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BREATHLESS PERFORMANCE, BUT KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, May 2, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

All-New Audi A8 L Quattro

BREATHLESS PERFORMANCE, BUT KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD By HARVEY SCHWARTZ

The 2004 Audi A8 L, a stretched version of the impressive all-new Audi A8, is the only A8 that is sold in the US. The car is awesome in every respect, from the long, sleek and sexy styling, to the magnificent 4.2 liter DOHC, 40-valve V8 engine that pumps out 330 hp, to the silky smooth 6-speed automatic transmission with Sport Shift and Audi's semi-manual shift mode, to the independent four-corner air-suspension that is sensational and has settings for height control and damper rebound, to the massive four-wheel disc brakes that are incredibly strong and quickly slows the big Continental 255/45R18 Conti Touring Contact tires that wrap around the stunning 18x8-inch aluminum wheels.    

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz

The big roomy interior is very tastefully executed using the finest leather, light birch wood, real brushed aluminum trim all around, and the latest in luxury, convenience and safety features to make your trip all the more enjoyable. That's where all the superlatives stop.  The Audi MMI or Multi Media Interface is a big pain, in the you-know-where, and you'll have to use the system to set and use just about anything electronic.  It's okay to use when the car is not moving, but the problem is that when you want to make changes at speed, such as set and operate the great sounding 12-speaker Bose Audio System, or set and operate the 4-zone climate control system, or set and operate the suspension height or dampers, or set and operate the very precise Navigation System, you have to take your eyes off the road and look at the centered 7in. color LCD screen, find what you are looking for and then click it on.  In the seven days that I was behind the wheel, I was just starting to understand the system but didn't continue since it was only a temporary loan. I'm sure that owners will have the time to learn everything about operating the Audi MMI system.  It is a little simpler that the infamous BMW's 740i's i-Drive system.  The problem that I found, and I'll say it again, is that you have to take your eyes off the road to make any changes to any of the above-mentioned modes.  You have to usually push a system button, then turn the large, chrome knurled knob to your desired choice, and then push the knob down when your selection is made.  This takes time and vital concentration that I'd rather have on the road and at the task at hand-keeping this powerful, high-performing sport sedan on the road.   There has to be an easier way to utilize all the technology available today.  Why not just use dials, knobs, switches and levers like on other vehicles showcasing the same technology?

Other than the cumbersome Audi MMI system, the all-new Audi A8 L drives like a dream.  It is one of the best looking and best performing full-size luxury sedan on the market.

With German precision in construction and artistry in coachwork, the all-aluminum body and frame of the A8 L becomes one of the most flawless automobile surfaces ever produced.  Graceful and good-looking from any angle, the low-slung, wedge shaped A8 L features a sleek front end that heightens a subtly rising shoulder and belt line front to rear.  An artful arc of roofline adds to the effect of uninterrupted flow from the hood to the trunk lip spoiler.  The front end is highlighted with bright HID headlamps, Audi's signature front grille and a set of powerful round projector beam fog lamps.  Bright chrome strips wrap around the front grille and lower air intake.  The rear is highlighted with bright LED brake and tail lamps, and 2-3 inch wide, polished exhaust tips. With the long wheelbase, the 2004 A8 L incorporates rear doors that are five inches longer compared to the standard-wheebase model sold in Europe.  The extra-large rear doors make for convenient entry and exit to the spacious rear passenger cabin.  Interior volume is increased nearly three cu.ft.  Front and rear passenger headroom and shoulder room are increased as well, and rear seat legroom is increased over 2 inches.  All five passengers enjoy unequaled seating comfort.  Driver and front passenger are enveloped in ergonomic, 16-way powered front bucket seats designed for superior body contouring.  Front seat heating and cooling, electrically adjusting lumbar support and massage functions are optional while the rear seats can be optioned with electrically adjusting lumbar support and a recline feature.  An automatic 4-zone heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system (HVAC) offering separate front and rear-seat controls is optional.  The HVAC system incorporates indirect ventilation that provides a continuous exchange of cabin air yet prevents drafts.  To be certain that all this climate-controlled comfort is delivered efficiently and unobtrusively, the HVAC operating system itself has been engineered with refined acoustic properties.

