First Drive: Audi A8

Audi A8
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First Drive: Audi A8

Audi's biggest saloon car, the A8, is only replaced every eight years, so when the time comes for a new one, the company has to make sure it has got everything just right.

Stepping in to the new A8 it is immediately obvious there is a fantastic attention to detail, both in the front and the rear, and there are a host of little touches that illustrate this. Ambient lighting, rear reading lights and hand-sanded and varnished wood panels are just some of the elements that indulge. A central-locking button in the back will be fine for chauffeuring duties, but annoying with inquisitive children as passengers.

As manufacturers seek to reduce running costs, the engines are the big focal point for the A8. A 4.2-litre V8 petrol and diesel sit atop the range for now, but the pick of the lot is the 3.0TDI. With 247bhp and 406lb ft of pulling power, it has plenty of urgency when required and is quick enough to get to 62mph in just 6.6 seconds.The engine manages to be quicker than its major rivals, but crucially it is also cleaner and more efficient. It produces a respectable 174g/km of CO2, and manages a combined fuel economy of 42.8mpg. But owners who are concerned about finances should hold on until a 201bhp 3.0TDI with emissions of just 159g/km arrives in November 2010.

Technology has moved on in more areas than just engine development though, and the toy that all A8 owners will want to show off is the touch sensitive pad for controlling the satellite navigation. You spell your desired destination out with your finger rather than having to fiddle with a wheel. Announcing each letter after you have traced it on the pad should eliminate any mistakes, and it stood up to our poor handwriting on test.

Many buying decisions in such an expensive sector are made on image rather than performance or ability though, and this is the one area where the A8 is slightly let down. Visually, there is little to suggest that there has been radical change to the flagship model of Audi's range, and the car bears a striking resemblance to many of the brand's other models. Daylight running lights in a strange inverted-tick shape are the only recognisably unique element, but the casual observer would struggle to tell that you're sat in the ultimate Audi saloon.

Nevertheless, the looks are pleasant enough if you don't wish to stand out. There will certainly be potential A8 customers attracted to the conservative styling. The place your luxury saloon should really impress is inside, and the new flagship does just that.
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