Sometimes you latch on to one feature that seems to define a car to the exclusion of all others, and that's the case with Audi's impressive flagship, the stately A8 sedan. We loved — loved — the car's massaging seats. It's trivial when compared with the impressive engineering on display in the A8, but this is a luxury car, after all.
Appearance: In a word, big. Our tester was the "L," or long-wheelbase model, which is 207.4 inches in length, about an inch more than a Mercedes S Class sedan. The understated body is elegant, with subtle curves and chrome accents around the windows and along the skirt. Like all Audis, there is the oversized chrome-trimmed grille with the familiar four rings, and Xenon headlamps that are bordered by LED "eyeliner" daylight running lights. The 10-spoke alloy wheels add a dash of sportiness.
Performance: To cut down on weight, Audi introduced aluminum construction to the A8, which tips the scales at 4,453 pounds. Still, the sedan, which has a 372-horsepower V-8, manages a respectable 0-to-60 time of 5.7 seconds. We were impressed with the smooth-shifting 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which also helps boost the gas-mileage estimates for the big car: 17 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. The A8 comes with Audi's standard quattro all-wheel-drive system, which keeps it planted and contributes to crisp handling. The speed-sensitive steering sometimes makes the car almost too easy to turn — you never feel like you're driving a luxury liner. There also are several driving modes — comfort, dynamic, auto and individual — as well as adjustable air suspension that make for a supple ride.
Interior: In a word, luxurious. Did we mention the massaging (and heated) seats for both driver and passenger? Try the variable percussion settings — "knocking," anyone? Add to that the comfortable, perforated leather seats and you have a great way to unwind after a stressful day. The dash and gauges (white on black) are easy to read, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels relaxing to the touch. The cabin is loaded with technology that's anchored by Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) system, the focal point of which is a crisp, 8-inch retractable LCD screen. It's easy to control with a touchpad, soft keys and buttons. A nice touch for our Florida heat: retractable rear and side-window sunscreens. A few nits: Peter didn't like the short T-shaped shift lever, which seemed to naturally want to skip to neutral instead of reverse when taking it out of park. Also, there were a few plastic pieces that didn't seem to fit the luxury trim, such as the paddle shifters.
Our 3 favorites
Lighting: The interior LED strip lights are both practical and a design element.
MMI: From the display of driving modes to the navigation maps, it's impressive.
Drivability: It's a big car that doesn't feel like one.
Massaging seats: Give yourself a treat during commutes with multiple modes, plus some heat.
Eyeliner: The LED daylight running lights look sharp.
Exterior: Elegantly understated design.
The bottom line: The A8 may not carry the same prestige as its other German competitors, but this third-generation model should be considered their equal. If you are in the market for a luxury sedan, you shouldn't overlook it.