Like its predecessor, the 2011 A8 is built on an aluminum space frame--a concept that first made its way into Audi's big sedans back in 1995 as a means of reducing weight and increasing rigidity. The engineers at Ingolstadt have been doing their homework as the years piled on, though. The new A8 is stiffer than ever, and weighs about 350 pounds less than its forebear, checking in at around 4050 pounds. That's several hundred pounds less than the Porsche Panamera.
At first glance, it may look like Audi simply shoehorned the same old 4.2-liter V8 into a new set of clothes, but a closer look reveals that the big V8 puts out 22 extra horsepower and 3 more lb-ft of torque this time around. That bumps the oomph up to a respectable 372 hp--still well short of some of its German competition, but more than enough to make the sedan feel capable, particularly when paired with the excellent new transmission.
While Audi may seem to have skipped over the beating heart, the new eight-speed automatic from ZF is a perfect match for the V8, making the engine feel more powerful and responsive than ever before. Throw in the on-the-fly throttle mapping (via Audi's Drive Select setup in the multimedia interface), and the eight-pot seems like the perfect choice for Audi's flagship leviathan.
Audi says it has managed to increase fuel economy by up to 15 percent, thanks to the slimmer beltline and remarkable gearbox. That's no small feat, especially in a day and age where each extra mile per gallon could mean the difference between making the sale and missing it. The EPA hasn't churned out final figures on the A8 yet, but if Audi is to be believed, we should be looking at somewhere around 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
The material quality inside the new A8 is a benchmark for Audi, for the first time besting both BMW and Mercedes-Benz by a comfortable margin. There isn't a surface you can put your hand on that doesn't feel expensive to the touch. There's entirely new ambient LED interior lighting, found in soft strips reminiscent of neon in carefully chosen places. You can change the colors, with settings like "Ruby" and "Polar," but the setup somehow manages not to seem tacky--an important consideration on a potentially six-figure personal investment.
But if the interior is the king's collection, the touchpad interface is its crown jewel. The navigation hooks up with Google, and to input an address, you simply write out the address--with your finger--on a console-mounted pad. The software then finds the destination that you're looking for. The biggest surprise here is that the system actually works. Try as we might, there was no confusing it--even left-handed from the passenger seat. Once you have your destination set, the navigation integrates with Google Maps to see it via satellite for easy recognition. On our shores, the setup will work through a yet-unnamed 3G cellphone provider, and will be free for the first six months (that is, it'll be included in the price of the car). After that, owners will pay a monthly fee.