Between the front seats is the first of two main components of the Audi Multi Media Interface.  MMI is an onboard electronics control center that consists of a turn-and-push selector knob surrounded by 8-function keys.  Audi MMI provides operation, adjustment and control of onboard electronics-everything from the sound system to the driver-selected suspension setup.  The MMI command center is set in the center console just aft of the shift selector and forward of the center armrest within easy reach.  Atop the center console near the dash is a 7in. 'hide-away' color monitor that displays all information.  A 3in. monitor in the center of the instrument cluster displays basic operating information such as gear selected, mpg, and outside temperature.  A great system, but you have to take your eyes off the road, as I mentioned before, to operate it. The beautiful instrument cluster is easy to see, understand and is comprised of a 160 mph speedometer, 8,000 rpm tachometer and smaller fuel/engine temperature gauges.  Bright LED lights that warn of system or safety failure surround these gauges.

Audi engineers have given the all-new 2004 A8 L a suspension system that resolves the classic conflict between luxury and sport suspensions-luxury being too soft for sport, and sport too stiff for luxury.  A first-in-class, fully pneumatic suspension system gives the A8 L an unrivaled combination of ride and handling performance.  The Adaptive Air Suspension system starts with an aluminum 4-link front axle layout and a trapezoidal-link rear axle for responsive handling and precise steering.   Air spring struts at all four wheels, with sensors continually monitor and infinitely adjust the air strut damping, instantly and perfectly matching the suspension response to ever-changing road conditions.  Front and rear anti-roll bars also enhance the flat ride.

The system also affords you a selection of varying ground clearance and damping rate to match the suspension setup to road conditions and your driving style.  A self-leveling feature helps keep the new A8 L in steady equilibrium regardless of load.  Under the hood lies the performance heart of the A8 L.  The new 4.2 liter, V8 uses a magnesium, two-stage intake manifold with dual air intake paths for better engine breathing across the rpm range.  Designed with proven Audi architecture including a DOHC and five-valves per cylinder. This is one of the most powerful-and yet refined engines in the industry.  Horsepower is rated 330 at 6,500 rpm and torque is 317 lb. ft. at 3,500 rpm.  The power comes on seamless with a flat torque curve.   Helping deliver the engine performance to the wheels is a new 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.  With a 30 percent wider gear spread than the five-speed it replaces, low-end torque is improved.  Less power dissipation than in the previous model also means more of the engine power makes it to the wheels.  The new six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission offers a choice of operating and driving styles.  For fully automatic convenience, simply place the gear selector in Drive-D.  

For added performance, a Sport mode-S delays the automatic up-shifts for higher revs and more spirited acceleration, while automatic downshifts occur faster during deceleration for added control with engine-brake and low-end torque.  Whichever shift mode is selected, a Direct Shift Program (DSP) monitors and 'learns' the primary operator's driving style and then automatically selects from among 200 programmed shift-patterns to optimize the gear changes for any given driving behavior, resulting in a nearly personalized transmission mode. For drivers who prefer to manually select gears, the shift selector can be moved to the Tiptronic shift to the right of 'D'.  In this position, you can move the gear selector forward for up shifts and backward for downshifts. Adding to the stability, traction and performance of the new A8 L is the legendary Audi Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system and rack & pinion steering with Servotronic.  The Quattro system uses a Torsen center differential and transfers power front-to-back and side-to-side to maintain the best traction, while Servotronic vehicle speed-sensitive power steering assist delivers a consistent feel for the road and excellent driving control. The innovative aluminum body of the new A8 L is supported by a new generation of the Audi Space Frame (ASF).  The ASF provides the backbone for the new A8 L's ride comfort and handling characteristics. Sitting behind the beefy, tilting/telescoping/heated and leather wrapped steering wheel, performance is where the new Audi A8 L shines with a sub-7sec. sprint to 60 mph from a standstill that is awesome considering the A8 L's 4,399 lb. curb weight.  Also, for such a long and heavy car, the A8 L performs as well as any of it's competition, and that's with a front end that pushes like crazy, forcing the front tires into giving up grip at full go on a turn.  Watch out for understeer.  Just give it a little less throttle and the wheels ease off, then put the pedal to the metal and the car follows nicely.  On a 200 ft. skidpad, the A8 L pulls 0.79 g's that is not bad for a big, heavy sedan.

Adding to the performance as well as safety of the new A8 L is a braking system that features huge 14.2-inch vented rotors up front that are clamped by big, dual piston calipers, and 12.2-inch vented rotors and a big single piston caliper in the rear.  The system also uses ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist to give you the utmost control during severe braking.  The new A8 L stops from 60 to 0 mph in just 126 ft. While superior handling and performance offer safety benefits, the new A8 L has no shortage of dedicated safety equipment.  Dual front airbags incorporate two-stage, dual threshold activation for greater safety with reduced force.  Dual threshold front and rear seat belt tensioners take up slack just prior to a collision to ensure proper belt positioning and optimum restraint.  Front seat belt force limiters ease off the restraining pressure as forward momentum is slowed.  Active front head restraints pivot forward to reduce the risk of head and neck injury in a rear collision.  In the event of a side collision, front and rear side-impact airbag supplemental restraints provide additional protection for outboard occupants.  The Audi SIDEGUARD airbag curtain supplemental restraint covers the side windows from front to back to provide additional protection for outboard passenger head and chest areas and to reduce the chance of shattered glass flying into the cabin and injuring passengers.  Additional protection for front seat riders is provided by knee bolster airbags.  Eight crash sensors-two each in front, on each side and in the rear of the car-improve airbag deployment rate and timing.  Additionally, these sensors can switch on hazard lights, shut off the engine and fuel pumps, unlock the doors, switch on the interior lights and place an emergency call via Audi Telematics by OnStar. An Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) integrates an ABS, ASR (Anti Slip Regulation) traction control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and hydraulic brake assist for improved vehicle control under various emergency or potentially dangerous road situations.  Additional safety features include the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, and 3-point safety belts for all 5-passengers. For comfort and style, the A8 L includes a full range of standard and optional luxury features that include the Audi Navigation System using DVD technology, a 12-speaker Premium Bose Surround Sound system with subwoofer and CD changer in the big glove box that also includes Audio Pilot noise compensation technology, power remote, side mirrors that are self-dimming and heated, front & rear parking assists, dual-pane glass to keep outside noise out, remote keyless entry, electronic cruise-control, variable speed wipers/washers with headlamp power washer, tire pressure monitor, electric rear sunshade with manual side window sunshades, power glass sunroof, grab handles above each door, storage slots in each front door, rear vanity mirrors, anti-theft system, pull-down rear center armrest with pop-out dual cupholders and storage, puddle lamps at the bottom of each door for better viewing of the ground at night, electro-chromic rearview mirror, and because this is a stretched model with longer legroom, it also comes with a cavernous trunk with enough cargo space for your luggage and golf bags.

The all-new Audi A8 L is a great looking and great performing 4-door, full-size, sedan. It is both fun and exciting to drive and the interior fit and finish is one of the best. Prices start at just $68,500.00 and my fully loaded test vehicle was priced at $74,290.00. That is still thousands of dollars below the price for a competitive Mercedes-Benz 500 S class sedan with a 305 hp V8, and less rear legroom, to the BMW 740 L, which is closer in power with a 325 hp V8, and an extended rear cabin.   © Harvey Schwartz For more information on Audi products, go to www.audiusa.com.  More photos from Harvey Schwartz can be found at www.autofotos.com

SIDEBAR COMMENT

Audis at their best exude a quality akin to a finely-chiseled and machined metal sculpture. The new A8 is Audi at its best. It looks and drives like a rolling work of art - something that cannot be said of its highly capable but uninspiring-looking counterpart at BMW (the 7-Series). While the S-Class Mercedes can give the A8 an artistic run for its money, the S-Class has become virtually as common as the Toyota Camry in the Southland community. Only Volkswagen's new Phaeton can match the craftsmanship and uniqueness of the A8. For those that value performance, however, the A8's lighter, aluminum Spaceframe body (4,399 lbs. curb weight for the A8 L, versus 5,194 lbs for the Phaeton) and the A8's slightly more powerful version of the same motor will tip the scale in favor of the Audi. - Roy Nakano

  SPECIFICATIONS   Name of vehicle:  2004 Audi A8 L   Price: $68,500.00   Engine type: front longitudinal, 4.2liter, DOHC, 40-valve, all-alloy V8, all-wheel-drive   Horsepower: 330 at 6,500 rpm Torque: 317 lb.ft. at 3,500 rpm   Transmission type: 6-speed automatic, with Sport Shift and semi-manual Tiptronic   Front suspension: air struts with air springs, variable-rate air shocks, anti-roll bar   Rear suspension: air struts with air springs, variable-rate air shocks, anti-roll bar   Wheels/tires:  18x8 in. aluminum wheels/255/45R18 tires   Brakes: Front: 14.2 in. power-assisted, vented front rotors, dual piston caliper Rear: 12.2 in. power-assisted, vented rear rotors, single piston caliper.  With ABS, Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist   Overall length: 204 in.   Overall width: 74.6 in.   Overall height: 57.3 in.   Curb weight: 4,399 lbs.   EPA mileage: 17 mpg city / 24 mpg highway   0-60 mph: 6.8 sec.   60-0 mph: 126 ft.

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