Performance from both V6 versions are what you would describe as 'more than adequate'. But with 286hp to haul this large saloon (in TDI form), it will still accelerate from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, and on to a maximum speed of 155mph. The 340hp petrol version reduces the acceleration run too 5.6 seconds - limited top speed remains unchanged.
Before we go into detail about how each version drives, it's worth explaining Audi's new badging system, which makes its debut on the Audi A8. It's a two-digit set-up, that is based on power – the larger the number the more power you get. For the A8, the line-up will look like this:
- Audi A8 3.0 TDI is now called Audi A8 50 TDI
- Audi A8 4.0 TDI is now called Audi A8 60 TDI
- Audi A8 3.0 TFSI is now called Audi A8 55 TFSI
- Audi A8 4.0 TFSI is now called Audi A8 60 TFSI
- Audi A8 W12 remains the same
- Audi A8 plug-in hybrid with 3.0 TFSI is now called the Audi A8 60 e-tron
Confused? You should be. But you probably won't be in years to come.
Never mind that, what's the diesel A8 like to drive?
We'll start with the V6 TDI version, which in the short term will be the biggest-selling model in the UK. The best way of describing it is as an effortless performer. Acceleration is rapid, but in Comfort mode, it never really feels it thanks to a slightly lazy throttle.
But put it in Dynamic and the TDI wakes up, with instant response, and plenty of get-up and go to match that sub-six-second 0-62mph time. It definitely feels happiest at high speeds, where the 70mph motorway slot trickles along at little more than 1,500rpm, but with plenty in reserve.
The diesel engine is quite gruff, but it's so well insulated that you'll seldom hear it, especially if you're running it with the impressive B&O stereo system on anything other than minimum volume.
And the petrol Audi A8?
This is the preferable drive from anything other than a strictly financial stand point. With 340hp on tap, it delivers quite a punch. But it does so in a refined and eager way, revving cleanly to 7,000rpm should you be in a sporting mood.
If you're happy to forget the person in the back seat, you'll nearly always prefer driving the A8 in Sport mode, so you can enjoy fast gearchanges, a more responsive throttle, and more mid-range punch as a consequence. It has paddle shifters for the automatic transmission, but in reality, only Lewis Hamilton types are going to get any real advantage from them.
In Efficiency mode, the A8 will coast when off the throttle, but only between 35 and 100mph, exaggerating the slightly lazy feel of it. In conclusion, it performs admirably and efficiently in either diesel or petrol form – your choice merely comes down to how generous your fuel budget is.
The Audi A8 might be designed to offer the maximum comfort for rear-seat passengers, but it also capable of putting in a sporting performance should you be in the mood for fun.
There are three drive modes, Comfort, Balance and Dynamic, and even in the passenger-biased Comfort mode, you'll be surprised at just how agile it is in bends.
We spent the most time in UK models with standard sir suspension, so will comment mostly on this. But riding on a variety of wheel sizes between 19- and 21-inches, the A8's handling remains calm and unflustered – and it's capable of cornering quickly and without drama in this most.
Does all this tech mean it's fun?
It can be, but being such a large car demands space and concentration. There is some body roll in Comfort mode, though, but not enough to cause concern, and all in all, it's a remarkable performance for a car of this size.
Most importantly, it's a big improvement on this score over its predecessor. Dynamic tends to sharpen the steering, but not to the point of making it feel like a smaller car – as the best systems can. But it's precise, accurate, and easy to place.
High-speed handling is helped also by the car's Quattro all-wheel drive set-up and its rear-wheel steering, which over 37mph sees the rear wheels turn slightly in the same direction as the fronts. It works, too – lane changes are effortless and planted, while A-road sweepers are shrugged off with ease.
An assured performance, then, whatever the drive mode.
The Audi A8's interior has clearly moved on at least two generations – in terms of tech – from the outgoing model. So, where the old model was an object lesson in restrained quality, but with a dated infotainment system, this one is bang up to date, and with a much more elegant-looking, and airy, interior.
