Writing a car review is fairly straightforward: I typically arrive at the pick-up location with seconds to spare, shoot the breeze with the PR person and listen to a TL;DR of the car’s new features, sign a promise to pay for any damages which might result from my road testing, and return to my otherwise regular routine. I’ll drive the car the way I think its intended owners will (hopefully with better road etiquette than the typical Singaporean driver) to see if the car is a worthwhile companion to its owners’ lifestyles.
With luxury cars like the Audi A8 L though, the most important decision-maker isn’t necessarily the one who will drive the car most, because there’s a good chance you’ll want to spend more time in one of the rear seats. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy all the luxuries this car has to offer?
If I had to describe the latest Audi A8 L in one word, it would be “stately”. It’s a masterful blend of measured elegance and quiet sophistication. This is the first coming-to-life of Audi’s new design language in its massive stable of car models. The hexagonal Singleframe grille commands attention, with the HD Matrix LED headlights providing forward illumination in an overall package that continues to differentiate the brand from other car manufacturers.
Real estate is a prized asset and you get what you pay for. That’s the first luxury promised by this Audi – there is enough legroom for you to cross your legs without your knee touching the glove compartment or seat backs.
The Audi A8 L is the longest luxury car alongside what BMW and Mercedes-Benz have to offer in Singapore. Over the past weekend with the Audi, slotting it into parking spaces was a constant exercise in calling the reversing sensor’s bluff while I attempted to make the car as discreet as possible.
While the test car didn’t come with Audi’s version of park assist, it made up for this by providing a real-time composite 360-degree view on the 10.1-inch touchscreen display, referred by Audi as the central driver assistance controller. This came in very handy the first few times I parked the car, because with the long bonnet and boot, the risk of scratching the paintwork or expensive rims is very real. Manoeuvring the car is also easier thanks to the A8’s dynamic all-wheel steering – this helps get the car through tight confines and reduces the turning circle by around a metre (11.8 metres on this A8 L), very helpful when I found myself in some of Singapore’s sadistic multi-storey car park ramps and spirals. The same feature provides better stability and responsiveness for the car when on roads or highways.
Within Singapore, this car will probably spend most of its time in city traffic. That’s where the driver assistance features and creature comforts prove their worth. The adaptive cruise assist integrates the car’s ability to maintain a preset distance from the vehicle in front with a lane assist function, which helps the driver keep within the lane through slight torque interventions in the steering. Driving through Singapore’s mind-numbingly dreary MCE with this feature really helped reduce some of the monotony.
Passengers in the rear who prefer a little more privacy can raise the motorised blinds for the rear windows and windshield as they enjoy the massage function that covers the entire back up to the shoulders in a choice of seven programmes and three intensity levels. All of these – together with the matrix LED reading lights, air conditioning and seat adjustments – can be controlled with the detachable Rear Seat Remote found in the centre armrest. The two Audi tablets can be used in the car to access the internet via the A8’s WLAN network; they can continue to be used outside of the car as long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection, making the transition from the office to the car and vice versa a more seamless one to complement a hardworking executive’s increasingly digital lifestyle.
And nowhere is this digital and technological implementation more apparent than in the front compartment of the A8 with Audi’s MMI touch response. A 720p digital Audi virtual cockpit resides behind the four-spoke steering wheel. The centre column tells the tale of the designers’ war against physical buttons; this fourth-generation A8 departs from its predecessor’s rotary/push-button control and touchpad, replacing that system with two large touchscreens. The one above, a 10.1-inch display, controls the infotainment system. A second 8.6-inch touchscreen below operates the climate control and convenience features, and can interpret handwritten text input. I found the handwriting feature to be fairly accurate even though I was tracing out letters with my non-dominant hand; it allowed me to enter navigation addresses on the move more safely without having to alternate my view between the road and the screen on the centre console as often.
Operating each touchscreen, other than menu swiping and text input, requires a firm press. This generates a mechanical pulse as confirmation through an electromagnet moving the spring-mounted displays, together with a click sound from a small loudspeaker. I suppose Audi wanted a clean, flush aesthetic in the cabin (“reduction [as] an aesthetic design principle”) but couldn’t give up the audible click that they claim to be “an acoustic expression of Audi perfection“. This clash in philosophies has caused an obvious problem: the touchscreens are notorious fingerprint magnets because of the added pressure needed to operate them. When the screens are off, they blend almost invisibly into the high-gloss black surround, although you can quickly tell by the smudges where the touchscreens are.
Regardless of your view on the massive amount of smart technology in the car, the A8 L performs admirably on the road even if you decide to disregard all of its technological marvels. Visibility is reassuringly good in the driver’s seat, the sculpted steering wheel turns smoothly, and the car responds confidently to steering input thanks to the all-wheel steering mentioned before. The adjustable suspension softens all but the harshest imperfections on our roads, as if the car’s driving over pillows, but doesn’t roll as much as I expected when navigating corners quickly (busy executives need to make the most of their waking hours, so I’d argue this is required testing).
The 3.0 TFSI engine puts out a respectable 340 hp and 500 Nm of torque, but what’s special about it is its new mild-hybrid technology, which is standard in all A8 engines. This allows the car to coast with the engine off between speeds of 55 and 160 km/h if the accelerator is released, allowing the vehicle to travel with zero emissions for up to 40 seconds. All this is very clever and smoothly delivered through the car’s eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, which reliably picked the right gears and ensured the car never put a foot wrong during my weekend with it. Ultimately though, your mileage will vary depending on how much of the functions are being used during your journey. I also sensed a mild vibration in the driver’s seat as the engine idled in traffic.
As with the refined and assured drivetrain, comfort and convenience are still among the top priorities in the A8. As a case in point, you can open any of the four doors with practically just your last finger – you only need to pull the exterior handle five millimetres and a microswitch will release the catch. The same goes for opening the door from within the car.
But the best place to be in the A8 is the relaxation seat in the rear, behind the front passenger seat. The occupant can recline it and rest his feet on an electrically folding surface on the backrest of the front passenger seat. This provides the option of having the feet warmed and massaged with multiple settings.
Good things inevitably come at a price. At just under S$440,000 with COE, it’s eye-wateringly expensive to the average person. But if you consider all of the luxuries you’re getting for the money and repeat it to yourself enough times, you might lean towards Audi’s view that this car actually offers pretty good value for what you’re shelling out. It’s a car not just for those who value refinement and understated presence, but also for the ones who love their gadgets and wireless connectivity.
Special thanks to Audi Singapore for this opportunity.