Sometimes I just don’t get along with a car. The Audi A8 L arrived in my driveway and it didn’t seem to be looking for trouble. Audi’s technobarge flagship wears its sheet metal like an understated tuxedo, exuding confidence and high quality with every curve of its Phantom Black pearl-effect sheet metal. Yet, by the end of my week with it I was muttering under my breath at just about every single thing it did, annoyed by the prospect of taking it out on the streets yet again.

Which is a shame, because the Audi A8 is a fine automobile. It’s just that sometimes you and your partner don’t quite mesh. No matter how well trained, personality conflicts can ruin any situation.

Continue reading for more of my review of the Audi A8.

Exterior

2015 Audi A8 - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
- image 632128
2015 Audi A8 - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
- image 632131
2015 Audi A8 - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
- image 632126

Things got off to a promising start. The tuxedo analogy fits Audi’s family style well, and the A8’s a big sedan with elegant curves and lines.

It stands at the curb as proud as a royal butler, with a massive Audi grille held stiffly upright at the end of a long hood, and new full-LED headlights.

It stands at the curb as proud as a royal butler, with a massive Audi grille held stiffly upright at the end of a long hood, and new full-LED headlights. Like the Lexus LS and Jaguar XJ, the A8 is available with an extended wheelbase for additional executive-class back-seat room, which adds five inches to the car’s overall length.

This car is dignified in a sporty, modern way (as opposed to a stuffy, Rolls-Royce way), and there’s athleticism in the design, thanks to a strong character line that defines the A8’s shoulder and gives the rear windscreen a dramatic slope.

Perhaps the A8 is more of an action butler. It certainly looks that way with the available 20-inch wheels installed. While not the most eye-catching design to my eyes, the A8 attracted many looks and thumbs-up as I drove.

Interior

2015 Audi A8 - Driven Interior Test drive
- image 632137
2015 Audi A8 - Driven Interior Test drive
- image 632133
2015 Audi A8 - Driven Interior Test drive
- image 632132

Inside, more of the finest materials and construction await. The A8’s dash sweeps from wall to wall like a piece of heirloom furniture, accented by available Vavona wood and gray inlays, and by seats with handsome diamond-patterned leather stitching. The dash features a retractable touch screen for a hint of modernity. The console’s also a pretty piece of tech, with an electronic shifter toggle and well-placed ancillary controls for the dual-zone climate controls and Audi’s MMI infotainment.

Dual sunroofs, rear-seat sunshades and a suede headliner help to project a feeling of opulence. Hiding beneath the surface is a raft of "welcome to the future" technology, including a night-vision system that can detect pedestrians and animals in the dark, a head-up display and a 360-degree camera. The rear seats are comfortable as well, and feature HVAC controls. From the driver’s seat, the A8 feels long and low, but visibility is great. For some reason, the 1940s station on the standard XM satellite radio just sounds right while cruising in the A8. Maybe it’s the extra legroom in the rear cabin.

Drivetrain

2015 Audi A8 - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
- image 632129

And then I got it out on the road, and we began to disagree. Audi’s 4.0-liter V8, the mid-range engine, is a smooth performer, providing effortless acceleration that hides the A8’s 4,600-pound curb weight well enough. Tweaks for 2015 have raised horsepower to 435 and the new oomph is delivered smoothly and without drama. The 4.4-second run from 0-60 is almost casual, so unflappable is the A8 under power. It’s a long-legged powertrain as well, happy to loaf along at extralegal speeds all day should you choose to do so. The A8 lacks the “stand aside, peasants” attitude of other technobarges like the Mercedes S-Class, Hyundai Equus and Porsche Panamera, going more low-key than that. Standard quattro all-wheel drive and the eight-speed Tiptronic transmission work together magnificently. Geared for smoothness rather than shattering acceleration, the A8 felt slightly less mellow than the A6 or A4, interestingly enough; there was some occasional hesitancy between gears. There’s also a stop-start system that offers fuel savings in urban traffic.

Geared for smoothness rather than shattering acceleration, the A8 felt slightly less mellow than the A6 or A4, interestingly enough; there was some occasional hesitancy between gears.

Out in the world, the A8 was nervous, seeming to tramline on perfectly smooth pavement. As it turns out, this was not the fault of Audi’s sophisticated, fully-independent suspension, nor of the road. The A8 can actually turn and handle just fine. Unfortunately, it thinks too much. The Audi Active Lane Assist is constantly intervening. It’s designed to gently steer the car back into its lane if the driver drifts, but in the A8 that I drove the Active Lane Assist proved to be hypersensitive, flinching away from the lines on the road every few seconds. Taken by itself, this habit is no big deal; I’ve driven with similar systems in Volvos and Mercedes and thought nothing of it. But the A8 seems to lack a counter-correction feature.

