“Audacious” was how car wags like me described the full-size Audi A8 luxury sedan 25 years ago when Audi crammed the sum total of its impressive technological innovations and sybaritic delights into cleanly styled sedan you could draw with two strokes of a pen—one straight line for the lower body and an arch for the roof. But while it featured revolutionary all-aluminum construction, optional all-wheel drive, and a strikingly clean, if unostentatious, presence, its audacity mainly derived from the gall Audi was exhibiting by taking on the iconic Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series.
The A8 has been fully redesigned three times since then, and while the A8 has yet to crack the S-Class/7-Series juggernaut in terms of sales, it has fulfilled its original mission of establishing the A8, and by extension, Audi, as on-par with those stalwart Germans. And so we looked forward to getting to know the new A8 and the newfound spoils Audi’s fourth-generation übersedan might offer.
Now, you’re forgiven if you’re thinking, “That’s all-new?” Indeed, Audi sedans evolve about as quickly as river rocks, except Audis tend to get sharper, not rounder, over time. While you could still capture its essence with the same two pen strokes, the new A8 wears more chrome, more creases and a broader, brighter grille than ever. Our tester’s deep Vesuvius Gray paint made its chiseled body with its oh-so-subtle new fender flares appear hewn from solid anthracite. With its full-width OLED (organic LED) tail lamps, huge (optional) 20-spoke wheels, and chrome strip circumscribing the car at ankle level, our A8 tester was downright ornate—by Audi standards, anyway. There’s even a cute “animation” in the laser headlamps and OLED tail lamp wafers initiated upon locking or unlocking of the car from outside.
Yet despite its many aesthetic conceits, the new A8 turned nary a head during our time with it—blending into today’s automotive landscape as discreetly as ever. Dot-com braggarts, this is not the car for you; mega-stars looking to evade the paparazzi, keep reading, because the good stuff is inside.
Seriously, to open the door is to peer into Iron Man’s mission control center. Along with its clean, futuristic aesthetic is the clear sense that, as the dash lights up and vents emerge from behind trim panels, the space has also become more intelligent, if not audacious. Most buttons and knobs have been banished in favor of touchscreens and capacitive touch controls, all discreetly integrated into the vast swaths of reflective black trim mixed in with the de rigueur leather upholstery, metal trim and rich, open-pore wood veneers. Audi’s multi-configurable high-res “virtual cockpit” gauge cluster serves up driver information brilliantly while a large upper touchscreen in the center of the dash handles navigation and infotainment features. A lower touchscreen nearly as large controls climate functions, programmable favorites like the remote garage door opener, power rear-shade controls and certain driver assistance features. Best of all, it’s not only intelligent but intuitive, at least once one learns where all the controls are now located—swipe left and right, pinch to zoom, etc.—with haptic feedback to boot. One may even hand-write inputs on the lower screen when, say, entering destination information. The only drawback? Dust and fingerprints take to shiny black surfaces like June bugs to a streetlight, and while Audi deserves credit for providing a branded microfiber wipe, if you have a whiff of OCD like your author, you may never put that thing down.
Of course, being a full-stop modern luxury car, the 2019 A8 offers too many goodies to list here, but highlights include Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, high-definition Google Maps, Waze integration, plus 30-color, two-zone ambient interior lighting, a fragrance atomizer, and for audiophiles, an incredible B&O audio system and rear-seat entertainment incorporating dual removable tablets on the front headrests. Our tester also featured reclining, massaging outboard rear seats that, along with the audio system, could be controlled via a removable iPhone-sized touchscreen device that docks inside the fold-down armrest. Slick. Spendier types who’d rather be transported in the car’s gigantic rear quarters than drive should insist on the executive rear seat package featuring a fixed center console and individual rear seats, with the right-side occupant able to deploy a motorized footrest from behind the front passenger seatback provided there’s no one actually seated there, of course.
For those interested in actually driving their A8s, the sole powertrain offered at this point is Audi’s new 335-horsepower turbocharged V-6 mated to a responsive eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. What’s a luxury car without a V-8, you ask? Plenty quick, thank you, and a standard mild-hybrid 48-volt system helps keep fuel efficiency at last year’s levels despite all the additional kit.
The A8 also steers with precision and comports itself quite well in tight corners despite its grand size, even boasting a compact-car turning when the optional four-wheel steering system is chosen. The A8 also features one of the industry’s best semi-autonomous highway driving systems on the market that help take the headache out of traffic jams, so long as you don’t mind aggressive drivers occasionally jumping into the gap the car leaves between itself and the car ahead.
Pricing for the 2019 Audi A8 starts at $84,795, but it doesn’t take much to cross the $100K (ours cost just over $101K.) Checking all boxes elevates the price to nearly $130K—for the V-6 model! Audacious, indeed—but boy, is that thing smart.