For the 2016 model year, Audi's A8 focuses in on the big, sporty luxury it's good at and jettisons the short-wheelbase versions previously offered.
When Audi's A8 made its debut with an aluminum space frame and an optional W-12 engine, it dazzled critics that thought of Audi as a more mid-range brand.
Indeed, the A8 took a long time to become a legitimate rival for the full-size sedans from Mercedes and BMW. But It's a real challenger now-competing at virtually every level, winning some of the battles along the way.
In its current generation, the A8 fully realizes Audi's aspirations in its luxury niche. The S-Class and 7-Series set the pace; the A8 catches up with an abundance of technology and compelling powertrains.
Changes for 2016 include the addition of a new trim level and the removal of the short-wheelbase versions, which were offered last year with the 3.0- and 4.0-liter gas engines. The new model, dubbed the A8 Sport, marries the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with a sportier appearance-new front and rear fascias that give it more of an S8 look for less.
The A8 isn't the most compelling car in Audi's lineup. That would be the sexy A7 hatch. Being a bombshell isn't the A8's job, though. It's supposed to avert gazes, not draw stares. The shape is so familiar to Audi, the details have to do all the talking. The LED lighting looks like heirloom jewelry, the cockpit puts a leash on lavish trim.
A choice between W-12, V-8, and V-6 had been joined by a turbodiesel V-6. That diesel was pulled from dealers last year. Audi admitted that those cars intentionally cheated emissions standards and-while those cars are still legal to drive on the roads-voluntarily stopped sales until a fix is found.
The A8's drivetrain lineup has no minor-leaguers. The rev-tastic twin-turbo V-8 in the S8 would be our choice. It knocks out 520 hp, a decided advantage over the 333-hp supercharged V-6 or the 435-hp twin-turbo V-8. The 500-hp W-12 that powers top versions seems old-school and even a bit decadent, given the performance and economy of other models.
Audi fits all A8 sedans with a faultless 8-speed, paddle-shifted automatic and all-wheel drive. No matter the engine, it also adds Drive Select, which lets drivers toggle vehicle systems through comfort, automatic, sport, and individual programs. Unlike other Audis, the A8 makes the most of Drive Select. It can't dial in more steering feel, but it does narrow the multiple personalities into a few really great ones, highway cruiser and back-road bomber alike.
Audi only sells the A8 in long-wheelbase form now (the S8 continues in short-wheelbase form). Its 5 extra inches of wheelbase boost rear seat room to where it should be, and it lets Audi fill the back seat with all sorts of adult entertainment devices: quad-zone climate control, an extendable footrest, massaging seat, and power-reclining seatbacks.
On the options list: a rear-seat DVD player with two 10.2-inch screens mounted in the headrests, a fold-out tray table, and a 1400-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Audi's infotainment system controls all the music, phone, and navigation functions. Input directions by voice, by buttons, or by writing on a touch-sensitive puck-the A8 doesn't care how you talk to it, only that you do talk to it. A live data connection pipes in Google Maps, courtesy T-Mobile.
The A8 checks in with fuel economy of up to 29 mpg highway on V-6 cars.
In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)