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.
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.
See trim levels and configurations:
|L 55 TFSI quattro
3.0L Turbo V6 Gas
|L 60 TFSI quattro e Plug-in hybrid
3.0L Turbo V6 Plug-in Hybrid
|L 60 TFSI quattro
4.0L Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
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 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.
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.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Audi A8: