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First Oz drive: Audi's A8 gentlemen's club

V8 first: The Audi A8 launches in Australia with a V8 variant, but diesel is set to follow.

New A8 limo aimed at Australia's rich and successful - mostly men

30 Jul 2010

AUDI is on a mission to win the hearts and minds of Australia’s most successful men with its fourth-generation large luxury sedan – the A8.

With its sights trained on 45-to-55-year-old males (it only expects three per cent of owners to be women), Audi will use the subtle but advanced range-topping sedan to try to lure them out of the popular Mercedes S-class and BMW 7 Series and away from the bold new Jaguar XJ. Audi launched its new flagship saloon at Hamilton Island this week, the same location it will use to wine and dine potential customers during September’s Audi-sponsored yachting Race Week.

It hopes to woo them with the aluminium bodied model, which has a new chassis set-up, an eight-speed transmission, more efficient and powerful engines as well as a raft of new technology including optional full LED headlights and a new touch-pad controller that allows you to enter data with finger scribbles.

It will be keen to emphasise the stylish interior, the remarkable optional Bang and Olufsen sound system and explain some of the advanced technology that was absent from the previous A8 model, the first of the series to go on sale in Australia.

The A8 certainly won’t be cheap, with the V8 pricing moving up from $206,600 to $225,904. While Audi is confident the A8 is the best in its class, the V8 still undercuts the V8 S-class ($289,900) and the V8 7 Series ($274,200).

The new A8 does not introduce much new technology to the class, but does allow the brand to catch up to its rivals by finally introducing night vision, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning into its range topping sedan.

7 center imageIt goes further with some functions, however, such as its thermal imaging night vision that not only identifies ‘warm’ items such as humans and animals beyond the reach of the headlights, but also predicts if they pose a danger and colours them accordingly – red means you might hit them, yellow means keep an eye on them.

The MMI (multi-media interface) control system has been moved forward on to the bottom of the dashboard for better control, and now features a data-entry pad. It shows numbers that can select such things as radio presets, but in certain modes it goes black so that you can use it to enter data using your finger like a pencil.

Like a Palm Pilot but without the stick, letters and numbers can be entered by scribbling them on the pad. If the system recognises the input it makes a sound of acknowledgement. The idea is that this way you can enter a satellite navigation address while driving without taking your eye off the road.

Audi has also introduced optional adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, which means the system uses radar to keep a set distance between you and the car in front and can keep control of the your vehicle all the way to a complete stop.

If the traffic gets going within three seconds, the Audi system will accelerate at the same rate, still keeping the same distance to the car in front. It is keen to point out the adaptive cruise works all the way to 250km/h, which is likely to be more of a selling point in Germany than Australia.

The adaptive cruise control will do all it can to prevent an accident and Audi says the system could wash off 40km/h at highway speed before impact, but will also prepare the car if an impact is deemed likely.

This involves tightening the seatbelts and closing the windows and the sunroof if it gets enough time. Depending on the level of technology fitted to the vehicle, the A8 can even sense a rear impact and move the seats to the safest position for an impact.

There are too many gizmos to mention here, but standard features include doors that don’t have to be shut properly (just half shut them and the car pulls them fully shut), a boot that opens and shuts itself at the press of a button, intelligent bi-Xenon headlights that constantly adapt in reaction to conditions (dipping from high to low beam) to avoid dazzling other road users and 22-way electric seats.

A TV system, satellite navigation, 20 gigabyte music hard drive all controlled through a new eight-inch high-resolution screen is also standard.

The A8 has grown to 5137mm long, 1949mm wide and 1460mm tall, and now weighs 1835kg for the V8 model.

It would have been far porkier had Audi not used an aluminium space frame and aluminium panels (Audi says steel body would have been 40 per cent heavier).

Audi used alumimium for much of the suspension as well. It shifted the five-link axle forward by 145mm for better weight distribution, while altering the multi-link rear suspension for higher damping ratios and less variation in toe and castor angles.

Air damping allows for three different ride settings – comfort, auto and dynamic.

Audi has also added a dynamic steering option, which alters the rate at which you need to turn the wheel at various speeds. The V8 A8 sits on 19-inch rims as standard.

The first A8 model is the V8 petrol, while a 3.0-litre diesel (184kW and 550Nm) will follow in November and more potent V8 diesel arrives next year.

The petrol V8 is a variation of the existing 4.2-litre direct injection V8 which has been fettled for fuel savings and now generates 273kW and 445Nm. That allows for a handy 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds. Fuel consumption is down 13 per cent and the official average now sits at 9.5 litres per 100km, with an emission average of 219g/km.

All engines are linked to an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission controlled by either steering wheel paddles or a form of T-bar automatic shifter, which Audi refers to as a ‘yacht thrust lever’.

Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is standard and the company feels it gives the A8 an edge over its rear-drive rivals.

A sport differential for the rear axle is standard on the V8 model. This system distributes more torque to the outside wheel while cornering to help push the vehicle around the turn and help negate understeer.

Audi has given the interior a major make-over, using a simple and clean design with high quality metal, wood and leather surfaces. US west coast timber and super soft deer leather from New Zealand are available along with long list of various trims that boost the interior feel.

There is a lot of chrome-work and a central analogue clock that is set by GPS.

Audi offers an optional Bang and Olufsen Sound system with 19 speakers, 1400 watts of power and two tweeters that pop up out of the dash. All this could be yours for a cool $14,430. No, that is not a misprint.

The exterior design is somewhat of an evolution. The single frame grille that dominates the front end of the car has been made more angular and the daytime running lights make a bold statement. There are some design lines down the sides of the vehicle and a slightly more raked C-pillar, but the shape is linked to both the last A8 and the other sedans in the Audi range.

Audi Australia is keen to lift the sales performance of the A8.

It introduced the previous generation A8 in 2002, and sales peaked at just 102 in 2006 according to VFACTS figures and dipping to low of 50 last year.

To put this in perspective, during that period, BMW’s 7 Series hit a high of 492 in 2002 and a low of 177 in 2007 and the Mercedes-Benz S Class hit a high of 578 in 2006 and a low of 199 in 2005.

Audi Australia’s new managing director Uwe Hagen wouldn’t state his A8 sales target, but told GoAuto the company would not be drawn into discounting.

“Volume is something we are looking for, but not really in the D segment because when you try to make volume in D segment you are hitting discounts,” he said.

Mr Hagen said it was important to maintain brand image, customer satisfaction and profitability. If these were achieved, the annual volume of the A8 was not so much of a concern, he said.

“If this is achieved with 110 cars that is fine, if it is with 120 that is better, if it is with 90 that is okay.”
Audi A8 pricing:
A8 4.2 FSI (a) $225,904

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