Audi A8 review: The brand’s flagship limousine is forgettable, despite its stellar performance and luxe, spacious interiors

By Daryl Lee 5 March, 2019
Audi A8

The four rings’ flagship limousine would be impressive… if it weren’t so bland

On the surface of things, there’s a lot to love about the new Audi A8. It has arguably the nicest interior among its competitors, and that’s no mean feat considering said competition includes the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS. While those cars have their own unique appeal and quirks, we think the Audi has an interior that’s palatable to even the most finicky buyer.

Open-pore wood trim, piano black surfaces, brushed aluminium and buttery leather upholstery all contribute to giving the impression of the Audi A8 being luxurious, yet restrained.

Again, this is no mean feat, since modern-day luxury is all about an excess of excess. Just look at the direction Gucci and Louis Vuitton have been taking the past few years if you need examples.

Quality is, as you’d expect, beyond reproach. Particularly the new infotainment system, something it shares with the all-electric, e-tron SUV. It ditches the jog dial interface and now uses a touchscreen instead—specifically a 10.1-inch main screen and a secondary 8.6-inch one that primarily controls the air-conditioning.

And it’s patently clear that Audi has delivered the goods with its new infotainment system interface. Unlike other manufacturers which still haven’t figured out how to make one that isn’t a tangle of nested menus, this is dead easy to use, with big icons on the home screen and shortcut icons on the side.

Sure, you could complicate matters for yourself and dive deep into the labyrinthine menus and sub-menus to tweak the bass or interior ambient lighting levels just the way you want it. But for the most part, and for most people, that’s something they’ll, thankfully, never have to deal with. The Audi A8 is fine for the 90th percentile of users straight out of the box (or more accurately, shipping container).

And you can tell Audi has really sweated the details, with the Audi A8 being crammed full of them. We could talk about the way the air-conditioning vents rotate when the car is turned off to display an unbroken line of wood veneer across the dashboard’s fascia, or the way said vents’ airflow can be opened/shut via a touch-sensitive track, or even how the tweeters rise up from the corner of the dashboard like little UFOs when the car is started.

But our favourite detail has to be the interior door handles. Carved from solid aluminium, it’s a joy to look at and manipulate, but more than that is its two-stage operation. Pulled gently (5mm, apparently), it releases the door latches electronically, but pull it all the way towards you and it releases the door latches mechanically (Bowden cables do the work, apparently).

It’s an ingenious solution, because it allows for the electronic door latch mechanism and its mechanical failsafe to be built into the same housing, without having to figure out where to hide the unsightly handle for the latter.

And yes, of course the new Audi A8 is refined. Shut the door that could probably perform double duty in a bank vault and marvel as the outside world simply melts away. Wind noise is minimal and it’s the same with road noise, or any other sort of pesky things that might interrupt your relaxation in a cabin that Audi says resembles a “lavish, spacious lounge”.

A pair of TV screens attached to the backs of the front seats is available as an option, and there’s a small tablet in the rear seats’ fold-down central armrest that allows you to control the rear window blinds, reading lights and air-conditioning.

And should you decide to give the chauffeur a day off, you’ll find the Audi A8 is just as capable to drive as to be driven in. All-wheel-drive, all-wheel-steer and adaptive air suspension makes the Audi A8 remarkably surefooted for a 5.3m-long, two-tonne car.

The ultra-exotic materials used in its rear crossmember (carbon fibre) and front strut brace (magnesium alloy) also go some way to its handling prowess, by stiffening and lightening the car at the same time.

And its drivetrain, too. Its 3-litre V6 develops 340hp and 500Nm, catapulting the A8 from a standstill to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds. Granted, some ultra-hot hatchbacks these days will break the five-second barrier with ease, but even the most cynical would be hard-pressed to call the Audi A8 slow. Or cramped, for that matter. Its legroom and headroom has increased by 32mm and its door portals enlarged. Not that the preceding model was a medieval dungeon, but any improvement in interior space is always welcome.

On the basis of all the factors outlined above, it edges out most of its rivals. The Audi A8 has a better looking interior than the sombre BMW 7 Series, handles better than the more comfort-biased Mercedes-Benz S-Class and has a more resolved drivetrain than the Lexus LS with its sometimes-hesitant gearbox.

On the other hand, the BMW 7 Series is more engaging, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a greater sense of occasion and the Lexus LS is more opulent (if a little gaudy).

Anyway, the point we’re trying to make is this: while the Audi’s competitors were memorable for one reason or other and for better or worse, the Audi A8 struggled to make a lasting impression on us, despite it being objectively better than all its segment competitors.

Not that it’s bad in any way — it isn’t — just, well, easily forgettable.

Car Specifications

Engine: 2,995cc, 24-valves, V6, turbocharged
Power: 340hp at 5,000-6,400rpm
Torque:500Nm at 1,370-4,500rpm
0-100km/hr: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 250km/hr (electronically limited)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel Consumption: 7.5L/100km
VES Band: C2 ($20,000 surcharge)
Price: $437,479 (including COE, excluding options)