What happens, then, is that the Active Lane Assist senses the car is leaving its lane, and automatically dials in some steering so it’s moving away from that path. Rather than straightening the wheel back out again, however, the A8 is now pointed more dramatically at the opposite side of the lane. This dance will go back and forth with increasingly hard corrections until the system’s threshold is achieved and it gives up entirely. I let it go pretty far and the A8 lurched drunkenly from one side of the lane to the other for two miles before I straightened it out, lest I pick up a DUI for weaving.

The Active Lane Assist will also attempt to correct during turns, meaning that if the car starts to drift over the line on a freeway off-ramp, it begins some spooky counter-steering in mid-turn. This also happens when the road takes a long, gentle turn; if the car doesn’t stay precisely in the center of the lane, the A8 will start trying to make minor corrections. I was constantly correcting the Active Lane Assist’s corrections, resulting in a drive with rather more drunken lurching about than is dignified for a six-figure car.

In concept, it’s a good system, but in practice I felt like I was constantly fighting the A8 for control. And it never stopped complaining. If it wasn’t the lane departure warning pushing back, it was the front collision sensor informing me that the car ahead was too close, or the parking sensor chirping because the parking block was too close. Dynamically the A8 handles well; it’s just that the driver aids are attempting to help way too much. It was almost as though the A8 just didn’t like the way I drive. Why couldn’t we just get along? I didn’t have this problem with the equally techy Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS!

Prices

2015 Audi A8 - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
- image 632130

The A8 is available with a wide range of powertrains, especially for this class where most of the competition makes do with just one or two engine offerings. The A8, on the other hand, can be had with V6, V8, W12 or diesel power. The V6-powered A8 3.0T starts at $77,400, making it competitive with the lower-priced vehicles in the class (think: Hyundai Genesis). Diesel power comes in at $85,100, bringing 36-mpg efficiency on the freeway.

The A8 4.0T starts at $86,400 for the regular wheelbase and $90,400 for the long-wheelbase model. The 4.0T I drove was optioned up with a full complement of luxury upgrades, of course. Audi packed it with the Premium, Luxury, Driver Assistance and other packages, and it stickered for $103,875. That’s not the top of the line for the A8 line; the A8 W12 adds a 6.3-liter 12-cylinder engine and is available only with the long wheelbase. It starts at $137,900.

Competition

Mercedes S-Class

2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class High Resolution Exterior
- image 506371

The perennial king of this class has worked hard for that crown, and it shows. The latest S-Class combines interior styling that would look at home on a concept car, with a curvy, eye-catching exterior design and brings it home with Mercedes’ traditional engineering and technology twofer. Even though it’s one of the more expensive cars in its class, the S-Class feels like an even more expensive vehicle.

Read our full review here.

Jaguar XJ

2015 Jaguar XJL - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 585285

The XJ was just a niche player in this market for a long time, but that’s changed with the most recent incarnation. The XJ combines graceful fastback styling with a unique interior aesthetic that sets it dramatically apart. The long-wheelbase model is motivated by a V8 that practically defines the adjective "silky" as it applies to cars.

Read our full driven review here.

Kia K900: For buyers looking to achieve executive-class sporty luxury without breaking the bank, the K900 presents an intriguing alternative to the Germans. A powerful V8, smooth and substantial ride and a handsomely modern luxury aesthetic are wrapped up in a package that feels like six figures but only demands five.

Conclusion

2015 Audi A8 - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
- image 632131

So when it’s time to consider the six-figure price tag, where does this car land? For me the A8 comes off like a somewhat fussy butler. It’s handsome at curbside and extremely comfortable inside, but on the road it just won’t relax. The lane departure’s constantly correcting the steering at random times, the stop-start isn’t obtrusive but it is noticeable, and…I don’t know exactly, it just feels bitchy. It’s a big, handsome technobarge, of course, and its understated styling grabs the attention of passersby even though it’s a pretty conservative design, but there’s just something about it that rubs me the wrong way. And unfortunately, that’s not something that an Alcantara headliner or heated seats can correct.

  • Leave it
    • Active steering assist could use refinement
    • Too many driver aids to turn off
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: