The 2015 Audi A8L TDI is a big car that doesn’t feel like a big car.
It doesn’t feel like a small car either, or a mid-size car. It’s indisputably a big car, but descriptors such as “hulking” or “vast” or “gargantuan” need not apply. The A8 imposes its scale, inside and out, with grace, dignity, and verve.
It also has something else going for it: a 3-liter turbocharged diesel engine that smoothly decants 240 horsepower through the 8 silken gears of the car’s transmission. The “TDI” — “turbocharged direct injection,” when translated from the original German — part of the A8L’s designation means that this impeccably tailored and immaculately mannered sedan can deliver mileage in the 30-40 mpg range.
Unlike the upscale S3 sport sedan that my colleague Ben Zhang recently enthused over, the A8L isn’t designed to evoke Audi’s rally-racing heritage, and it’s only peripherally inclined to allude to the success of Audi diesel engines at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
It is designed to do everything right when carrying a full load of passengers in more or less a straight line over significant distances. This is where the “L” comes in. The A8L is the extended-wheelbase version of the A8, which means a backseat big enough to comfortably accommodate a couple of NBA point guards. Legroom like this is what everyone in business-class gets and what everyone in coach lusts for. It goes without saying that the front-seat passenger can fully recline without inducing road rage.
It’s a limo, basically. A discreet limo.
I took my three kids on a road trip down the East Coast in this limo A8 and I’m here to report that if any sort of highway or freeway cruising is on your agenda for the future — and you have approximately $100,000 to spare — this is a big sedan that as I said doesn’t feel big (but is) and that will enable sibling togetherness, but not sacrifice the useful demilitarized zones in the back seat, zones more familiar to owners of hulking, vast, or gargantuan 7-passenger luxury SUVs.
I’m here to to report that this car produces joy in a context where joy should be in short supply.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DRIVER?
Audi has successfully revived and enhanced its brand by creating a lineup of vehicles wedged in the quite limited space allowed by Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus — the so-called “Tier 1” luxury brands. Audi wants to be Tier 1, and for many, it is Tier 1. It’s the young person’s Tier 1.
And the A8 is a younger person’s idea of an executive statecar.
One should slip into the driver’s seat, with it many settings and adjustments and its ability to toggle between multiple massage modes, not to mention be heated and cooled, and feel…oh, at least 50 or 60.
Or like you should be wearing a cap and taking orders from the back seat.
But you don’t feel that way. You also don’t feel like you’re about to pilot a machine that weighs in at over 4,500 lbs.
Rather, you feel prepared by your surroundings — in my case, all black leather, tastefully dulled chrome and brushed aluminum, and quietly direct reddish orange instrumentation — to set a decisive course, possibly by using the superb Google Maps-powered navigation system, and to attack the road with subtle yet deliberate purpose.
I’ve never enjoyed driving a long way quite so much.
At times, the A8 all but drove itself. The adaptive cruise control is simple to set and monitors traffic with an unobtrusive fastidiousness. It’s a joyful experience to turn it on and watch the miles remaining on your voyage tick away as the engine progressively gains in efficiency, serving up mind-boggling range. We covered more than 500 miles, easily, on a single tank of fuel.
These were undistracted miles. The center-console infotainment system is operated using a knob and 4 buttons. It can swivel down and be neatly stowed without shutting off the Sirius XM radio. The navigational prompts continue to flow to the driver’s instrument cluster. Various other straightforwardly designed and indicated buttons and knobs control other vehicle functions, climate, and allow you to switch from media to traffic alerts and manage the car’s driving dynamics.
Passengers in the back seat have similar, though less extensive, controls of their own, to modulate their own comfort.
Okay, there aren’t enough cupholders (there were, actually, more working cigarette lighters in my test car). But this after all is a serious German automobile. This is not a sodawagon. This is not a rolling home theater. Thou shalt not eat donuts in this car.
A small complaint, in the grand scheme of things.
Well, one other…
The trunk is a tad snug, space-wise. I was had-pressed to squeeze four suitcases in.
But again — big car, small complaints.
The A8 is one of those cars that you want to drive and drive and drive and then drive some more and then just keep on driving. It’s the highest expression of the “freeway cruiser” I’ve ever encountered, which might sound insulting— but why? Most everyone does most of their driving on interstates and freeways and expansive multi-lane thoroughfares where the kind of stuff that thrills your garden-variety Porsche or BMW 3-Series fanatic is literally nowhere to be had: you don’t need to consider the apex of your turn or how “balanced” your vehicle is when all you’re doing is taking on gentle curves and languid straightaways.
The A8L is optimized for the legal speed limit.
Or, as an influential car writer once pointed out to me: not all great driving is done at the limit of grip.
Diesels haven’t really taken the U.S. by storm — unless you’re in those parts of the U.S. where big pickups are popular. This is understandable; regular gas is easier to come by. Folks worry that they won’t be able to find diesel pumps (we had no problems).
But diesels do have advantages. Some are performance-oriented. Even with less than 300 horsepower, the A8 still has snappy acceleration, a function of the abundant torque that diesel engines generate. Better, however, is the superb fuel efficiency. A car this big shouldn’t deliver the roughly 33 mpg I managed on my trip. But it did.
If all this sounds like something you might want, the A8L is absolutely worthy of consideration. It does many things very well. It does these many things without shouting for attention. It’s a good place to spend a number of hours. It slips through the night as if the night were custom-fitted to its flanks. It has all-wheel-drive (duh, it’s an Audi! An Audi Quattro!) and is as surefooted as a mountain guide in a Tom Ford tuxedo.
It just works, at so, so many levels.
In the end, I’m fine with only two cupholders. Totally fine.