2014 Audi A8L TDI review chicagotribune com

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AUDI A8 L Electric Cars

2014 Audi A8L TDI review

By Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune

12:24 p.m. CST. March 8, 2014

Diesel and luxury are no longer regarded with irony. The new class of diesel luxury sedans are nothing like their obnoxious and fossilized predecessors and their performance is superior in torque and fuel economy than luxury hybrids .

Despite the price disparity between gasoline and diesel, and the historical tendency for Americans to opt for gas over diesel, Audi and its parent Volkswagen Group attributed 23.5 percent of its 2013 American sales to the Turbocharged Direct Injection diesel.

The clean-burning, low-sulfur-emitting diesel may find the ideal marriage in the full-size luxury class. Diesels operate at their most efficient on the highway, and extended-wheelbase models like the A8 L are made for cruising the open road, whether as a driver or passenger.

Aside from the TDI diesel sticker on the lower panel of the front doors, the A8 L TDI didn’t stand out on the outside. It’s not smoky or loud, and aside from the tall up-in-your grille, the LED daytime running lights and taillights(LED headlights, oddly, cost extra), and the retracting side mirrors, the A8 saves its distinction for the inside.

This is a good thing. Starting at $82,500 and with my test model coming in just under $100,000 the A8 is dignified without ever coming across as pretentious. If I had one word to describe its many capabilities, it would be “unnecessary.” But I’d have to add “oh so nice.”

In other words, “luxury.” And Audi’s flagship luxury liner is brimming with it.

I’m going to start in the rear seats because the A8 is as much about driving as being driven.

The L stands for long wheelbase but we’re going to appropriate it for the large rear seat with the dual climate control console. Power sunscreens on the rear windows and rear windshield come standard. To bump the first-class status to the executive realm, Audi offers a rear seat comfort package with separate power rear seats, power lumbar support, heated seats and more for $3,500.

Dual in-seat 10.2-inch DVD players are available as well.

The panoramic sunroof ($1,300) complements the power sunroof over the front seats, opening up the interior even more, cementing this first-class flight status for passengers. The rear seats are such an elemental part of the car they don’t fold down unless you want to pay an extra $800 for a pass-through for skis or other narrow equipment.

The creature comforts overwhelm how the vehicle actually performs, and this is part of the design synthesis of the A8. The 8-speed automatic transmission is as smooth as the interior, part of VW Group’s excellent heritage of shifts so subtle you really can’t feel it. Tiptronic offers an added distraction but the A8 does it so well on its own Audi must just want to prove how superior the machine is to the driver’s shifting ability.

There are three drive suspensions, Comfort, Automatic and Dynamic, and they are accordingly responsive to the terrain. At cruising speeds, there is little to no sensation of the road passing beneath you. The Dynamic mode offers more sport, more sensation if you want to drive.

Dodging Chicago potholes with the 20-inch wheels with all-season tires damaged me more than the car because I feared its end, or my end with it, but the air suspension cushioned it as best it could.

This luxury liner eschews the V8 for a 3-liter 6-cylinder diesel that churns out 406 pound-feet of torque. That’s beastmode territory, but it doesn’t translate into hyper acceleration. At 6.4 seconds, the 0-60 mph time is a second slower than the 2012 A8 with the 4.2-liter V-8 gas engine. Such a high torque output at relatively low RPMs means the A8 TDI retains that smooth but powerful luxury feel even off the line, where acceleration feels zippy if not necessarily explosive.

For a 4,564-pound car, it’s remarkable.

Safety features abound. Traction control and Audi’s legendary quattro all-wheel drive keep the A8 firmly planted. For $3,250 extra, Audi offers the driver assistance package with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, which senses traffic ahead of you and can stop the car. It’s unsettling to test this feature, but the many sensors ringing the sedan pick up traffic just fine.

Audi lane assist vibrates the seat when you’re drifting over lanes without an indicator, and the pre-sense feature detects when cars are in your blind spot with a light on the side mirror.

Luxury gadgets

More assistance in this package comes in the split-view rear camera. I’m a traditionalist; I still check my mirrors and over my shoulder when I back up. The split screen shows what’s behind you and a bird’s eye view of the car as it backs up.

I was looking over my shoulder a whole lot less.

From operation to performance, there is a sense of effortlessness. In this void comes some pampering that exceeds luxury. The premium package ($4,000) includes a 22-way comfort seat setting with a 5-way massaging seat that never ever got old.

The Bang Olufsen sound system has twin tweeters that emerge from the dash, creating with the center screen a tri-corner techno-display that never ceased to inspire. But is this 1400-watt, 19-speaker system worth $6,300 more than the standard Bose surround sound system with 14 speakers? I don’t know but it’s like sitting in a sound studio as the world passes by, a sense of complete disengagement from what surrounds.

Audi’s infotainment system challenges Chrysler’s U-Connect as the most intuitive and simplest to navigate. Audi’s system is more refined, fittingly, and has a touchpad next to the gear stick that switches from preset radio or satellite stations to a letter pad for navigation: instead of pressing a letter, you draw it.

Ostensibly it’s so you don’t have to look down, but really it’s just to show off. The rotary dials on either side of the steering wheel take a little bit of getting used to, as opposed to the single up/down clicks on the rear of the Chrysler family steering wheels, and the main difference is one of thumbs over fingers.

Diesel advantage

Luxury sedan buyers may expect all of this, but where they should be impressed is with the highway fuel economy of the TDI.

The A8L’s class-leading 36 mph on the highway means that a full tank (23.8 gallons) will last for more than 800 miles. EPA lists mpg at 24 city/28 combined, compared to 21 combined for the 2012 V-8. Slushing about Chicago’s winter brought me in at 27.2 combined and my highway score closer to 34 mpg.

In traffic the diesel fails but it’s unparalleled on the highway.

BMW is offering a diesel in its 740Ld for the first time in America. It starts at $30yes, thirty dollars—more than the A8 TDI, with an expected fuel economy similar to the A8, and similar specs on horsepower and torque. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz S350 Bluetec 4matic starts about $10,000 higher and loses on fuel economy, with a combined mpg of 25.

The 2014 A8L TDI spoils.


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