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Full Throttle

Audi A8: Excess is a virtue

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While the Mercedes-Benz S-Class with its uber-plush approach and the 'driver's luxury' BMW 7-Series often hog the limelight when it comes to the full-size luxury sedan segment, there is a third player in this space too. What is more interesting is that it is the one which has been doing all the running, and dare I say it, winning too in the prestige car segment in Europe. In fact, the Audi A8 has been consistently outselling its rivals from Stuttgart and Munich thanks to a clever combination of adopting high points from both its rivals and then adding its own infinite charms and craftsmanship to ensure a package which makes it desirable to be driven in and just as involving to get behind the wheel.

The new A8 is the third generation in the series, which started in 1998 with a V8 mill and driving all four wheels using Audi's famed quattro drive. In fact, the Audi A8 broke new ground among luxury prestige cars for its all wheel drive capability - a distinction it has held on to right to this third-generation A8. We must mention here that the version we drove and the one which is coming to India is the A8L - the last letter standing for long, denoting a car with a lengthened wheelbase (130 mm to be precise). This version was developed by Audi after inputs from customers around Asia (including India).

Designwise there is not much to distinguish this car from its predecessor in terms of layout and visual (or physical) proportions. On certain counts, it has been panned for carrying on the A4-A 6 look onto the large flagship. At the front, however, the A8 reclaims its edge with its black gloss finish and optional LED headlamps with LED daytime driving lights.

One of the great things about the A8 is that Audi hasn't shied away from doing the unthinkable. One clear indication of this revolves around its supercarstyle all-aluminium spaceframe which is unique among cars of this category. The A8 also breaks new ground for Audi's flagship - it now comes with electrically assisted power-steering gear. This makes the car easy to drive around town, but feels limp when you wish to exploit the car's explosive firepower.

The A8 comes with a choice of five engines: two TDIs and three FSI direct injection gasoline, all of them having been tweaked massively, not just to liberate more thrust but to make them even more efficient in the consumption stakes. From the tidal wave sort of torque which drives the 4. 2-litre TDI to the high revving and silky smooth rocketship propulsion of 6. 3-litre W12 the choice of engines imparts different, but equally interesting characteristics to the car.

In the ride quality and comfort department, the A8 has a massive edge over its rivals. A sorted-out suspension setup with air suspension as a standard fitment makes the car's near two-tonne mass go like the blazes without upsetting the well-stacked back benchers - the sort who can't seem to make up their mind whether to power up their private Gulfstream jets or waft away on terra firma in the plush confines of the A8L.

If the oomph and the thrust have got to you, wait to be spoilt some more, because no one does interiors better than Audi. Sure, Jaguar these days has taken craftsmanship in leather and wood to a new high but Audi has even more comfort and attention to detail factored in, and of course the entire cabin is superbly laid out and solidly put together. The driver and front-passenger seats are great, and I also got a chance to be driven for a short stretch while seated at the back. This short stretch turned into a long one as I fell asleep on the last 90 km run into Munich. Not surprising given the beautifully reclining rear seats, electronically-controlled foot rests, and air pockets that gently massaged my back and neck.

All in all, the A8L overwhelms you with its power, style and engineering and the alacrity with which it darts from rest to its electronically limited 250 km/h top speed. It tops this all with its sensuous creature comforts making you wish the journey never ends. And this modern-day Maharaja mobile should be there for the Indian swish set by the end of this year. Time then for a change of wardrobe, don't you think? S-class and 7-series seem so passê !

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