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Driving Audi's palace on wheels

S.Muralidhar | Updated on August 17, 2011 Published on January 24, 2011

Audi A8L   -  S. Muralidhar

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Audi A8L

Concealed and tucked away in the corners on top of the dashboard in the new Audi A8L are a pair of elegant Bang & Olufsen tweeters that pop out when the music system is turned on.

Also featured in the previous generation A8, these newer, more compact versions of the acoustic lenses are not just visual highlights or eye candy, they are extremely efficient, high-end audio equipment too - traits that are very much like the Audi flagship, the cockpit of which the tweeters adorn.

The speaker grilles are made out of polished aluminium and the A8L has a lot of that material all around – 240 kgs just in the Audi Space Frame body. And to stretch the comparison a bit, just like the new A8L’s boost in performance, the new B&O sound system with its two amplifiers produces a whopping 1,400 watts of total power directed through 19 channels to 19 speakers inside the passenger cabin. That is more than the total power of many high-end home theatre systems!

Refreshed and reloaded

The new A8L has been chosen for a purpose. Coming to India within months of its introduction worldwide, the new A8 is based on the Volkswagen MLB platform, the same platform that is also likely to be used for the A6 and the new Bentley Continental.

Audi India is pinning its hopes on the new A8 to take on the competition in the super luxury saloon segment and the new car has its sights set firmly on the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S class. And that is the reason why the long wheelbase version of the A8 or the A8L is the one that has been chosen for the Indian market. It is, of course, assumed that Indian buyers like the Chinese will appreciate the luxurious amount of legroom that has been liberated thanks to the 13-centimetre increase in the wheelbase.

The new Audi A8L has a lot more character than the previous generation. Though it was distinctive, the previous A8 was a lot simpler in design and lacking in charisma compared to the new generation. With its new, more generous dimensions – boasting of 5,267mm in overall length, 2,992 mm wheelbase and 1,949mm in overall width, the new A8L is also a significantly larger flagship for Audi.

In terms of exterior design, there a lot of subtle interplay between surfaces in the new A8L. There are a lot of the classic Audi design elements at play too like the single-frame radiator grille, the tornado line that runs along the side of the car just below the window sill, and the unmistakable Audi design signature is the LED headlights.

Talking about which, the optional LED headlamp package, integrates 76 light-emitting diodes are designed for the life of the vehicle! The standard tail-lights too house 72 LEDs and are some of the lowest power consuming lights in the class. The other high-end system in the A8L is the night-vision assistant, which integrates a thermal imaging camera in the single-frame grille and is a far infrared system. The camera, which is automatically cleaned when dirty and heated when cold, reacts to the heat radiated by objects on the road and an on-board computer converts the information from the camera into black and white images to be displayed on the driver information system screen.

The new A8L’s design is as understated and stately as it needs to be to attract the buyer in the Rs 70 lakh plus segment. In keeping with the Indian buyer’s liking for chrome trim the new A8 also has a lot of that integrated into the exteriors and interiors.

Vrooming around

We test drove the new A8L petrol in the land of palaces – Jaipur – an oft-repeated, yet inspiring locale for driving new cars. Get up close with the new A8L and there is an air of familiarity about its design inside and out, but there is also a lot of newness that you’ll be gleefully pointing out. There is a bit of gadgetry missing in the India-spec A8L because of legislation (such as adaptive cruise control), but there is still a lot to look forward to.

Inside the new A8L, you immediately feel the sense of space. It is wider and has more legroom that the predecessor. Audi engineers have also managed to give the interior of the new A8L more class and luxury feel than the predecessor. With the right choice of colour and finish, and the extensive use of high quality leather and real wood veneer, the passenger cabin of the A8L exudes luxury.

And to make sure that the A8L’s customer feels that he or she is getting close to the kind of bespoke luxury that other Volkswagen group brand – Bentley – is more known for, Audi engineers have also put together a number of finely machined or hand crafted components. The red back-lit aluminium start-stop button for example, or the chrome air nozzles, the fine wood inlays (you get seven types of wood to choose from) and the hand-stitched leather cover on the steering wheel rim.

The centre of attraction in the cockpit area of the new A8L is the newly developed MMI operating and multimedia system. A kind of third generation of the original interface that Audi pioneered and many others imitated, the new MMI is positioned below the keypad for the climate control system. Positioned perfectly to be within reach when the driver’s hand is resting on the elegantly crafted gear selector of the 8-speed triptronic, the new MMI system forms a three-zone haptic layout. Audio controls are in the zone on the right, the centre zone is the simple large rotary push button and the combination of the hard and soft keys for navigating the main menus. On the left, is the pad that either displays six radio station buttons for immediate access. This pad also doubles up as a touchpad, with handwriting recognition for enabling the driver to scrawl single letter pre-programmed commands.

Let it rip

Stepping on the gas one immediately gets a feel of the considerable power available on tap in the new A8L. The 4.2-litre (4,163cc) FSI engine develops a peak power of 372 bhp. The V8 engine is highly refined and efficient, powering the large sedan from 0 to 100 kmph in 5.8 seconds. Thanks to a number of weight reduction measures, including the aluminium Audi Space Frame, the new A8L engine’s power-to-weight ratio is also better than the predecessor’s.

The new A8 also gets a new electronically controlled drivetrain. The 8-speed triptronic automatic transmission has been teamed with Audi’s proprietary Quattro permanent all-wheel drive. It features eight tightly spaced gears, though the overall gear ratio is a high 7.0:1 between the shortest and the longest gears, helping reduce fuel consumption by about six per cent. There is also the drive mode, sports mode or the manual mode to choose from, including steering column-mounted paddle shifters for manually engaging the gears.

During the test drive along the city roads, state highways and private roads in and around Jaipur the new A8L petrol comes through as providing the right amount of sportiness and comfort. But there are changes to the suspension and driving mode that need to be made to get the optimum performance from this large sedan. For example, we thought that the ‘auto’ mode would be the most preferred by the potential owners of the A8L since the adaptive air suspension in the car seemed to offer the supplest and most comfortable ride quality. The dynamic mode, which is meant for drivers who seek a sportier ride quality was the harshest in bad quality tarmac.

Despite considerable efforts at vibration and noise reduction there was a bit of wind noise in the cabin at speeds of over 120 kmph. But that was also evident because the cabin was purposefully kept quiet to observe noise levels. With the audio system playing the B&O speakers will effectively cancel any intruding exterior noise.

Actually, the Audi Drive Select system integrates the adaptive air suspension, the eight-speed triptronic, the servotronic power steering, the Audi pre sense basic safety system and the engine control unit. The system modifies the characteristics of the shock absorbers, the air springs and the accelerator and adapts the shift points, power steering boost etc, to ensure that the best performance is obtained. The driver can also choose to reset the characteristics of each of these drive modes by manually selecting and can also compose an individual mode.

The new Audi A8L is going on sale early next month and will first be offered with the 4.2-litre FSI petrol engine. The 3-litre TDI diesel engine will follow soon about a month later. The torquey diesel V6 engine weighing just 194 kgs will be capable of producing 184 kW or 250 bhp of power and a total of 550 Nm of peak torque.

Audi is claiming that the new A8L will have the most comfortable and luxurious rear seat package. There is a lot more about the car waiting to be discovered. Expect pricing to be above Rs 70 lakh. If you are a young tycoon looking for an upgrade to the super luxury sedan class the new A8L is surely worth considering.

Published on January 24, 2011
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