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2011 Audi A8L : The Flagship of Flagships

Flagship – (ˈflæɡˌʃɪp) – The best or most important one of a group or system. Source:

Often we hear of automakers make claims about their flagship vehicles.  When you start to break apart these claims you might find that the word flagship is one thrown around rather loosely.  An opportunity to drive the flagship of the Audi brand presented itself and I discovered what truly sets the Audi A8 and A8L apart from the rest of the flagships.

If you’re interested in a German luxo-flagship sedan your choices are the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or Audi A8.  Most people would be happy with any one of the three in their driveway but once you start to pick apart the differences, the Audi A8 starts to pull away from the others.

The Audi A8 is nothing short of an engineering marvel.  Let’s look at some of the features that really make the A8 a game changer in this segment:

1. Bang & Olufsen Sound System – I have to admit I am a sucker for sweet sounding audio systems and this one takes the cake.  This 1,400+ watt system has 19 speakers.  The speaker grills are covered in traditional Bang & Olufsen aluminum covers that could double as a Williams & Sonoma cheese grater.  They are stunning to look at, as are the tweeters that rise from the instrument panel as the ignition is cycled on.  I plugged in my iPod and I was actually disappointed with the sound.  Sirus XM didn’t sound as good as I had hoped.  Then I remembered that sound output is as only good as what you put in.  I grabbed a box set of Talking Heads DVD-Audio discs (yes, I am maybe one of four people who own DVD-A discs) and popped one in.  Simply stunning.  I’ve been listening to the Talking Heads for 30+ years and I can now say I have really listened to them.  The 19 speakers were able to replicate the music better than a live concert.  The speakers went beyond the frequencies that human ears can hear.

2. Night Vision Assistant – When people talk about night vision they often think about the military using it to spy on the enemy.  What if you were able to spy on pedestrians?  I was able to drive the A8L through a busy college campus where jaywalking is so common you’d think there was free beer in the middle of the road.  The night vision is displayed in a screen in between the gauges and it puts a yellow box around pedestrians to let you know where they are.  It can see wider and farther down a road than headlights will allow you to see.  When one of those college kids steps too close to the car while it is in motion a beep lets you know.  The first time it went off I slammed on the brakes not knowing what the sound was.  It’s an incredible feature that I was able to record so you can see the difference. Click this link: Audi A8L Night Vision Assistant

3. 27 Highway MPG – When you have a vehicle equipped with a V8 and is longer than a Chevrolet Tahoe you would naturally expect the fuel economy to be somewhat of a sore subject.  The Audi A8L is 207.4 inches long and weighs in at 4,453 lbs.  Consider that the smaller Taurus SHO weighs roughly the same weight, is shorter in length, and has a V6 but gets less MPGs than the A8.  Also consider than the hybrid versions of the 7 Series and S-Class don’t even come close to the A8 fuel economy and they have rear-wheel drive while the A8 has quattro all-wheel drive.  How is this possible?  Audi designed the entire vehicle to be made from lightweight aluminum.  An eight-speed transmission helps to sip fuel and a ultra low drag coefficient of .26 helps the A8 glide through the air.  This lightweight chassis makes the A8 feel surprisingly nimble but that might also be attributed to the adaptive air suspension which can lower the car on highway speeds, adding to the fuel economy gain.  Fuel economy is a surprise and delight in the A8.

4. Audi MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch – While we hear may automakers tooting their own horns about voice recognition, there are quite a few of us who still are not comfortable talking to our cars with imperative phrases.  Audi has addressed this problem with the world’s first touch pad.  You can simply write with your fingertip a phone number or address.  It’s quick, intuitive, and accurate, even for someone with almost kindergarten-worthy handwriting, such as yours truly.  Check out the MMI system here.


5. Lighting – Audi has taken lighting to the next level by turning interior and exterior lighting into an art form.  The exterior headlights immediately grab your attention.  Not since the blinding Saturn daytime running lights of the 1990s has a brand had such memorable DRLs.  Two kids were getting into their car while I was heading into the grocery store and yelled “hey, nice A4” so I know that the Audi has done their job in getting people to know their LED DRLs.  Audi has really gone all out on the A8 in regards to lighting.  The exterior headlights can be had in 100% LED form for a nominal amount of coin and provide a great daylight color with a design that is more unique than your fingerprint.  The interior makes use of LED light pipes in the overhead console and along the edges of the headliner.  There is also adjustable LED lighting coming from the door panels that gives the car an eerie glow at night.  In fact, I couldn’t find any incandescent lights on the car except for the license plate, which appeared to be bulbs.  The A8 really is a showcase of how LEDs will change cars in the next ten years.

The A8 provides all of the latest safety features including blind spot detection, lane departure warning, stop & go cruise control, and a system that can detect potential forward and rearward collisions and prep the interior for impact.  The seats can massage, heat, and cool your backside.  The sunroof can be had with a solar panel to power a fan to keep your A8 cool in the summer heat.  A rear entertainment system can also be had with dual 10-inch screens that can do everything from program a navigation destination to listen to Sirius XM or watch a DVD.  Is the sun too bright?  Power sunshades pop out of the rear doors with the touch of a button.  Don’t want the world to hear you blasting Justin Bieber through 1,400 watts of Bang and Olufsen goodness?  No worries.  The A8 can be equipped with double-paned glass to keep exterior noise out and Justin Bieber in.

So is the Audi A8 without fault?  Of course not.  I had a very difficult time installing a toddler car seat due to poorly positioned anchors.  Another issue I found was that the steering wheel doesn’t always come back to you when the car is turned on.  Oh, and where is the remote start?  Not an option here.  Sure, just minor issues.  Nothing that could be a real detriment to a potential buyer.

The A8 has impeccable fit and finish.  The body panels are perfectly squared up and the interior was free from gaps, squeaks, and rattles.  Our tester came in at a cool $102,265.  For that kind of cheddar it is difficult to find something short of a super car that has the same image as you roll down the road.  This is the car you want to show up to at the valet or country club.  This is the car that stops traffic, draws stares, and makes me realize that Audi has a new flagship.  With a new T-Mobile rolling hotspot and Google Earth navigation system on the way for 2012, don’t think Audi is taking a break just yet.  Even without the Google Earth system, the A8 is the flagship to purchase in 2011, if you want to say that you have ‘made it’ in life.  Nothing else quite says that like the A8 in the $100,000 arena.

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