I have had occasion to hear quite a lot of gawping and gushing with regards to this particular Audi, not just from the first drive or the Indian petrol car test, but also when it was referenced as an influence on the new A6 and the A7. So when it became my turn to waft around in the car and pen the road test, I was expecting a tech fest of incredible proportions, with the sweetness of a diesel engine thrown in for good measure. And that is almost exactly how it turned out. Since this car differs from the petrol car we tested earlier only in the engine and the interior scheme, I will focus on both of those aspects.
Just to recap, the A8 has traded in its traditional subtle and pared back sleekness for an altogether more menacing, frowning visage that does stand out. It isn't just the kinked daytime LEDs either, though they contribute immensely to that sense of aggression. The body line is sleek and it isn't until you see the car fully side-on or walk all the way round to open a door for a significant other that you truly grasp how large the car is. Finish levels are typically excellent and materials and surfaces sit perfectly with what you would expect the brand's flagship to boast.
Despite the slightly heavier engine up front, handling and ride quality do not differ much from the petrol - it's a well damped car with a sporty edge to its ride quality, something that gets more intense in feel once you switch to the dynamic mode. Our car's adaptive modes also sported an automatic mode where you could feel the car become more compliant when roads got worse (and jittery-stiff when you cornered it with intent) but to be honest, I was perfectly content to just leave it in comfort and waft over broken roads, corner with minor body roll over sharp corners and notice nothing unusual whatsoever on fast sweepers. So, to the engine and the interiors.
The Audi 3.0 litre TDI is a familiar beast and we have experienced it under the hoods of various other Audis. 3.0 TDI is powered by a V6 common rail diesel engine that displaces 2967cc. The maximum power produced is 250PS between 4000 and 4500rpm. Maximum torque stands at 550Nm beginning at 1500rpm all the way to 3000rpm. Power is fed through an eight speed gearbox to all four wheels via Audi's Quattro system.
In a word, I like it. I drove patiently through town traffic like a careful owner or respectful chauffeur might and the car felt delightfully composed, quiet to the point of somber, though that word suggests a total lack of levity, which isn't how I remember it. The gearbox isn't the quickest draw in the battle, but for a car this large and with a purpose this clearly aimed at cosseting occupants in swift, unflappable comfort, the quickness of the gearbox isn't going to make or break a buying decision. Huge power lies in reserve should you need it albeit I would not classify the A8 as monstrously powerful.
Progress is efficient and quick and unless you have just driven something a lot more powerful you would not really think you want more power. It holds as much as 150kmph with such ridiculous ease that performance in pure numerical terms makes little sense to base a purchase decision on. 60kmph requires less than 3 seconds, 100kmph comes up in 6.82 seconds and it will blitz the quarter mile in 14.88 seconds. As usual, it is electronically limited to 250kmph. Roll-on performance, as is normal with automatic gearboxes is very quick and unless you are a racetrack refugee with a bulging wallet and a growing need for cosseting you are not going to need more power.
The engine remains quiet through the rev range although I have to note that overall my expectation was of a much quieter car - tyre noise over concrete roads, suspension noises over bad roads and engine noise at high revs are there and playing music hides them only a bit. Backing off the pace seems to help in this hugely and I noted an ethereal calmness specifically when I eased off and calmed down in traffic.
Then all the noises seemed to abate and the silence that ought to mark a cabin this expensive finally reasserted itself.
No, I haven't forgotten at all that it is a diesel and we found the car returned an eminently acceptable 16.36 kmpl on the highway and a reasonable 8.68kmpl on urban streets.
There are almost too many features on the diesel test car to be honest. I suspect Audi uses it to demo the possibilities to us as well as potential clients. I enjoyed thorough, effective five-types of massages while driving, I got my butt warmed and my shoulders cooled alternately, I streamed some sun in through the two sun roofs and streamed music over Bluetooth from my phone to the infotainment system. A system which I think is exemplary among the German infotainment systems when it comes to usability and clear interfaces. The touchscreen works well despite being on the left side for a right hander like me, but having it willing and able to switch to radio presets all the time, personally, is a terrible idea. I lost count of the number of times I switched to some cackling pubescent RJ with the innocent, involuntary brush of a finger. The plethora of buttons on the car do get a bit scary with all these features but as I imagine would happen, an owner would typically setup his car and then never touch a significant chunk of them ever again, so it's probably more a road-tester issue than an owner issue. For once the perforated leather seats proved non-sweaty even when I didnt use the seat ventilation at all. Rear seat room is abundant and while I love the way the DVD screens work around a seat being adjusted to ensure the passengers at the rear don't get inconvenienced. But the motors that do the magic are very noisy! I was surprised that navigation is still not active. Especially given that BMW now offers it, and within the Volkswagen group already the Vento IPL edition boasted about it too. And while we are on the screen, it is stowed neatly in the dash with only an aluminium strip showing. It pops out when you need it, like when you select reverse, or the media options or the telephone options. The screen constantly coming out and going back into the dash bugged me after a while. I tended to leave it stowed because when propped up it didnt look as integrated as an, er, integrated screen. It's a personal thing but I did like the cleaner look of the dash with the screen stowed. Plus, sans navigation, there really isn't a reason to have the screen out constantly, right? The little clock in the middle of the dash is probably superfluous given how many personal devices and the dash all have clocks, but I liked it anyway.
On the whole having spent a full weekend with the car and bit, I was properly sad to see it go. As far as big cars go, I found the Audi really manageable in traffic, easy to park and great to drive. Audi has been rocking up a proper storm as it sets about bringing it's passenger car image on par with it's well-established SUV image and I think the A8 with it's lovely diesel is going go to that process no harm whatsoever. Sirish will probably still say the S-Class will mollycoddle better and Bert will likely assert that the BMW 7 is a better sports-comfort balance, but that is the talk of immature road testers, and since I am so mature, I would, had I the requisite Rs 76.52 lakhs to blow on a car in this segment, pick the high-tech Audi over both.