Audi's flagship A8L is back in an all-new avatar to snatch the luxury car crown. Shapur Kotwal has the details

All it takes to appreciate and understand the amount of effort Audi has put into the redevelopment of its new flagship, A8L, is a single run. The sheer attention to detail, the oath to the best of luxuries and the plethora of technical achievements this car has managed to pull off is mind boggling. And, it is for this reason that Audi has decided to launch the A8L in India, mere months after its international launch. The A8 range is being launched carefully and in a phased manner. Four engine options — two each of petrol and diesel — will find their way into the Indian market. As of now, it's the 4.2L V8 ‘base' petrol engine model that's available.

The combination of the big chrome grille, LED headlamps and minimalist styling looks as good as anything Audi has done. Problem is that some find its looks too generic. Still, gaze at this car for long and its individual character emerges. The car's profile is dominated by the strong shoulder line, long bonnet and slab-sided flanks, and this gives the A8 a regal air. Also adding considerable heft to the design is the block-like rear of the car. This is a long car and it takes more than a few steps to walk its 5.2-metre length.

Under the skin, this car continues to be one of the few modern cars not to employ a monocoque construction. Audi has opted for space frame construction as this allows for the extensive use of weight-saving aluminium body panels, which, according to Audi, make the A8 around 90kg lighter than an equivalent steel monocoque car. The use of aluminium has not only kept weight in check but has increased the A8's torsional rigidity by around 25 per cent as well. What adds bulk however is the Quattro four-wheel-drive system, and this takes the weight of the car up to 1,960kg. Sitting on large 18-inch wheels, the A8 gets massive ventilated discs all round along with ABS and ESP. Other safety systems on the Audi include eight airbags, seatbelts with pre-tensioners and neck restraints.

What makes the insides of the A8 so special is the manner in which technology and tradition have been blended so seamlessly. What's also very impressive is that everything in the cabin works with a high degree of precision. You can see it in the way the screen dives under the central console, in the manner the glovebox drops open and the way the front passenger seat flips forward to give the rear passenger more legroom.

Audi's MMI system controls many functions but a proliferation of buttons and dials can be used to control most features as well. Entertainment, information and communication and even seats can be adjusted from the MMI. You can alter settings for the engine, gearbox, suspension, steering, headlights and, would you believe, even the seatbelts! Reading the owner's manual, also on the MMI, sure does help. You also get nifty features such as a night vision camera, massaging seats, cruise control and an optional Rs. 6.5 lakh Bang & Olufsen stereo. Clever bits such as the touchpad and the two-pin power socket for the rear passenger add to this car's feel-good factor.

The driving position can be fine- tuned to perfection and all-round visibility is better than you expect, given the thick pillars that usually come with aluminium-bodied cars. The yacht-inspired gear selector looks terrific but it is difficult to use. It's not as precise as it should be and that's especially true when you are going from drive to reverse and back.

Despite a relatively small wheelbase, rear legroom is superb. But what takes comfort and luxury to a different level is the optional Rear Executive seating package. It does limit seating at the back to two and costs Rs. 4.4 lakh, but the upshot is first class comfort.

Push a button and the front passenger's seat (sans passenger) slides all the way forward and a footrest pops out for the passenger sitting at the rear. The rear seats can be reclined further, and there's a separate massage function built in as well. The message from Audi is simple — fly first class every day.

Audi's direct injection V8 is a very special motor. It feels unburstable and massively enthusiastic. On offer are 372 fired-up horses, 45.37kgm of twist from 3500rpm and, best of all, a 7000-rpm redline that's willingly visited. And, the excellent relationship the engine shares with the eight-speed gearbox only adds to the performance equation.

Hit the throttle and it will pin your shoulders to the seat, as the red needle shoots up the speedo. A linear surge builds from almost idle right up to the 7000-rpm redline, and if you don't pay much attention to your right foot, you will find yourself on the wrong side of 200kph. Flat-out 100kph is dispatched in a blistering 6.4sec and the A8L reaches a limited top speed of 250kph without losing its breath.

It's totally hushed and super refined when out cruising. But while the gearbox works beautifully with the motor in normal mode, there are some jerks experienced in S or sport. This is especially true if you go from an amble to full throttle. The massive disc brakes are also more than upto the task of hauling down this two-tonne-plus behemoth and it took just 25.56 mt to come to a full halt from 80kph. There is however a fair bit of movement under braking, which at times is a tad disconcerting.

By giving the A8 multiple suspension settings, Audi has attempted to broaden the A8's dynamic repertoire. These settings dramatically change the behaviour of the car. In Comfort mode, the car absorbs most of the bumps with ease and this mode is best for city use. But as speeds increase, it feels a touch too soft and there's a fair amount of vertical movement. Go to the other extreme, Sport, and the A8 feels distinctly tauter. It's only on super-smooth surfaces (hard to find) that this setting works well and complements the phenomenal traction offered by the Quattro four-wheel-drive system.

The light and quick steering makes the A8 effortless to drive in town, but you need to keep an eye out for its marine dimensions, which can be quite a handful in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You are always aware of the car's length and girth, and this can make city driving quite stressful. Poor ground clearance is also a bit of an issue.

A large petrol V8 hauling two tonnes is bound to consume loads of fuel. So it's no surprise that we achieved a 5.6kpl in the city and 10.4kpl on the highway. However, these niggles can be overlooked considering what a truly brilliant car this is.

Keywords: Audi