by Karl Furlong
What do the Audi A8 and billionaire Bill Gates have in common? Well, the business magnate may be one of the wealthiest people in the world, but he has never been one for ostentatiousness, a point best demonstrated by his simple attire. Just because he has scaled greater heights than 99.9 percent of other humans doesn't mean he has to shout about it, much like the car you see before you. Here's a flagship luxury sedan with more comfort, opulence, and technology than almost everything else on the road, yet wrapped in a restrained package that will suit the more discreet shopper. While BMW tries to scare unsuspecting small children with its brash 7 Series styling and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class does its best impression of a spaceship for the road, the A8 goes about its business with less fanfare. With a beautifully refined cabin, an available 453-horsepower V8, and loads of features, the A8 barely puts a foot wrong, although the trunk isn't especially large and the touchscreen interfaces can be a bit fiddly. Its unassuming nature may see it being overlooked by some, but it's a crushingly competent luxury sedan.
For 2021, Audi has made a few changes to the A8's specification sheet. Regardless of the model you go for, every A8 now has 22-way power-adjustable front seats with ventilation, a top-view camera system, and the Audi phone box. On the 60 TFSI, the Sport style exterior kit is standard along with HD matrix-design LED headlights and Valcona leather upholstery. Available Executive Plus packages have been introduced and include features like heated rear seats and 20-inch wheels. Finally, the Black Optic Sport package now includes extras like a Sport style exterior kit, dynamic all-wheel steering, and 20-inch bi-color wheels. The new Audi A8 hybrid introduced last year continues as the most efficient variant in the lineup.
Audi may have succumbed to the big grille trend as well, but the A8's Singleframe grille is subtly incorporated. There's nothing especially dramatic about the design; it's just typically Audi, solid and classy in its appearance. 19-inch alloy wheels are standard on the base version, and all have full-LED headlights, LED taillights with dynamic indicators, power-folding mirrors, and a panoramic sunroof. Only the 60 TFSI has the Sport style exterior kit fitted by default. If there is a criticism, it's that the A8 doesn't look different enough from the less expensive A6.
The Audi A8 is marginally longer and wider than a BMW 7 Series so comes with a significant footprint. Key dimensions include a width (excluding the mirrors) of 76.6 inches, a length of 208.7 inches, and a height of 58.6 inches, except the 60 TFSI which stands 58.5 inches tall. All versions have the same 123.2-inch wheelbase. The curb weight starts at 4,773 pounds for the 55 TFSI and goes up to 5,335 lbs for the Audi A8 60 TFSIe quattro. That makes the hybrid over 500 lbs heavier than even a base Audi Q7 SUV.
A choice of ten colors is available for the A8, with Savannah Beige pearl joined by a range of metallics like Florett Silver, Glacier White, Monsoon Gray, Moonlight Blue, Mythos Black, Terra Gray, and Vesuvius Gray. Navarra Blue and Seville Red are the two most vibrant color choices. While none of these colors cost extra, Audi offers an exclusive special paint color for $3,900 more, where they'll match almost any hue you ask them to.
Even the base Audi A8 is a strong performer. With its 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine producing 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, it'll run from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds before reaching a top speed of 130 mph. Like every other A8, it's equipped with quattro all-wheel drive as standard. Higher up in the range is the 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 with 453 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque that cuts the benchmark sprint down to 4.5 seconds, although it has the same top speed. Both of these models come with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, although this system is tasked with powering the car's electrical system rather than adding more performance. Slotting in between these two is the plug-in Audi A8 hybrid with a 3.0-liter six-pot paired with an electric motor that produces a combined 443 hp and 516 lb-ft. It will accelerate to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and can reach a top speed of 84 mph in pure electric mode. Although the A8 range performs well, the BMW 7 Series is generally a more sprightly performer, with the 750i xDrive reaching 60 mph in under four seconds. Unlike the BMW, the Audi is AWD only, whereas the 7 Series is offered with RWD as well.
The A8 range begins with the 55 TFSI which has a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine making 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Like all other models, it's paired with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. This refined engine will be sufficient for most and endows the big A8 with a decent turn of speed, while the gearbox quietly goes about its business. However, the 60 TFSI is the one to go for if you want more grunt, as its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 serves up a meaty 453 hp and 487 lb-ft. It's a notable step up in performance and passing slower traffic is truly effortless. Both these engines benefit from a 48-volt mild-hybrid system; this doesn't add more power but gains charge for the A8's various systems, reducing the need for energy to come from the engine exclusively.
