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How do you define luxury? Is it in a sensory experience, or in perceived quality? Can it be defined by price or through sheer opulence? Perhaps it’s a combination of some, but not limited to one. One thing is for sure, defining it is an evolutionary form of measure. With technology moving at warp speed, it influences engineering developments and ultimately redefines how life works and therefore what luxury feels like in the 21st century.
For those lucky enough to have over R1 250 000 to spend on a vehicle, I would imagine they would have an acute personal understanding of luxury.
In 1994 Audi decided to take on rivals and the category benchmark leader for luxury - the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. They presented their best version of sumptuous opulence, launching the large and lavish A8. Made of all aluminium, it personified the brand’s ethos of Vorsprung durch Technik. Three generations and a midlife technology backhand later, Audi presents the 2014 A8 and A8 L.
The first impression
Audi’s of late (last five years or so) have been injected with a dominant DNA gene, which makes identifying the link rather easy. Think of the Baldwin brothers (Alex, Daniel, William and Steven) as an example; they look similar, have familiar Baldwin voices and all have the same piercing blue eyes and fiery Irish temperaments.
When selecting an Audi that best suits you, think of it like buying a particular item of clothing from your favourite brand – select your item of choice and preferred size: S, M, L or XL and Bob’s your uncle. This basic analogy can be used to describe Audi’s badged with even numbers (A4, A6, and A8, A8 L). They look almost identical but are just different in size.
Audi have two types of customers and have allocated two categories of designs for each of them. The above mentioned ‘evens’ that are understated, while the ‘odds’ are avant-garde. The odd numbered (A1, A3, A5 and A7) are less clinical in their design architecture and have a greater degree of variation in their individual appearances. They are playfully mastered and created for an owner who lives out of the box. Think of a graphic designer or a DJ.
The A8 L is Audi’s long wheel base version of the A8, making it a Grande version of the already well-endowed A8. It gains an additional 13cm in both length and wheelbase over the standard version and has additional noise damping measures to reduce the already low interior noise level even further. The A8 competes with the S-Class, 7-Series and XJ. These cars are the equivalent of property developers’ penthouses, offering the very best in terms of quality and technology, before it is filtered down to the rest of the brand’s range of vehicles.
Being the L version of the car begs the questions: Why would you want to drive an even bigger version of an already large car? Perhaps it’s because you want to be driven? Or, you like knowing that your passengers have yards of legroom and are bathed in luxury?
On the Road
The A8L is a spectacular piece of engineering. From its simple yet sophisticated Bauhaus design to its precision crafted interior. Despite its XL dimensions, the A8 L boasts a lightweight frame that weighs in at a meagre 231kg due to its aluminium make-up. This all impacts the cars performance. It’s lighter on its feet, so therefore more agile, faster and ultimately more fuel efficient. With the recent upgrades to the line-up, the A8 now feature more powerful engines that sip less of that expensive stuff called gas. A highlight of the car’s new look; which includes what must be the most technologically advanced set of front torches on a car today, are Audi’s Matrix LED headlights (R38 180 option). The common Halogen and premium Xenon bulbs have been replaced for an all 25 light-emitting diodes LED system, which is uniquely mated to the navigation system and light sensing camera systems. What this means for you and I is that the vehicle knows you are going around a corner before you do, and intuitively adjusts it volume of illumination accordingly through the independently dimmable diode LED’s. Sensors measure levels of light continuously, so oncoming cars and the driver have the optimum light being projected at all times. It’s brilliant and quite fascinating to watch.
The A8 L on review featured the entry level 3.0 TDI diesel unit. Its levels of refinement are outstanding, to the point that one questions that fact that is a diesel engine. It is quiet, silky smooth in operation with no vibration and when revved, has an Audi iconic sounding five-cylinder gargle that masks its actual six-cylinder capacity.
The engine runs through what is possibly the best gearbox money can buy, a ZF 8-speed automatic. This gearbox is so sublime that many other brands use it too, which is uniquely programmed for their own brands’ engines.
Famous for their quattro system, Audi four-wheel drive system adds to the sure footed nature of the car. With rivals choosing to use the rear wheels to deploy their power through. As a result, slippery surfaces are more easily managed by the Audi while competitors will see their arses sliding.
The A8 features a standard drive mode setting that is linked to its adaptive air suspension. The driver can opt to slide between an Efficient, Comfort, Dynamic, Auto or driver self-selecting Individual modes. Each of these modes adjusts the character of the car giving your A8 a positively referenced multiple personality disorder in one.
What I liked
What I wasn’t mad about
The extra stuff
The Audi A8 and A8 L come standard with a 1yr unlimited warranty and 5yr/100 000km maintenance plan. As one would expect, the A8 scored five stars in the European crash test, EuroNCAP.
I feel like a journalist about to critically assess the best CEO’s in the world. These four cars are all outstanding. But if one must analyse each nook and cranny, as I have set out to do, I begin my assessment with the BMW.
The 7-Series is popular with government officials, in the colour black and emblazoned with flashing blue lights. It is a BMW, and with that it is designed as a driver’s car. It is the only one here not available in a diesel long wheelbase and is therefore cheaper.
The Jaguar is easily the most artistic of the bunch and is eons away from the car it replaced, which still had the smell of Margret Thatcher lingering all over it- old-fashioned. The XJ is beautiful and features the most powerful engine of the bunch, offering good performance and a ride the current Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, would happily comply with. As you can see it is also the most costly of the four.
The Mercedes-Benz has always been the benchmark in terms of luxury and comfort. Its ride is unsurpassed. Its current looks are modern and sophisticated, attracting old and new clients. It’s hard to fault this master, but it is pricey and to fully experience all of the S-Class means adding additional option extras that make it expensive.
The A8 L has celebs buying it too, Jason Statham from the Transporter film series, owns one in long wheelbase version as does Orlando Bloom. If you can afford a driver there isn’t a better place to be than in the back of an A8. The money you save over its rivals can be put towards paying for your own chauffeur. Sounds like a plan then? It’s a done deal, I’ll take it, with the driver!
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