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2011 Audi A8

2011 Audi A8 Reviews
Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.5

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2011 AUDI A8: Bugs in Engineering

by bigtruckseries:      Nov 22, 2010 - Updated Feb 22, 2011

Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: SPACIOUS. Lovely interior materials. Attractive exterior. Easily the best A8 ever.
Cons: VERY EXPENSIVE. Ridiculously complicated controls.
The Bottom Line: 

While the A8 has what it takes to compete with the BMW7 and MercedesS550, some truly ridiculous design decisions stop it from reaching the top of the heap.

My first experience with a German Luxury yacht was with my business partner’s  Audi A8L

I enjoyed the sublime driving dynamics and the premium quality of the high end electronic systems which included: Front turning lights that automatically activated as the car dipped into and out of turns;  a great ultrasonic front/rear end parking system  and a relatively easy to use Navigation system.
I was thoroughly satisfied by the hushed interior and the X-wing like cockpit lighting theme of brilliant red, orange and blue.  What I did not like about the outgoing A8L was the less-than-spacious interior  and the cheap quality of some of the interior materials.
For 2011, the Audi’s A8 returns more luxurious than its predecessor; more powerful than its predecessor and a few thousand dollars  more expensive. This time around, Audi has implemented more class leading technology, spent more time placing lavish lighting fixtures and even expanded on the interior space of the standard and extended length vehicles.  Its obvious Audi has taken lessons from both the 7-series and the S-class.


I felt the design of the outgoing A8 was too conservative for my tastes. Definitely not as sharp as the 7-series and definitely not as rich as the W221 S-class. This time around, the A8 offers much more polarizing light fixtures – especially the obtuse angle shaped turning signals up front  - and a rear design that follows the design theme on the A4. The grill is massive enough to be on their SUV’s and not look out of place. I didn’t like it that much and I felt the grill size of the outgoing model looked better.

A $1400 upgrade package allows you to upgrade the entire lighting system to LED's. 

No sooner did I actually get in the car but I had my first negative experience with the materials. As I  lifted up my right knee,  I put enough upwards force on the gear shifter to completely pop it right off the column – as if it was a snap off Lego block.  Both I and the dealer were stunned.  He simply took it and snapped it back on. 
I thought to myself – if something like that could happen so simply to such an important piece, what might happen to the rest of the vehicle?   
My next negative experience occurred when I tried to adjust the mirrors.  In virtually every other vehicle I’ve driven (lets use my new SRT8 for a reference), the side view mirrors are controlled by twisting a control stalk left  or right to select the mirror you want to adjust, and then the joystick is moved through its axis’s  to adjust the mirror.   Not so easy in Audi land.  Apparently, some dummy in Research & Development decided to make the control stalk not only select the mirrors, but, also activate the mirrors fold-in/ fold –out switching.  You wouldn’t believe it, but as I rotated the dial left and right trying to adjust the mirrors without making them fold, at least 3 minutes passed by. I actually ended giving up on the driver’s mirror because I was afraid the control stalk would break.
Fortunately, for the rest of my experience, nothing else fell apart.    
I adjusted my chair and got ready to drive.
I was faced with an absolutely daunting sea of buttons and knobs.   The dealer mentioned that the car had heated/cooled /ventilated massage seats and I was eager to test them out.  Unfortunately, to activate the massage features or the motorized thigh cushions, you need to manipulate yet another rotating joystick on the side of the seat (where you can’t see it) which brings up a menu on the navigation screen showing you what your cursor is pointed at and which portion of the 4-way D-pad (again, where you can't see it) you’d need to press to activate the feature.  I simply cannot understand why the industry isn’t simply copying the Mercedes S550 implementation of the seat controls into a central control knob.

The Audi electronic design is so pedantic that I found it completely distracting to use.  My S550 allows me to merely roll the dial and press it to select between seat controls, radio controls, navigation controls, or digital TV controls – meanwhile, Audi and BMW have backed off from their control knobs as if they want to forget them entirely.