More efficient but nearly as quick is the Audi A8 plug-in hybrid which pairs a 3.0-liter V6 engine with an electric motor to produce peak outputs of 443 hp and 516 lb-ft. It uses a 14.1 kWh battery and can reach 84 mph on electric power alone. This A8 Hybrid operates in EV mode initially before the gas engine comes to life when more power is required, but it all happens seamlessly.
The Audi's ability to both isolate occupants and also keep the driver from nodding off behind the wheel is mightily impressive. Although the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has, for years, been the gold standard for ride comfort, the A8's adaptive air suspension is never far behind in its ability to smother bumps and surface imperfections like a true professional. Combined with an exceptionally quiet cabin that keeps wind and road noise at bay, the A8 is a truly relaxing car to ride and be driven in. In last year's A8 Hybrid review, we noted the almost eerie silence of this model, especially in electric mode.
With power going to all four wheels, the Audi A8 quattro isn't short of grip when tackling a series of fast sweeps, while the accurate steering allows the big sedan to be placed with ease. As long as you don't expect much feedback through the helm, you'll be satisfied. All-wheel steering is available as an option and noticeably reduces the turning circle, so maneuvering in crowded parking lots becomes less of a chore. On the 60 TFSI, predictive active suspension is available - this system uses electromechanical actuators that can adjust the suspension and lift or force down each wheel individually. The effect is a reduction in body roll in Dynamic mode and an even silkier ride in Comfort Plus mode.
The Audi A8 will cost you at the pumps, as it isn't quite as thrifty as its chief rivals. The base model return EPA estimates of 17/26/21 miles per gallon city/highway/combined. By comparison, the BMW 740i returns 22/29/25 mpg. In the same vein, the BMW 750i fares better than the V8-powered A8 60 TFSI, the latter returning 15/23/18 mpg. The 60 TFSIe plug-in hybrid is by far the most thrifty of the lot, consuming 23 mpg combined on gasoline and 53 MPGe with electricity factored in. Audi claims an all-electric range of approximately 18 miles.
In the 55 TFSI and 60 TFSI, a 21.7-gallon gas tank is fitted, which equates to a combined cruising range of about 455 miles in the case of the former. The PHEV has a smaller 17.2-gallon gas tank so has a combined gas mileage of around 395 miles. With a regular household outlet, charging the battery will require about 6.5 hours. To reduce that time to under three hours, a level 2 charger will be required.
The A8's immaculately trimmed cabin is everything we've come to expect from Audi. You won't find any cheap or nasty plastics inside and everything you touch reeks of quality. Audi has also moved further away from physical buttons and knobs by fitting the A8 with dual touchscreens with haptic feedback. They work well, but some will miss the hard keys for often-used functions. Other than this, the leather-upholstered seats are wonderfully comfortable and there is a huge amount of space, especially at the back. Every A8 comes with standard four-zone automatic climate control, power soft-closing doors, and 22-way power-adjustable front seats. A top-view camera system is a useful addition for 2021.
The four main seating positions provide brilliant comfort and support. For 2021, the front seats offer an even wider range of power-adjustment than before and both of these chairs are ventilated, which is perfect for summer days. Even taller occupants should have no problem with leg- or headroom, as the A8 offers more than enough of both at 41.5 and 38.3 inches, respectively. However, as is often the case, the middle rear seat is not as comfortable as the outboard seating positions. If five sounds like a crowd, the A8 can be fitted with a four-seater Executive Rear Seat Package that adds heated, ventilated, and massaging rear seats. This upgrade even goes as far as a rear heated foot massage function. Ingress and egress pose no problems, and visibility is excellent thanks to slim roof pillars.
All A8 models come with Dark Brown Walnut Natural Wood trim and Dark Matte Brushed Aluminum inlays lower down in the cabin. Valetta leather covers the seats and fine Nappa leather adorns the center console and door armrests. For this year, though, the 60 TFSI has standard Valcona leather upholstery. It all feels suitably luxurious and upscale. The Valetta leather comes in Black, Saiga Beige, or Sarder Brown. For an extra cost, Valcona leather upholstery can be equipped to models that don't already have it which also adds a few more color options to the mix such as Nutmeg Brown and Pearl Beige. Two additional wood trims, Natural Fine Grain Ash Gray Brown and Natural Eucalyptus Gray Brown, are available. An Alcantara headliner can be specced as well.
