Audi A8 Continues To Shine in Its 3rd Generation as a Standout Luxury Sedan

The 2011 Audi A8, now in its third generation, continues to be a standout luxury sedan in a field crowded with competition from BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and to a minor extent, even Hyundai with its Equus.
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It's important as a reviewer to be upfront when you have biases that color your perceptions. I have an unabashed bias towards all things Audi. Frankly, since I first reviewed an Audi 5000 back in 1987, there has never been an Audi that graced my driveway that I did not like.

Keep in mind that the first Audi I ever reviewed was the one that was accused falsely, of course, of being guilty of unintended acceleration (an issue that raised its inaccurate head again last year with Toyota, of course). If I liked a car that I thought could kill me, then I was bound to like Audi.

Fast-forward almost 24 years and the all-new 2011 Audi A8 shows up for me to review. I had been first exposed to it in a static display at the end of 2009 at an art show in Miami and again at the Newport Concours d'Elegance in Newport, R.I. that is held annually the week before Memorial Day weekend.

I consider the Audi A8 to be a direct descendant of the Audi 5000 but this is the third generation of the A8 – and I have loved all three, wishing I had pursued law or accounting as a career so I could actually own one. Of course that feeling goes away once the next car arrives to review.

This generation 2011 Audi A8, like the others, features the Audi Quattro all-wheel drive system, adaptive air suspension, and a more powerful 4.2-liter direct injection V8 with increased torque and fuel efficiency. All work together for a stunning combination of driving dynamics. The A8 is just instantly responsive in any situation. Audi says it has a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds, which more than respectable for a vehicle weighing 4400 lbs.

For the first time in the A8 family, power will be channeled via an 8-speed automatic transmission, which Audi says results in 17 percent better fuel economy compared to the previous generation. The new A8 delivers EPA numbers of 17-mpg city and 27-mpg highway, which is pretty strong for such a comfortable, powerful highway cruiser. Audi says the combined 21 mpg is best in class and is the same as the Mercedes S class hybrid and Lexus LS 600h hybrid and better than BMW's 7-series hybrid and 6-cylinder versions.

There's a certain disconnect in the transmission because it is drive-by-wire. To help you feel more engaged in the driving process, theA8 does have a center gearshift lever or standard wheel-mounted manumatic shifting paddles. Probably 99.9 percent of the time, you're going to let the transmission do all of the work for you and be happy with the results.

The A8 is the first vehicle to embrace LED lighting for full-LED front headlamps with both high and low beam function. Full LED lighting extends through the daytime running lights, cornering lights, turn signals, and taillights. In addition to giving better illumination, LED lighting can be shaped to a designer's whims unlike the conventional xenon bulbs that a designer had to shape a car around.

For some reason, the MMI system (think of it as the central control system of the A8) has always been intuitive to me. It now includes Audi drive select as standard equipment, which allows the driver to select among various drive settings such as Dynamic, Comfort, Auto, and the customizable Individual. I didn't test the last one because I felt it would be wrong to impose my will upon a sedan not my own.

This is an incredibly safe car thanks to some new technologies. Thanks to increased use of aluminum, the A8 has a light-but-rigid body designed to shield the cabin from impact by channeling collisions down and away from the occupants. That's important to reducing the forces a body feels and helps you to better survive impacts from all sides.

Technology also plays a new and expanded role in the 2011 A8 through Audi pre sense and adaptive cruise control. Pre sense comprises several preventive occupant protection systems that are activated if a critical driving situation arises. If instability is detected, reversible belt tensioners hold passengers in place while seats adjust to optimal placement. The sunroof and side windows close to shield the passenger compartment. Adaptive air shock absorbers adjust to improve braking and performance, and two-stage partial braking activates.

Pricing for the 2011 Audi A8 starts at $78,050. Throw in features like the driver assistant package with adaptive cruise control ($3000), the convenience package with park assist, rearview camera, and power trunk ($2350) cold weather package with heated steering wheel and rear-heat seats ($800) and you find yourself comfortably north of $80,000. It's a price worth paying, though, if you have the means. The A8 won't disappoint you.

(For the latest new car news, follow me on Twitter at @aboutusedcars. You can also learn about buying and selling a used car at UsedCars.About.com.)

Audi A8 Vital Statistics

* Wheelbase: 117.8 inches
* Length: 202.2 inches
* Width: 76.7 inches
* Height: 57.5 inches
* Curb weight: 4409 lbs.
* Engine: 4.2-liter V8
* Horsepower: 372 hp @ 6800 rpm
* Torque: 328 lb. ft. @ 3500
* EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 17/27
* Base price: $78,050
* As-tested price: $85,150
* Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S550


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