2011 Audi A8 Driving Impressions

Where the 2011 Audi A8 excels is in its driving dynamics, also known more plainly as its fun to drive characteristics. In every respect, save one, this is a car that owners will look forward to climbing into, whether it's for the daily commute or the out of state vacation.

The new, 2011 A8 is not a lightweight, tipping the scales at 4,409 pounds; the A8L weighs in at 4,435 pounds. Both models are heavier than the BMW 740i and 740Li, respectively, and this despite Audi's pound-shaving all-aluminum space frame. Even so, our test A8 rode better and responded to steering inputs with more certainty than the 2011 BMW 740i or the 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 we drove. Our A8 tracked through curves taken at elevated speeds more confidently than the BMW and Mercedes did, the quattro all-wheel drive system invisibly willing the back end to trace the arc marked by the front tires.

Road and wind noise were nicely muted, perchance in part thanks to the filtering provided by the sounds from the Bang & Olufsen system, which managed to make even the sports-addicted ranters on satellite radio's Mad Dog Radio sound eloquent.

The refined but audibly muscular V8 delivered its power through the 8-speed automatic cleanly and in a linear fashion, with no bumps or surges from camshaft mode transitions.

Fuel economy for the A8 is an EPA-rated 17/27 mpg City/Highway with a Combined rating of 21 mpg. Those estimates better or equal the BMW 740i's 17/25/20 City/Highway/Combined and Mercedes-Benz's S400 Hybrid's comparable 19/26/21 mpg. Also worth noting is that the A8's V8 delivers more power than either the 740i (315 hp) or the S400's gasoline engine (275 hp). Our weeks with the test A8s, during which the cars admittedly were driven with gusto and little regard to the price of gas, delivered figures quite a bit shy of those estimates, with an overall average of 13.6 mpg and a best just over 18 mpg achieved in extended freeway driving.

At the opposite end of the acceleration curve, the brakes performed consistently and evenly, never showing the slightest hint of fade and always at the ready. This latter is aided by a programmed function that primes the brakes' hydraulics any time the driver abruptly lifts off the gas pedal as if in preparation for a sudden stop. But it doesn't overdo things, as evidenced by the lack of drama when the brake pedal was touched in the midst of a freeway off ramp entered too fast, delivering only a well-controlled damping of the rate of travel and a calming stop at the intersection at the foot of the ramp.

The single reservation with the A8's driving ergonomics is with the shift lever. Audi describes it as styled like a yacht's throttle lever with the intent of serving as a wrist rest to facilitate the driver's use of the nearby touch pad. This sounds good in theory, and it certainly looks trick, but in practice not once during our weeks with the A8s did we manage to shift directly from Park into Reverse, the shift lever relentlessly and stubbornly slipping directly to Drive or occasionally only to Neutral irrespective of how gently we eased it out of Park.

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