For such a large sedan, the A8 is curiously lacking in terms of generous cargo space, which we noted in previous Audi A8 reviews. In the non-hybrid models, the trunk measures just 12.5 cubic feet and, in the hybrid, this shrinks to an even smaller 10.4 cubes - the latter figure is even less than you get in an Audi A5 Coupe. Considering that the BMW 7 Series offers over 18 cubes, the difference is significant. A powered trunk lid is standard, fortunately.
In the cabin, smaller items can be stashed in the central storage compartment or the glovebox, which is a good size. Door pockets are included in all four doors. For rear-seat passengers, a fold-down center armrest provides additional storage space, while the driver and front-seat passenger have access to two well-positioned cupholders.
The Audi A8 lives up to its status as the brand's flagship sedan as it ships with plenty of comfort and convenience features. Every version has 22-way power-adjustable front seats that are both heated and ventilated, while the driver gets a power-adjustable tilt/telescoping steering wheel with memory. This is a car that caters to all passengers, though, with a standard four-zone automatic climate control system and power rear and rear-side window sunshades. LED ambient interior lighting, a panoramic sunroof, and an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror are all standard. For 2021, the previously optional top-view camera system that offers a 360-degree virtual view is now included at no extra cost. This is in addition to other driver aids like front/rear parking sensors, cruise control, lane departure warning, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Audi pre sense basic, pre sense plus, and nine airbags provide peace of mind. A host of options can be specced such as heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, traffic sign recognition, and intersection assist.
Audi's latest MMI touch response and MMI navigation systems rely on touchscreens rather than physical controls. The setup uses a 10.1-inch upper screen and an 8.6-inch screen lower down. A third screen, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, displays even more functions. All of these screens can seem a touch overwhelming for customers coming from older models, and while it can be fiddly to operate at times, at least the displays are crystal clear, and haptic feedback improves usability. New owners should expect to spend some time studying the owner's manual to get the most out of the system. Standard features include Amazon Alexa compatibility, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, two USB ports in front, HD Radio, SiriusXM with a 90-day trial subscription, and Bluetooth connectivity. For audiophiles, the A8 doesn't disappoint with its standard 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D premium sound system. If that's not enough, a 23-speaker sound system can be equipped, as can dual rear tablets.
The Audi A8 sedan has been recall-free for the 2020 and 2021 model years so far, with the last recall coming back in 2019, proving its penchant for reliability. According to the NHTSA, this was for an improperly manufactured passenger seat.
If anything goes wrong, the A8 comes with Audi's four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty along with four years of roadside assistance. A 12-year corrosion perforation warranty also applies to the vehicle.
Lower-volume luxury vehicles like the Audi A8 often go untested by authorities in the USA when it comes to crashworthiness, and that's the case here. Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA have yet put the A8 through its paces.
The Audi A8 comes equipped with a total of nine airbags, which include a driver's knee airbag and rear side airbags. Of course, ABS brakes, stability control, and traction control form part of its specification, too. Audi pre sense front and pre sense basic are standard, as is a tire pressure monitoring system. Whereas a top-view camera system was optional last year, it's now equipped straight out of the factory. Driver-assist technologies encompass cruise control, rain/light sensors, front/rear parking sensors, and lane departure warning. However, a few added-cost extras will raise some eyebrows on such an expensive sedan, such as adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, active lane assist, intersection assist, traffic sign recognition, a head-up display, and rear cross traffic assist. In this regard, some rivals are more generously equipped.
The Audi A8 luxury car has a few flaws but these are easily outweighed by the many things it does supremely well. Both the hybrid and non-hybrid powertrains are powerful and refined, although it isn't the most efficient sedan in this segment. It rides beautifully, the cabin is finished in top-class materials, and there's plenty of technology on board. However, the touchscreens do occasionally frustrate and the trunk is undersized for this segment. The A8's understated appearance will continue to find favor with buyers who want an opulent luxury car without needing to show off about it, although it's exactly this restraint that may see some customers prefer the grander Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Speaking of the S-Class, the all-new version of this sedan will likely continue to prove a tough prospect for the A8 to overcome. For Audi fans, though, the A8 hits all the right notes.
The 2021 Audi A8 starts at $86,500 for the base 55 TFSI, which represents a small $300 increase in the Audi A8's MSRP for this year relative to the same model last year. A8 prices have also risen slightly for the rest of the range, with the 60 TFSI e plug-in hybrid at $95,900, while the 60 TFSI with its V8 engine goes for $98,900. Every Audi A8 price here is exclusive of tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $1,045. The BMW 7 Series starts at almost exactly the same price ($86,800) and for around $4,000 more than the V8-powered A8, the 750i xDrive offers considerably more power and performance. Other luxury sedans for sale include the Lexus LS, which starts at almost $10,000 less than the A8.
Audi's flagship A8 is offered in three flavors: the base 55 TFSI, the 60 TFSI, and the 60 TFSI e. All are equipped with quattro all-wheel drive, an adaptive air suspension, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 48-volt mild-hybrid system is equipped to the first two trims.
The 55 TFSI starts things off with its 335-hp 3.0-liter V6 turbocharged engine. It comes equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, front/rear parking sensors, LED lighting, and a panoramic sunroof. Inside, the seats are upholstered in Valetta leather and feature 22-way power-adjustment, heating, and ventilation in front. A Bang & Olufsen sound system, a digital driver's display, and four-zone climate control are standard.
Moving up to the 60 TFSI brings with it the larger 4.0-liter V8 turbocharged engine with 453 hp. This version also gains a Sport style exterior kit, HD Matrix-design LED headlights, and Valcona leather upholstery.
Finally, the 60 TFSI e is a more efficient choice with its 3.0-liter V6 engine, an electric motor, and a 14.1 kWh battery. It can travel 18 miles on electric power alone and isn't far off the pace of the V8 up to 60 mph.
For 2021, Audi's new Executive Plus package packs in 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, heated rear seats in a four-seat-only configuration, front heated interior surfaces, and a rear-seat remote control. It also includes the contents of the Driver Assistance Package and Cold Weather Package, adding features like adaptive cruise control, intersection assist, and traffic sign recognition. All this is bundled in for $5,000. Alternatively, the $5,500 Luxury package adds an Alcantara headliner, aluminum optic buttons, the Extended Leather package, heated and ventilated rear seats with massage function and power adjustment, and a USB Audi music interface for the rear of the cabin.
For a more enticing look, the Black Optic Sport Package (not available on the hybrid) adds a Sport style exterior kit (already standard on the 60 TFSI), a black optic exterior, dynamic all-wheel steering, and 20-inch bi-color wheels. A 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system is available as a standalone option for $5,900.
There isn't a big difference in the standard specification between the various trims, so it's up to you to decide whether you want the cheaper V6, the burly V8, or the more efficient plug-in hybrid. Assuming that running costs aren't a huge factor in a high-end luxury sedan, we'd have a hard time resisting the 60 TFSI for that smooth and powerful V8 engine. As the standard specification is a bit thin on driver aids, we'd tick the Executive Plus package box for the Driver Assistance Package it includes, adding the likes of adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. It also adds the utmost in luxury for the rear-seat passengers and brings the total price up to $104,945 including destination.
One of the A8's main competitors comes from inside its own family in the shape of the stylish A7 Sportback. This five-door liftback has a much more expressive exterior than the A8 and its design has practical benefits too; at 24.9 cubic feet, the A7's trunk is far more accommodating than the A8's. However, the interior specs say that the A8 is better for people as it has more headroom and a massive 7.3 inches of additional rear legroom by virtue of its long wheelbase configuration. In the A8, there are also more features such as the standard Audi virtual cockpit, a larger upper touchscreen display, and four-zone climate control. However, some of these features are offered on the range-topping A7 Prestige, which starts at $78,350, almost $10,000 less than the base A8. If you want V8 power, the A7 won't do as it only comes with the 335-hp V6 - only the S7 adds a V8, but starts at $84,400. Both are comfortable cruisers, although the A8 takes refinement and smoothness up another couple of notches. If you'll be doing more of the driving yourself and are considering a base A8, the range-topping A7 is well worth considering.
Starting at $54,900, the Audi A6 is much more affordable than its big brother. However, its base 2.0-liter four-pot only makes 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. No V8 is available as it is in the A8, but the 335-hp V6 is offered. Stylistically, it's difficult to tell these two apart, which is good news for the A6 but not for the A8. The A6 has a plush cabin and in higher trims, comes with many of the amenities you'd find in the A8. There's a lot more space to stretch out in the back of the A8, though, making it the better choice for executives who prefer to be chauffeured. That being said, it's the A6 that has a bigger trunk. Oddly, there are more standard safety features on the A6, with the Prestige having adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition, which Audi makes you pay extra for on the A8. Both are excellent luxury cars and if you can't stretch to the A8, the A6 hardly feels like a poor compromise.