Lightweight Luxury

The Basics

Audi’s new flagship sedan gets increased horsepower, a longer wheelbase, a new transmission and an easier-to-use control system. It retains its trademark aluminum spaceframe and in typical Audi fashion its elegant interior.


Audi outfitted the A8 with a 4.2L 330 hp. V-8 engine capable of 317 ft.-lbs of torque. That’s an extra 20 hp. and 15 ft.-lbs of torque over its predecessor. It is coupled with a new 6-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission that has 30 percent lower ratio in first gear and weighs less than a 5-speed automatic transmission.

Audi’s top-of-the-line sedan also has a driver adjustable air suspension for continuous damping control in four modes. The comfort mode is meant for cruising down the freeway and keeps the vehicle’s ride height at 120 mm. A lift mode operates up to 62 mph with a ride height that is increased by 25 mm. Automatic mode keeps the vehicle taut and lowers the vehicle 25 mm. when a 75 mph speed is reached. Finally, dynamic mode allows the driver to get the most out of twisty, sporty drives with a sport suspension setting and a body lowered 20 mm.

Other technology

What others call iDrive, Audi calls Multi-Media Interface (MMI). This system controls the radio, navigation system, suspension settings and other vehicle functions and displays it on a screen in the instrument cluster and on a larger screen in the center of the instrument panel. With only four levels of menu options, the MMI is easier to use and intuitive for the driver. Unlike competitors, climate control is not part of MMI. Research said it was too cumbersome to include in the system, says Audi.


The new A8L uses Audi’s third generation aluminum space frame. It saves 300 pounds compared to a conventional steel space frame for a 40 percent savings vs. steel. The new space frame has fewer castings and fewer parts (267 vs. 334). But it uses more extrusions than its predecessor allowing for a 60 percent increase in torsional rigidity. Audi uses riveting almost exclusively in the construction of the A8 and says the vehicle is less expensive than a conventional steel vehicle to repair. It is built with crush tubes that absorb energy and are easy to change without welding.


The vehicle is a centerpiece in the automaker’s plan to move even more upmarket and away from being “tier 2” player competing with Saab, Volvo and Acura and toward being a “tier 1” player competing with Mercedes, Lexus and BMW.

Audi is targeting a younger customer with the new A8L, which goes on sale this month in both the U.S. and Canada. The automaker expects to sell about 5,000 each year in the U.S. and 300 in Canada. That is significantly more sales than the 2,000 to 3,000 Audi sold of its predecessor each year. Retail prices for the U.S. start at $88,500. Eventually, the company will introduce a normal wheelbase and a high performance version of the vehicle. The normal wheelbase is expected sometime in 2004 with the high performance model not expected until 2005.

What we think

The new Audi A8L feels lighter, smaller and sportier than it looks. It handles outstandingly in virtually any speed and condition. The difference between the suspension modes is obvious and easily felt. On the inside it has the clean and classic design we’ve come to expect from Audi, while on the outside it continues the A8 legacy with some updated lines and curves.

Specifications: 2004 Audi A8L
What is it:Audi’s flagship all-aluminum sedan.
Engine:4.2L, DOHC aluminum alloy 90 degree V-8
Horsepower:330 at 6,500 rpm
Torque: 317 lbs-ft. at 3,500 rpm
Transmission:6-speed automatic with Tiptronic
Wheelbase:121.1 ins.
Height: 57.3 ins.
Curb weight: 4,399 lbs.
Air suspension:Lift, comfort, automatic and dynamic modes lift or lower the suspension depending on road condition, speed and driver desire.

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