Although the A8 is all about the rear-seat passengers, it's good to know that the driver has been looked after so comprehensively. The dashboard is dominated by a three-screen set-up, which might look a little intimidating to newcomers, but it's actually pretty intuitive once you're underway.
The instrument panel is just a larger update of Audi's already-excellent digital set-up – so you can tailor your display to show small dials overlaid on a large background, with, say, the navigation map on it.
Or you can mirror a conventional analogue set-up, and display a pair of large dials, flanking essential driving information. We like it, but appreciate it takes a little time to get used to.
The centre console's twin-screen set-up
The upper and lower screens are are logically set out, and simple to use once you understand what their functions are. The upper touchscreen effectively displays a conventional sat-nav or infotainment display, and does so without reflection, and in near-perfect clarity. There's also an element of 'haptic' feedback – in other words, when you touch the screen, you get simulated feedback – it feels like you're touching conventional buttons. Clever.
The lower screen drives the climate control system, and also is used to enter your destination into the navigation screen. You can input names via a simulated keyboard, or by 'writing' on the screen with your fingertip. Given the UK is a right-hand drive market, most people won't feel comfortable doing this with their left hand.
In truth, it's best just to use the voice control system, which has evolved effectively into a set-up that accepts natural commands in a similar way to Siri on an Apple device, or Alexa on Amazon. You want more warmth in the cabin? Just say, 'I'm cold'. Or fancy a bite to eat? Just ask it to, 'take me to the nearest restaurant.' It works, too.
Audi A8: a relaxing place in which to spend time
The driving position is expectedly excellent, and visibility blindspots are handled by a 360-degree camera system, and various other safety systems, such as one which warns you if you're about to kerb a wheel. The A-pillar is bulky and you do feel a little distant from the action, as you'd expect.
In the rear, head and legroom are excellent, and the seats are supremely comfortable and adjustable. There are optional reclining systems, and even a massaging footrest for those who spend lots of time in the back of their Audi.
Ambient lighting and remote controls are useful and add luxury, but truth be told, even the standard five-seat short-wheelbase model has more than enough lounging room.
In terms of interior quality, ambience and functionality, it's more than a match for a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it looks just a little more stylish in the A8. One final aspect we love are the interior and exterior door handles – on soft-close models, they're microswitch activated, so you can open the doors with the merest of click. A small point, but one which underlines the quality of this car.
Take it as read that the Audi A8 is comfortable. Not only to sit in the rear of, but to drive. There are two suspension set-ups, both of which are air-ride systems. The 'entry-level' air suspension set-up is computer controlled and from our test drives, handles both urban driving and high-speed A-roads very well indeed.
All road surface imperfections seem to be shrugged off very well indeed. Very sharp irregularities do make their way through, though, but they tend to be heard more than seen.
It's here that the A8 really moves on from the outgoing model, as it possesses impressive levels of compliance and body control, keeping those all-important passengers in the rear calm and unfussed. Would we choose this over an S-Class in terms of comfort? Early indications are that the A8 isn't quite as smooth-riding, although we'll wait for a UK drive before calling a definitive verdict.
What about Audi's active suspension set-up?
The optional active suspension is very interesting indeed. It takes the standard computer-controlled air set-up and adds an electrically powered lower suspension arm, which controls ride height and wheel position, as well as damping and 'springing'.
In a nutshell, no matter what the driving conditions are, computer control can keep the A8 flat and smooth at all times. Even in the shortest drive, this set-up has a distinct advantage – it's every bit as compliant as the standard car, but in corners, the car leans only a tiny amount and never loses its overall composure. It works.
There's more to come, because in the coming months, a forward-facing camera will be able to feed the system and allow it to compensate for bumps in the road even before the car hits them. Will all this be worth the extra cost? Yes, if money is no object, but until we know how much it adds to the cost of an A8, we'll reserve judgement.
The A8's smooth, but is it quiet?
Oh yes. Noise insulation is impressive, too, with little in the way of wind, road or tyre noise intruding into the cabin – and it's clear that Audi has worked very hard indeed on pushing the A8 to the head of the class in terms of refinement.