While it may be the likes of the A4 and A6 saloons and the Q3 SUV that deliver the numbers for Audi in India, the big German luxury carmaker takes its flagship luxury limousines very seriously indeed and in the face of the updated BMW 7-series and the all-new Mercedes S-class, Audi has given the A8 a mid-life facelift with subtle styling revisions, incremental improvements to the powertrains and some very cool headlamp technology. Like all facelifts, the styling changes are of the blink-and-you-will-miss-it variety. The creases on the bonnet are more pronounced, the grille is reworked with only seven horizontal slats instead of eight (except in the sportier S8 model) and the front bumper is more rounded. The rear also sports a new tail-lamp design and sportier dual exhaust housings at the bottom of the rear bumper. A new range of alloy wheels, which are available in sizes from 17 to 21 inches in diameter, and added brightwork around the windows and within the door handles complete the visual makeover.
The most apparent visual change is the new Matrix-Beam LED headlamps comprising 25 diodes that can be switched on and off independently in combination with information from an on-board camera. This allows the headlights to react more quickly to oncoming vehicles by automatically blanking out high beam, as well as providing other safety features. We can’t help but wonder how effective this function will be in India despite the sci-fi tech. The turn indicators (front and rear) now sequentially light up in the direction indicated and this looks good and also acts as a visual indicator for oncoming traffic.
The cabin layout remains the same, with the button-festooned central console and MMI interface remaining the center of attention. Buyers get to choose from even more leather and veneer trims (Audi offers a range of vegetable extract tanned leathers) and the passenger spaces feel even richer than before with excellent quality levels (Audi says that the A8 cabins are virtually hand-crafted) ensuring that this aspect remains one of the A8’s biggest draws.
As with its predecessor, the A8 comes with the range different petrol and diesel engines including the popular 3.0-litre V6 diesel, a 4.2-litre V8 diesel (the only engine of its kind in class) and a 493bhp 6.0-litre W12. Above this is the new S8, which continues to run a 520bhp version of Audi’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. All the power units have been fettled to deliver more power, improve efficiency (with a focus on reducing C02 emissions and thus taxes for European markets) and adhere to the upcoming Euro 6 emission norms.
We drove the 3.0-litre V6 diesel that will be the most popular engine choice in the Indian market. This engine gains 8bhp and 3.04kgm over the older motor, pushing its max outputs up to 254bhp and 59.17kgm. Drive is channelled via an eight-speed automatic gearbox and Audi’s Quattro torque-sensing four-wheel drive system. Along with the mechanical changes, moves to improve engine isolation through the addition of new sound deadening materials has clearly paid dividends, endowing the strongest-selling A8 with even more impressive mechanical refinement, which is now at or near the levels of the luxury car competition.
The A8 is available in Europe in both the regular and long wheelbase (India will only get the long wheelbase) versions and Audi says the new car is the sportiest in its class, something that the driving position certainly suggests. The A8 also gets Audi’s Drive Select System (controlled via the MMI) which allow the driver to choose from pre-existing Comfort and Dynamic modes or use the individual setting to create his own combination of throttle, gearbox, steering and damping mapping.
The ride quality is quiet, refined and settled and the improved damping ensures much less pitch than before (the front end rises less under hard acceleration and dives less under braking) and the A8 also rolled less when pushed hard on the narrow country roads of our test route. What was a bit disappointing though was the steering feel. Despite the A8’s sporty positioning (within its segment), the electro-mechanical steering feels a bit remote and disconnected when positioned near the centre line. It is quite direct and gets more responsive off-centre but doesn’t really offer true feedback or genuine weighting.
While all the changes in the mid-life update have only served to enhance an already luxurious and premium car, the biggest problem facing the updated A8 are the sky high standards set by the new Mercedes S-class, a car that feels like it is genuinely a generation ahead of its rivals. But if you are a fan of the Audi brand and are looking for a true luxury car with some of the highest quality levels around – the A8 could well be what you need.
The new A8 goes on sale in Europe in November 2013 and is expected to come to India in the first half of 2014.