Audi A8, 2011 review

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The 2011 Audi A8 all-wheel-drive sedan has imposing styling, a fabulous interior and high-tech features that can be easily utilized if you spend some time studying them.

This fourth-generation A8 — Audi’s flagship car — has a revised front end but looks basically unchanged. It continues to have the automaker’s nearly all-aluminum body/chassis structure that few Americans ever understood or fully appreciated. It makes this four-door very rigid and lighter than most rivals.

The A8 is still a big guy at approximately 4,400 pounds, due partly to its all-wheel-drive hardware, and it has a longer wheelbase and overall length. It’s also wider.

The new A8 4.2 comes in standard ($78,050) or extended-wheelbase ($84,000) forms and is powered by a sophisticated 372-horsepower improved V-8 with new direct fuel injection that helps boost horsepower to 372 from the 2010 model’s 350 rating. Both versions have the comfort, convenience and safety features expected in a luxury sedan.

Optional safety items are adaptive cruise control to help prevent rear-end collisions and an enhanced night vision.

There are plenty of tempting — and often costly — comfort and convenience options. They include a $6,300 Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system and a $2,300 convenience package with such items as a power trunk lid and rearview camera.

The silky smooth V-8 also has more torque and works with a responsive new eight-speed automatic transmission that helps allow estimated fuel economy of 27 mpg on the highway — remarkably good for this type car — and a respectable 17 mpg in the city.

The automatic can be shifted manually. But, with all those transmission speeds, most who want to shift for themselves will soon wonder why they’re bothering.

One of the car’s few drawbacks is a shift selector lever that doesn’t move back and forth through detents like a normal selector and can make it easy to select the wrong gear if a driver isn’t paying attention.

The car does 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds just left in regular drive mode and feels as if it would be more comfortable cruising European no-speed-limit highways at 100 mph than loafing on U.S. freeways or highways at 65-75 mph. That’s usually the mark of a superb car. Top speed is an electronically limited 155 mph.

An advanced adaptive air suspension assures a smooth ride and flat cornering, and the nicely weighted steering is direct, with good road feel. The A8 handles like a smaller, nimble car. Large 19-inch wheels are standard, but 20-inchers are available for $1,200. Brakes are powerful.

A model with a 12-cylinder engine generating approximately 500 horsepower and likely costing more than $100,000 is said to be coming, but enough is enough, isn’t it? The A8 is mainly for older, sophisticated premium sedan buyers, not for go-fast drivers. Even the seats are shaped more to give long-distance comfort than added support when snaking through bends. Seats can be be ordered with message, heat and ventilation features.

I tested the $78,050 regular-wheelbase A8, which left me wondering why anyone would want the extended-wheelbase version unless they expect NFL players to toss a football in the back seat.

However, roomy as it is, the regular-wheelbase A8 rear seat has a stiff center area that only allows comfortable seating for two. It’s best to flip down the large center seat armrest. Individual rear seats are options.

The revised, whisper-quiet interior is wider, airy and spacious. The hefty steering wheel can be easily gripped, and backlit gauges can be quickly read. The engine has a start/stop button and high-tech features include a navigation system with a touchpad. To enter a destination or phone number you just draw letters or numbers on the control panel with a finger.

My test car had the power open-and-close trunk lid feature, which was helpful, but the large trunk had a wide but rather high opening.

Audi is making more of a name for itself here, where it long lagged behind Mercedes and BMW in terms of status. But Audi keeps coming up with a wide range of new and improved alluring models such as the A8 that are drawing more Americans to its showrooms.

Dan Jedlicka is the former automotive writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. To read more of his reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

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