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March 22, 2011 > Auto Review: Audi A8

Auto Review: Audi A8

Supercar for Daily Living

By Steve Schaefer

Most of us can't afford a car like the A8, and that's too bad. But what's it like to live with one for a week?

The first day, you revel in the difference between it and an ordinary car. After a couple of days, the A8's wonderfulness becomes the new normal. As the week ends, you step into a perfectly good regular vehicle and man - it looks and feels small and cheap.

Living with the A8 does things to your state of mind. Road noise is something you would perhaps vaguely recall, but certainly not experience. The perfect and rich tones of the $6,300 Bang and Olufsen Advanced Sound System become simply "the radio" to you. You remain fascinated by the way the display screen rises out of the center dash like a cross between a slice of toast and an iPad. And look at way the tiny tweeters in the upper corners of the dash pop up with it, like baby birds expecting mommy.

Arriving at a freeway entrance, you casually lay your right-hand loafer against the accelerator and the 4.2-liter V8 propels the 4,400 pound car forward, almost as an afterthought, into the flow of traffic. Thank the 372 horsepower and direct injection. That's 22 horsepower better than last year's car. The 2011 model, with its new eight-speed automatic transmission, runs from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds.

I was amazed to see that after a week of driving, I had averaged 19.8 miles per gallon (EPA scores are 17 City, 27 Highway, Average 21). EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are a respectable 6 for Air Pollution and a basically OK 4 for Greenhouse Gas.

Look at those amazing LED headlights, which make a zigzag line of illumination next to the enormously tall grille with its stack of horizontal chrome bars. The center-mounted proboscis has become the defining nose of Audis-like Mercedes' famous angled center grille or BMW's twin kidney nostrils. Walking up to the car from the back, you can see the more linear shapes of the new tail lamps-which have little LEDs in them too.

Just like wearing an expensive, perfectly tailored suit, driving the A8 gives you a sense of confidence and well being. The scent of the leather seats is just right-it must be something in the tanning process. The metallic controls and panels set the car apart from ordinary rides.

My test car's Nougat Brown interior was enhanced with Leather Package 1, which added hides to the center console, door armrests, and "airbag cap" besides the stuff on the steering wheel. It also had real wood trim, including some on the front seatbacks as part of the Premium Package. This optional choice features astounding 22-way climate comfort front seats with massage. I didn't find the massage button-if I had known of its existence it would have been on all day.

My Phantom Black Pearl Effect A8 looked like an Audi should, even though the 2011 is the first generational redesign since the 2004's. It wears conservative, classy side proportions with pronounced wheel arches and slim horizontal taillights. The new car is updated, but remains completely recognizable as the top Audi sedan.

One of the biggest day-to-day differences between a super sedan like the A8 and a normal car is working the audio system. The A8 uses the latest version of Audi's MMI control system. On the center console, to the right of the T-bar automatic shifter, is a dial with four rectangular buttons at each corner in its base. With this, you control what you see up on the display screen. However, if you want to move to the next track on your iPod, you need to call up the right screen and dial over to the "next selection" button and click that. An arrow button mounted on the dash would be faster and more intuitive.

It took me a while to figure out how to control my iPod with the system, but you do get a lot of choices for your $6,300-and some gorgeous speaker grilles on the doors too.

Cars like the A8 do not come cheap. The base car (ha ha) is $78,050 (plus tax and delivery). My car, with more than $15,000 worth of options, including an upgrade to 20-inch alloy wheels, came to... drum roll please... $93,525. The options alone would buy you a new Nissan Cube!

If you're hankering for an Audi, they start at $28,145 for the sweet little A3 five-door wagon. But flagships are supposed to be special, and the A8 absolutely is. Yet-if you drive it for any length of time, it becomes "the car." That's a good thing.

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