The Audi A8 has long been one of our favorite big sedans. While not as cushy as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or as bold as a BMW 7-series, it counters its rivals with a unique blend of high technology luxury and standard all-wheel drive. Well, now, it’s time to turn our sights on a new generation of A8. And this time, it may not need any excuses.

The 2011 Audi A8 steps up to the plate with a fresh edition of its traditionally clean, classic, understated styling. But this time, designers have added details that make it by far the sharpest Audi flagship sedan yet. Going beyond the LED light bars used on the R8 and other models, the A8 is the first to offer an LED-only front lamp assembly. Headlights, running, cornering, and turn signals—all LEDs. It’s a $1400 option. That, and a bigger still drop-jaw grille, makes the A8 look totally distinctive and menacing.

From there back, the A8 looks like a larger A4, with minimal overhangs, a sweeping greenhouse, sculpted door panels, and instantly recognizable five-sided taillights. Our black tester looked even more sinister with optional 20-inch diameter split 10-spoke alloy wheels.

Both standard and long wheelbase A8s are offered, with the stretched “L” accounting for 90% of sales. The A8L adds just over five inches to the standard 117.8-inch wheelbase, which is itself almost two inches longer than before.

Go either route and the new A8 has a cavernous interior. One awash with understated opulence and unabashed high technology, including a folding screen for the standard voice navigation.  There’s a rear camera and Audi’s MMI with touchpad interface. Options like infrared night vision go from there.

Our car’s extremely horizontal dash was wood trimmed. The rich, leather trimmed front seats were comfortable and supportive, with multi-way power and heat included. And, in the rear seat, even the standard wheelbase A8 provides comfort and space that approaches limousine levels. There’s a standard trunk pass-through, and even a power assisted trunk lid.

A 12-speaker BOSE surround sound stereo system is standard, with Bang & Olufsen sound optional. And the A8 is the first automobile with a built-in wireless hotspot. Standard power is Audi’s 4.2-liter V8, now rated 372 horsepower, up 22, with 328 pound-feet of torque, up three. An optional, bored out Volkswagen 6.3-liter W12 will also be for the A8L. Ratings are 500 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Both shift through a new eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard.

With a 40/60 front-to-rear torque split, we had no problem making this big, buttoned-down sedan hook up at the drag strip. We ripped to 60 in 5.2 seconds. The quick-shifting automatic held revs between ratios, all the way to a 13.7-second quarter mile at 105 miles per hour.

With a 25% stiffer aluminum space frame, adjustable shocks, air springs, and variable ratio steering, our car was superior at dodging cones as well. With nary a hint of understeer to dampen our enthusiasm, even our high speed accident avoidance maneuver didn’t shake this big sedan’s confidence. Quick, solid steering made for quick, solid turn-ins at any speed, and throttle response was almost instantaneous. A 4,400-pound car shouldn’t perform this good.

Our A8 also posted a quite short 117-foot average 60 to 0 braking distance; run after run was near fade-free, and the pedal exhibited short, firm travel as the car glided to a stable stop every time. And back on public roads, the A8 showed off incredible composure with a hard-charging edge.

I’ve always been impressed with the Audi A8, but this new car really resets the dial at what an enthusiast super-sedan should be. It’s like a velvet-lined rocket sled; it’s rapid yet reposed. And, you know, to me, this is really what the Audi brand is striving for.

And it’s even more efficient than last year. Government Fuel Economy ratings for the 4.2 are 17 city/27 highway. We managed a respectable 22.5 miles per gallon of premium. Now for the stickers. The A8 4.2 starts at $78,925. The A8L 4.2 starts at $84,825. The A8L W12 will arrive in late spring of 2011 with a six-figure price.

The Audi A8 no longer drives in the shadow of its rivals. This latest edition jumps from competitive to exceptional. Its composition of comfort, high technology, and performance is unmatched. We loved it.
The 2011 Audi A8 does everything a prestige four-door should do, and still allows you have a ton of fun while doing it.


  • Engine: 4.2-Liter V8
  • Horsepower: 372
  • Torque: 328 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.2 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 13.7 Seconds @ 105 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 117 Feet
  • EPA: 17 MPG City/ 27 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 22.5 MPG