The technology-packed A8L is Audis reply to the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes S-Class.
It takes only seconds to see that the Audi A8L has one of the finest interiors of a luxury car. It has everything: acres of space,a fresh,modern design,the finest material (the wood,the brushed aluminium,the leather and the chrome highlights feel special) and a massive sense of occasion. The design has a yacht-like vibe. The info screen between the dials is clever and the Multi Media Interface (MMI) works all right,but a touchscreen would have been much nicer than the laptop-like scratchpad that the A8 comes with.
This long wheelbase version,the only one Audi will sell in India for now,has a special back seat. The rear seat executive package,which has a lot in common with a first-class seat on an airline. For starters,its big. Theres loads of legroom 13cm more on this wheelbase version. The seat is more supportive than a Victorian sofa and with the vast centre console flowing forward in a wave,you feel like you are siting on a throne. The seats massage you,you have a mini fridge at your elbow,and rear-seat passengers get their own entertainment screen as well. You can also set these seats to a slouch and prop your feet up on a footrest that emerges from the seat ahead. What next,your own wash basin? Why not? This seat package,however,could cost as much as an additional Rs 4 lakh.
On the move,the A8L comes as a pleasant surprise. My reservation about this car when wed driven it in Germany centered around ride comfort. The air suspension felt stiff as a skateboard on Germanys marble-top roads,the 19-inch wheels felt way too big to be comfortable,and the big Audi hurtled on bumps with a vengeance. And this was with the air suspension set to comfort. But this car glides over rutted sections of the Rajasthan highway like its a hovercraft. How has Audi managed this? Smaller wheels to begin with,a raised ride height on the air suspension (which also means more air in the suspension chamber) and possibly lower air pressure. No one was actually going to do 250kph on Rajasthans roads after all,right?
After half an hour behind the wheel,however,I wasnt so sure. The 200kph had already popped up on the dial a couple of times and every time I gave the car a bootful of throttle on an empty stretch,the needle seemed to sweep past 180 so easily that I had to check myself. The 372bhp FSI V8 motor is refined and smooth,and winds up to the limiter at 7,000rpm. It felt like it could do another 1,000rpm easily.
On city roads,the A8L cruised effortlessly with plenty of torque on hand. The eight-speed gearbox is ready to drop a few gears at the slightest twitch of your right foot. Flawless driving manners is one of this cars USPs and Audi,as a result,has decided to launch its petrol V8 before more practical models. Yes,a 3.0 TDi will follow soon,but if you want to drive,it has to be this petrol car. The unique aluminium space frame chassis,Audis famous four- wheel drive quattro system and a sophisticated suspension set-up make this five-metre-long car dance like a Swift.
The car is lowered as soon as you select a sportier suspension setting. Gearbox and engine responses tighten up when you select S on the gear lever and the A8L takes off. Theres almost no proof of the extra inertia produced by the heavy body; the Audi turns in with the agility of a two-seater and you soon forget youre driving a car of this size. Like most Audis,however,this cars helm lacks feel,and you often wish the steering was a little more talkative. However,overall,its pretty clear. Audi,for the first time,has a car that can take on the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes S-Class and hopes to win; a massive step forward for Audi,the quiet,slightly reserved,but hi-tech and cool brand that believes in delivering a technical knockout every time.
(The writer is deputy editor,AutocarIndia)