At full pelt, the deep reserves of power are frightening - the V8 sounds brutal and the big Audi is breathtakingly fast. This must be what riding a ballistic missile feels like.
WHO'S afraid of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class? Not Audi, apparently. Even as the brand with the three-pointed star prepares to launch the latest version of its flagship sedan, the brand with the four rings has unveiled a new engine for its top-of-the-line model, the Audi A8.
As part of the refresh, the A8 gets a slight cosmetic update, with extra chrome on the front bumper and "square" exhaust exits inspired by the 12-cylinder W12 variant. But it is the latest-generation A8's new turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that makes all the difference. It replaces the old 4.2-litre naturally aspirated eight-cylinder unit and it is state-of-the-art.
Developed with input from Bentley (Audi and Bentley are both owned by the Volkswagen Group), it features cylinder deactivation technology that saves fuel and lowers carbon dioxide emissions.
It is a neat trick. Under acceleration when sheer oomph is required, all eight cylinders operate normally.
But when the big Audi is cruising, say in third gear or higher at low to moderate engine speeds, only four cylinders are actually firing. "Cylinder on demand" shuts two cylinders on one side of the Vee, and another two on the other side to enhance efficiency. As a result, the biturbo V8 is smaller but more powerful, faster but more fuel efficient and yet with a whopping 35 per cent more torque that is available much earlier because all 600 Newton-metres are deployed from just 1,500 rpm.
And at 9.5 litres per 100 km, the engine uses 2.1 per cent less petrol under the combined cycle. On the move, the cylinder deactivation is so smooth you won't notice it. The only indication comes from the multi-function display in the instrument cluster, which if set to the onboard computer function, shows when the engine is in "4-cylinder mode".
But when required, all that is needed to summon the V8's reserves is a tap of the accelerator. The response is instantaneous, thanks to a pair of air and watercooled turbochargers located between the two cylinder banks for a shorter intake path and fast response. And despite weighing in at slightly over 1,900 kg, the A8 has superb acceleration. Zero to 100 kmh is now dispatched in 4.7 seconds, or one second less than before.
The large limo feels light and nimble because of its all-aluminium construction and quattro permanent all-wheel-drive. Quattro lends grip and stability in fast flowing corners. Together with air suspension and the Audi Drive Select function, handling and engine response are further refined, with the driver able to separately adjust the suspension, steering weight and ratio, the throttle and the silken eight-speed automatic transmission's shift points. So even in long-wheelbase trim as the A8L, it doesn't feel bulky or unwieldy.
And at full pelt, the deep reserves of power are frightening - the V8 sounds brutal and the big Audi is breathtakingly fast. This must be what riding a ballistic missile feels like. At the same time, the driver and his four passengers are ensconced in typical Audi luxury, with a handsome lower centre console and spacious rear bench. As a standard feature, the front and rear seats are air-conditioned.
The cabin is particularly hushed because of extensive efforts to reduce noise, vibration and harshness, like the active engine mounts and active noise cancellation. The latter uses four microphones to record the overall interior noise pattern and emits an opposing sound through the loudspeakers to cancel out original noise. This feature is operational even when the entertainment system is turned off.
With its latest innovations, the A8 should be suitably revitalised to take on any competition.
Audi A8L 4.0 TFSI quattro
Engine 3,993cc V8 turbocharged
Transmission 8-speed tiptronic
Max power 414 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Max torque 600 Nm @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
0-100 kmh 4.7 secs
Top speed 250 kmh (governed)
CO2 emissions 221 g/km
Average OMV $95,000
Price $528,700 (with COE)
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