First drive: Audi A8

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First drive: Audi A8

Audi's flagship luxury limo is now in its third generation and with this mid-life refresh comes a bundle of new tech, more efficient engines and subtle stylistic tweaks to keep punters keen. New for 2013 are some pretty trick headlights (more of that to come) and a tweaked range of powerful yet potent engines.

What is it?

The top of the line Audi saloon is a favourite of both the discerning private buyer who likes to be whisked around in style and the equally discerning chauffeur or fleet owner who makes a living out of whisking discerning individuals around in style. It's a familiar recipe: understated looks, effortless power and an interior that masks its space-age technology behind typically Teutonic craftsmanship. This refresh offers much of the same with the exception of some high tech headlights, subtle exterior styling tweaks and an engine range that now performs better yet releases less nasty particles into the atmosphere.

What's under the bonnet?

Customers are spoilt for choice with a range that covers pretty much every base. By far the most popular selection in the UK will be the improved 3-litre V6 TDI unit that produces 254bhp, can propel the A8 from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds yet return 47.9mpg on the combined cycle. Those with deep pockets can plump for the fiery 4-litre twin turbocharged V8 found in the performance orientated S8 models, wealthy Middle Eastern business folk can go for the whopping W12, eco warriors can try the 2-litre TFSI hybrid and petrol lovers can play around with 3 and 4-litre TFSI units. Desperate for an overtly pokey diesel? Plump for the monster 4.2-litre TDI engine, then.

What's the spec like?

Unlike some other German luxury manufacturers, Audi still offers some basic trim levels to get customers started. SE models are at their most 'basic' (if you can call them that), SE Executive cars come with a bit more kit and tend to be the most popular choice and Sport Executive vehicles add a bit of performance spice to the interior and exterior styling. Standard equipment on SE models includes the rather excellent adaptive air suspension (for a magnificently cushioned ride), leather upholstery and LED lighting. Opt for the SE Executive spec and you get MatrixBeam LED headlights that use cameras and the GPS system to adapt their output to surrounding terrain and traffic. The lights fire a powerful beam of light that illuminates the road ahead, yet will automatically cut out when oncoming traffic or pedestrians are detected. "But other manufacturers have this feature," we hear you cry. Yes they do, but all other rivals use mechanical 'blinkers' rather than digitally shutting down individual LEDs and none can detect up to 8 other cars and adjust accordingly as not to dazzle any of them. Over engineering? Maybe. Pretty darn cool? Definitely.

Any rivals?

Three words: Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The new model betters the top end Audi A8s in almost everything from cutting edge technology, interior craftsmanship and even residual values - it's a good deal more expensive, though. The BMW 7 series, Jaguar XJ and Porsche Panamera should all get a look in, so too the impeccable Range Rover.

What's it like to drive?

Based on price and the cost of running, the 3-litre TDI model is by far the most sensible purchase UK buyers can make and they won't be disappointed by the drive. Audi's adaptive air suspension does a fantastic job of ironing out any imperfections in the road while the brilliant noise cancelling technology ensures the interior is as hushed as technically possible. Steering can lack feel, even in the Dynamic mode, and eight-speed gearbox can feel a little jerky when mated to larger engines, particularly on the downshifts when attempting a smooth rolling stop. But the A8 does handle the switch between a luxurious and inconspicuous chauffeur carriage and a sprightly weekend drive thanks to that superbly powerful engine, certainly better than the aforementioned BMW 7 series and the big Jag.

Refreshed Audi A8

Refreshed Audi A8


The AOL Cars verdict

It is difficult to get really excited by the new A8. Changes to the bodywork are minimal, the technological updates aren't as impressive as certain rivals and the improved performance figures are only worth shouting about if you've purchased the 3-litre TDI with its 8.3% reduction of CO2 levels. The Porsche Panamera that we drove last week will excite the senses more, a Mercedes S-Class will leave a longer lasting technological impression and the Range Rover has more charm. But, the predicted best-selling 3-litre TDI engine is all the pull one needs and it is extremely good value for money, even when some of the fancier options boxes are ticked.

The knowledge

Model: Audi A8 3-litre TDI SE Executive
Price: £61,405
Engine: 3-litre V6 TDI
Power: 254bhp
Max speed: 155mph limited
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
MPG: 47.9mpg
Emissions: 155 g/km CO2