Monday, March 21, 2011

Road Test: 2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI

. Monday, March 21, 2011

For the past seven days, we've had the chance to experience first hand, what Audi refers to as "the art of progress." Being the pinnacle of four-ringed sedans, and carrying a six-figure as-tested sticker price, there's no doubt that our 2011 Audi A8 was luxurious. Although, as we soon found out, the new A8 has indeed separated itself from the dated symbols of luxury's stuffy, members-only past. Sure it's big, it's plush and it's expensive. But these characteristics are only part of what defines the latest incarnation of Audi's D-body, flagship sedan.

Stare it in the face and you're looking eye to LED-eye with a grille large enough to swallow a 7-series/S-class cocktail in a single gulp. But aside from an audacious face, the 2011 Audi A8 is surprisingly understated. Being a pair of self-confessed Audi geeks, we expected our first jaunt around town would turn plenty of heads. This however, was very far from the truth. Aside from the occasional fellow Audi driver, the new A8 hadn't garnered even the slightest pedestrian double-take. A low-profile persona that Audi's chief designer Stefan Sielaff once called, "moderate elegance." The 2011 Audi A8 does not scream to bystanders, "look at me!" but rather whispers to its pilot, "look at this."

And there is plenty to look at once behind the wheel. Simply calling the A8 "technically advanced" is a gross understatement. After a week of pressing every button my fingers could find, I'd probably still missed at least one bell or neatly hidden whistle. One button you can't miss though, is the large, center-mounted dial controlling the A8's HAL 9000-esque, central computer system known as MMI (multi-media interface). Everything from the Google-powered navigation, to ride settings or your choice of lumbar support can be found within the MMI system. Even the gear lever, while unconventionally designed, works harmoniously as not only a tool but also a neatly positioned podium to rest your wrist whilst operating this command center.

Counting myself as much an audiophile as audiphile, one of my favorite features was our test car's optional 19-speaker, 1,400 watt Bang and Olufsen advanced sound system. One particular morning I was listening to Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy on my way to work. With barely any wind or road noise heard within the cabin, the trusty B&O was rocking my commute from No Quarter to The Ocean with ease. Then, at about a minute and a half into the album's final track, I could distinctly hear a phone ringing. So clear in fact, that (once parked) I searched the car for what I thought was someone's lost cell phone. Only after a quick Google search did I find that within The Ocean, if you listen close enough, a phone inside the studio rang during recording. How's that for Hi-Fi?

Despite its size, the new A8 drives like a much smaller car. Thanks to Audi's ASF (Aluminum Space Frame) construction, the 2011 A8's body is not only lighter but also stiffer and more aerodynamic than its predecessor. When driven in "comfort" mode, roads that would normally rattle the fillings out of my mouth when driving my B5 A4, seemed freshly paved even beneath our 20" Dunlop Winter Sport snow tires. But turn the dial to "dynamic" and an entirely different beast emerges. The A8's potent V8 takes a bite from higher RPM's, the suspension becomes tighter, and a car that may be more akin to a trip from office to golf course, becomes hungry for hairpins.

Bringing me to the heart of the new A8. Under the hood is Audi's venerable 4.2-liter FSI V8 pumping out 372 horsepower and 328 lb/ft of torque. Mated to the standard 8-speed Tiptronic transmission, the A8 4.2 FSI is good for a sprint from 0 to 62 mph in just 5.7 seconds; all the while averaging a very frugal 17 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway (EPA estimated). That's 22 more horses and 4 more miles per gallon than the 2010 model.

So, back to progress. Following their 2011 Super Bowl commercial, Audi asked Twitter users to tweet their definition of progress via a #ProgressIs hashtag. Ask Merriam or Webster and you'll find that progress can be defined as "a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal)." After our stint behind the wheel however, we know that #ProgressIs, quite simply, the all-new 2011 Audi A8.

2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI quattro - base price: $78,050.00

- Phantom Black pearl effect paint: included
- Velvet Beige leather interior: included
- Eight-speed Tiptronic transmission: included
- Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System: $6,300
- Driver Assistance package: $3,000
- Convenience package: $2,350
- Night vision assistant: $2,300
- Premium package: $2,000
- Full LED Headlights: $1,400
- 20-inch wheels: $1,200
- Four zone climate control: $950
- Cold weather package: $800
- Leather package 1: $750
- Dual-pane acoustic and security glass: $600
- Destination charge: $875

Total price as tested: $100,575.00
*Fuel, license, title fees, taxes and dealer-installed accessories are not included

Words by Adam Bush
Photos by Matt Richards