Audi’s flagship A8 is significant for a number of reasons. It’s Audi’s biggest, most powerful, all-wheel-drive car. Moreover, it was the first all aluminum sedan. And with the styling of big German cars swinging wildly between bland and brazen, the A8 is a handsome, distinguished-looking machine. So what’s next for the A8? Well, how about an even larger size?
And the 2004 Audi A8L luxury sedan definitely qualifies as large. In fact, it’s extra large, almost limousine large! That’s because the already substantial A8L dimensions have been stretched. The 121.1-inch wheel base is 2.6 inches longer than before and 5 inches longer than the standard A8 that Europeans get but Americans don’t. And despite simplifying the aluminum space frame chassis, weight has increased to 4,399 pounds, making the all-wheel drive A8L as long and heavy as a Mercedes S500 4Matic.
But the sheer mass of the car is somewhat disguised in the A8L’s handsome, well- tailored, yet muscular styling. The deeper, more angular front fascia has a distinctively Teutonic look, while the wedge-shaped profile, arched roof line and 5-inch longer rear doors accentuate the extra wheelbase. The beefiest view of the car is out back, where a deep fascia and higher deck lid pump up the rear flanks. But the tall trunk and steep rear glass also sharply reduce rear visibility.
No complaints about the rear cabin, however. It’s huge. There’s more space for heads, legs and shoulders. The rear seats also offer optional heat and power lumbar adjustments on the outboard positions. Trunk space is virtually unchanged, but at 17.7 cubic-feet, it’s plenty big. The front cabin also changes little in dimensions, but is still very ample and comfortable and superbly equipped with all manner of intelligent comfort and convenience features.
Occupant protection includes front, front and rear side, and curtain airbags. Onstar is standard. The plush 16-way power seats are covered in fine Valcona leather, with both heat and ventilation available. The electro-luminescent gauge cluster is ideal for checking progress at a glance. Compact and very clear, with a driver information display for more details.
The crown jewel of the A8L’s cabin is the Multi Media Interface. With a 7-inch folding screen and large center console controls, it monitors audio, climate, navigation, and chassis dynamics, and is a lot easier to understand than similar systems by BMW and Mercedes. The standard stereo is a Bose Surround Sound audio system with a 6-disc CD changer and Noise Compensation Technology that automatically adjusts the audio signal to counterbalance disagreeable road noises. The filtered, dual-zone climate system is fully automatic and includes a rest function that continues to circulate heated air even when the ignition is off.
To move all this class and comfort, the A8L sports Audi’s impressive 4.2-liter all- aluminum dual-overhead-cam 40-valve V8, now delivering 330 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic, with manual shift mode. Lower gears shift firmly, while higher shifts are baby-bottom smooth. All send power to the pavement by way of Audi’s latest Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Standard wheels are 17-inch alloys, with larger 18 or 19 inch hoops available.
The A8L may be big, but it really moves. 0 to 60 is a quick 6.9 seconds. The 1/4 mile takes 15.2 seconds, ending at 97 miles-per-hour. It’s as quick as many smaller sport sedans, and as refined as a Rolls Royce. In fact, the drivetrain is deceptively fluid, the A8L delivering its speed with none of the drama one might expect from a machine capable of such velocity.
The handling will also surprise you. This limo-size sedan reacts almost like a coupe. The active air suspension has variable ride height and damping. Combined with standard stability control, the A8L responds with sharp cornering and superb body control. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system produces mild front plow, and plenty of grip. While the Servotronic variable-speed steering is precise, with plenty of feedback.
After that, we’d be pretty disappointed if the brakes hadn’t delivered stops from 60 that averaged a fine 125 feet. The 4-wheel discs with dual-diagonal circuit ABS are quite strong, while chassis stability is in the Gibraltar class.
Now after listening to us gush over the A8L like a teenager girl over Hilary Duff’s wardrobe, you might think that it sits at the very top of the luxo-car price range. In fact, the A8L carries a base price of $69,190. Very pricy, indeed, but over $15,000 less than you’ll pay for a Mercedes S500 4Matic. Pile on the options, however, and you’ll quickly catch up with the Benz.
But you get what you pay for. And if you pay the price for the 2004 Audi A8L, you’ll get much more than a plus-size backseat. This is one of the most refined, yet capable luxury sedans on the market today, but one that also doesn’t forget the driving enthusiasm that the Audi brand is famous for. Indeed, if there ever was an executive sedan for those with a passion for driving, the 2004 Audi A8L is it.
Engine: 4.2-Liter All-aluminum Dohc 40-valve V8
Torque: 317 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.2 Seconds @ 97 MPH
60-0 MPH: 125 Feet
EPA Mileage: 17 MPG City 24 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 18.5 MPG Mixed City/highway