The A8 I tested was a loaded standard wheelbase model.  
Length of the standard model has increased from the outgoing 2010’s 199.3 inches to 202 inches while width has increased from 74.6 inches to 76.7.  Height has increased from 56.9 inches to 57.5 and miraculously, curb weight has only increased from 4321 lbs to 4409 lbs.
Official specs claim headroom has decreased by 0.1 inches up front while the rear headroom has gained 0.1 inches.   Rear leg space has increased from 37.6” to 38.7”  while specs claim the front leg room has remained the same at  41.4”.  Damn the specs!  I found that the physically larger 2011 model offered me plenty more headroom than the outgoing model.  What I noticed most of all was that ingress was simpler due to the seemingly wider door cuts. I didn’t have to duck so low to get in and out of it like I had to with the previous car.
Even though I knocked the aforementioned shifter off its base, I had plenty of legroom and plenty of stretch room.  Not as much as in the S550, but it was adequate enough to feel comfortable and hugged by the sumptuous leather. Oh yes – this car has fabulous leather seats.  The perforation allowed both the heating and cooling elements to give my backside the “hotel room” feel and the undersides of my legs enjoyed the waterfall cushions.
The seat bolstering was just right. These seats offered excellent lateral support for the entire upper and lower portions of my back and I’m sure smaller drivers will absolutely love them. If I can get comfortable in this car, I doubt there's many people who couldn't.
Normally I don’t test a car when its dark, but darkness comes early during fall in NYC.  I was able to see how this car drives at night and during daytime.  (I’ll be back to retest the L model once they receive it).
The cabin has lovely fiber/LED lamp lines which surround the overhead console, the door sills and the rear passenger overhead. They are bright enough to provide some lamination but not bright enough to distract the driver. There are also LED click on lights for all passengers who need to read.
For Audi interior lovers, the interior has an opulent, hand crafted look to it with several choices of wood and soft touch materials to suite personal taste.  Wood accents adorn the doors, sweeps across the center console and even adorns  the backs of the seats.
Soft leather stretches across the top of the dashboard, brushed aluminum provides an Apple-like lavishness, and even more stitched leather and wood await the backseat passengers. The interior design theme is sharp to say the least.

The 2011’s retuned 4.2 Liter, direct injection engine puts out 372 horses, 328 pound feet of torque and is linked to an ultra smooth 8-speed ZF  transmission.  Though the A8 offers slightly less power than the 383HP S550 and the BMW 750’s new 402HP V8, the Audi’s aluminum construction elements  gives it a competitive power to weight ratio, even with its standard “Quattro” All wheel Drive. The 0-60 is clocked at a competitive 5.7 seconds. The 8 speed also helps the new engine get slightly better fuel economy:  17city/27 highway  up from 16/23.
The A8’s steering wheel offers a very smooth texture to grip, and made directing the car a treat. Controls were logically laid out and I liked that the volume control for the stereo system was a dial that could be reached easily by the right thumb.  This is important because the volume knob isn’t where you’d logically expect it to be on the console.  There are still way too many buttons though and the LCD Navigation screen becomes a chore to read. The Navigation system isn’t touchscreen which would have made using it simpler. Instead, there’s a touch pad that you need to draw numbers or letters on with your fingers to dial or spell locations.  Its slower than just using a rolling dial for cursor selecting.
It’s too bad that the designers implemented the cheaply made, ridiculous “putter” shaped shifter. Besides the fact force can pull it off, shifting from Park to Drive  or to Reverse just felt “weird”. This  shape of shifter, I’d equate with a fighter jet. You’d find it on the left side of the pilot – not the right. It’s too easy to shift into Drive or Neutral rather than Reverse since the lineup from the top is P, R, N and then D. I've read other reviews online and apparently, no one is happy with the shifter.
Normally, you wouldn’t even think of equating a car that’s over 200 inches long and over 4000 pounds with the words “sporty” or “lively” but, Audi does succeed in making this car drive lighter than it is.  Steering feel is dynamic and the sensitivity changes with speed to make course corrections feel surgically accurate. Around curves the car’s wide wheelbase allows it to grip the road even as you take on illegal double  and triple digit speeds.  (United State’s A8’s are electronically limited to 155mph. The car doesn’t complain at 105.)
People will accuse me of S550 bias but the truth is, the S-class still offers a better quality ride than the A8.  Sure the A8 cancels poorly-kept city road roughness but its over-engineered suspension also tends to feel floaty on well-kept, smooth Highway road which contradicts the grip you’d think it would have since it’s so massive.

The BMW 7 still offers the sportier ride of these 3 luxury barges – even though it rides slightly harsher than the S-Class.  Some people also won’t like the inability to buy this car without Quattro. The BMW is available in RWD and the S550 can be purchased without 4-matic.  The A8’s all wheel drive splits torque 40 front/60 rear  but it still can’t erase the “boat” feeling you’re naturally  going to get from a car this long.
The brakes don’t feel strong enough to get this fast car back to 0 confidently.  A car this big that accelerates as fast as it does should have sportier braking. How about some Brembos?
There is an optional sport package($6000) which upgrades the factory 19” wheels to 20’s with summer tires and an adaptive air suspension, but, unless you are absolutely serious about pushing this car hard, I doubt you’d need it at all.  This car handles brilliantly in city and highway driving conditions. How it performs when being abused on a track is anyone’s guess.
Parking the car is made easy with a $2300 rearview camera and ultrasonic sensors. Turning the wheels causes the on screen virtual lines to waft making parking a breeze despite the lack of depth perception. And you'd best opt for that camera because the view out the back window is a bit restrictive.
The A8 is a quiet car inside. Perhaps, too quiet. Even with a stern pedal press, the car is quieter and rides smoother than the fast forwarded windshield would suggest.  If you’re looking to hear the throaty roar of a V8 – you’ve come to the wrong place.  Buy an SRT8 Hemi  or an Audi S8.
I was however slightly shocked at the lack of trunk space. A8 offers just 13.2 cubic feet. The space is visually small and you aren't getting a lot of golf bags or suitcases in there. The Jaguar XJ-L offers 15.2 cubes; BMW 7 offers 14.0 and S550 offers 16.4. Fortunately, the Audi doesn’t sacrifice rear seat space for trunk space like Lincoln’s MKS, which offers a massive 20.1 cubes! 

Although the A8 has a more sculpted interior, The S550 and BMW 7 still enjoy a technological edge on it.  The S550 offers an adaptive cruise control that can slow the car to a stop when the next driver slows to a stop, and then automatically resumes cruising speed behind him.  The A8’s adaptive cruise can slow you to a stop but you’ll need to tap the gas to resume speed. 

The S550 is also designed with more limousine features in mind: the driver can control the passenger’s seat with his own controls and the rear passengers can lower windows on either side with their own window switch.
The new 750 offers cameras in the front fenders to give the driver a special view of pedestrians as he pulls out of a garage and it even offers rear wheel steering.  Fortunately, the Audi offers night vision cameras to see ahead in the dark and projects images to the Nav screen just like the S-Class and Beemer does.  A8 even offers a radar based braking system that preps the car for emergency braking if it senses an oncoming crash and applies pressure to the brakes before the human reflexes can.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to lay down serious cash to get at the A8’s best features.
For $6300 there is a Bang & Olufsen sound system that grants you 19 crystal clear speakers with motorized retractable tweeters and powerful subwoofers. The standard BOSE system is useful enough with a CD/DVD changer in the glove compartment, two SD card readers and a 20GB hard Drive goof for roughly 3000 songs.  The B&O is merely a treat for the eyes – the standard stereo was powerful enough for me.
For $3000 you can add lane assist, blind spot monitoring mirrors, adaptive cruise control and paddle shifters.
For $3000 you can have two massive headrest mounted rear 10” LCD  monitors.
For $1300 you can have a lovely panoramic sunroof.
For $2300 you can add the night vision infrared camera system. This device is sophisticated enough to highlight humans in orange/red, but, it lacks the depth perception required to use the dash LCD screen to drive with it. Its still gimmicky.
There are other options but the executive package rear seat is only available in the A8-L which I’ll be looking forward to next week. That $12,500 package offers you tray tables, reclining rear seats with heating, cooling and massage motors and even a wine cooler/fridge so you can pop bottles between the bank and the golf course. This package is special order only! Don’t expect to simply walk in and be able to buy one.  The Sport package is also expected to be a rare dealer order.
Both models also offer an internet connection to your local 3G carrier, but, you’ll need to implant a SIM card to access it. Audi’s Navigation system can access Google Maps to give you isometric street views and instantly updated points of interest.

The A8 starts at roughly $80,000 but with just a few options such as those on my tester, the price quickly inflates to $90,000 with a fully loaded price closer to $120,000. A 4Yr/ 50,000 mile warranty is included while an $800 maintenance plus plan is offered - which covered oil changes, roadside assistance, lease end inspection,  2 wiper blade replacements and gives you 2 details -  but, does not cover brake pads.  If you purchase this plan, you'd save $2300.
This is the first Audi I drove that I truly liked. I definitely consider it competitive in the $80,000 plus big body sedan spectrum, but, Audi really needs to fix that shifter and integrate their computer functions better. To be perfectly honest the touch MMI system was a feature that drew me to check this car out but ended up feeling like an unnecessary gimmick as I feel MMI should have been designed well enough to handle inputs.
The car looks and feels world’s better than the A8 it replaces. If you are an A8 owner, you’ll definitely want the upgrade, but owners of the new 7-series or the new S-class have nothing to envy from this redesign besides its lower price tag.
Are you in the market for a $90,000 big body for ultra comfortable ride quality? Well, if you are, I suggest you cross shop the Mercedes S550 with this car before you make a final decision.  
S550 offers uncompromising space and unparalleled ride quality in both the front and the back for the tallest and largest among us.
If its driving dynamics, you might wanna’ look at the BMW 7 series which moves its mass like magic into and out of corners like greased lightning, offering more communicative road feel.  The front seat is more restricted than the A8, but the back seat is considerably larger.
If, however, you are looking for sharp design statements, vivacious colors, blistering acceleration and uniqueness, the Jaguar XJ just might be for you.  The supercharged Jaguar XJ-L offers 470HP for roughly the same cost as a similarly equipped A8 and Jaguar doesn’t nickel and dime you for equipment like Audi does.  Jaguar also has a maintenance plan which covers everything from oil to brake pads.


Amount Paid (US$): 90,000
Condition: New
Model and Options: 4.2L V8 standard wheelbase
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
Build Quality  
Seat Comfort:  

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