets of golf clubs.
That said, if you go for the 60 TFSI e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant, you’ll have to make do with 390 litres, because the batteries take up a good chunk of boot space. The S580e is a much better option if you want a PHEV with plenty of boot space as it offers 535 litres of space. If that still isn’t enough, take a look at the P440e Range Rover.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The luxury car market has changed significantly since the current Audi A8 arrived, not least with the arrival of the fully electric Mercedes EQS and BMW i7 plus the S580e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Mercedes S-Class with its 64-mile official electric-only range.
Due to the way the UK company car tax system rewards a long electric range, choosing these models over the A8 60 TFSIe, which can manage only 36 miles of zero-emissions running, will be a financial no-brainer for some. However, A8 list prices and leasing costs are competitive.
As for PCP finance, the S-Class historically undercuts the A8 thanks to the substantial deposit contributions Mercedes tends to offer. Resale values of big limos like these are notoriously poor. They can lose up to half their value from new in the first year alone. The A8 loses money to a much greater extent – our favourite long-wheelbase 50 TDI Vorsprung model also happens to be the fastest depreciating.
Standard equipment is very generous, though. Even entry-level cars have 18in alloy wheels, leather seats (heated in the front), a powered bootlid, adaptive cruise control, four-zone climate control and a head-up display.
All A8s come with a fair amount of safety kit as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), and traffic-sign recognition, although lane-keeping assistance is relegated to the City assist pack. The A8 hasn't been safety tested by Euro NCAP so we can't tell you how well it's likely to protect you if an accident proves unavoidable.
Charging times for the 60 TFSI e PHEV are around six hours from a domestic three-pin plug, and a much swifter two hours using a dedicated wall box. The rival Mercedes S580e plug-in is capable of 60kWh rapid charging, which means that its battery can be topped up from 10-80% in a mere 20 minutes, making it far more usable as an electric car.
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If you want comfort, we’d recommend the smooth and frugal 50 TDI diesel in a long-wheelbase Vorsprung spec car. If you're a private buyer and will be spending more time behind the wheel than in the rear seats, the Audi S8 delivers an unbeatable combination of comfort, space and pace.
Upgrading from Sport to S line trim brings a sportier look, with 20in (rather than 18in) alloy wheels, an exterior styling pack and darkened privacy glass. You also get matrix LED headlights that can keep the main beam on without dazzling oncoming drivers.
Everything is controlled through a touchscreen, which is more distracting to use on the move than the physical control dial in the BMW 7 Series. The Audi system does at least offer intuitive menus and quick responses. It also helps that you can operate many functions using steering wheel-mounted buttons linked to the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display directly in front of the driver.
|RRP price range||£77,980 - £119,570|
|Number of trims (see all)||6|
|Number of engines (see all)||4|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||diesel, hybrid, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||148.7 - 40.4|
|Available doors options||4|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,969 / £8,651|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£3,937 / £17,303|