Big, swanky cars used to be an expression of wealth and status - mobile confirmation that its occupants had arrived. But as the world’s economic woes continue, many companies (and even governments) have adopted a more circumspect approach to purchasing cars for their senior execs and office bearers. Where does that leave cars like the Audi A8 L? By DEON SCHOEMAN.
In a world in which downsizing is generally applauded and considered politically correct, you’d think that large, ostentatious cars would be a thing of the past. But you’d be wrong.
The market for those expansive, lavishly equipped sedans is alive and well, thanks to the continued demand from business tycoons and government officials around the world. So much for tightening our belts and opting for a more frugal lifestyle …
The Audi A8 is one of the players in the top-end segment, offering purchasers an alluring mix of upper-end image, high-tech aluminium construction and quattro all-wheel drive, together with an array of efficient petrol and turbodiesel engines. It’s also an imposing machine that attracts instant attention.
But if that’s not big enough, you can go one step further. Meet the long-wheelbase Audi A8 L 6.3 W12.
The Audi A8 is no stranger to our shores. The latest-generation version was launched to well-heeled would-be owners at the plush Oubaai Golf Resort on the Garden Route last year. Initially available in 4.2 V8 petrol only, the range has since been expanded, and now includes a variety of petrol and turbodiesel engines.
The A8 L 6.3 W12 is the undisputed flagship of the range, linking as it does the space and presence of the long-wheelbase model to the power and technology of the 6.3-litre W12 petrol engine. And yes, it is a big car: the long-wheelbase A8 is 5.27m long, which means it’s been stretched by 130mm compared to a normal A8 sedan.
It’s not just the A8 that’s larger than life. Lift that one-acre bonnet, and you’ll be greeted by one of the wonders of the engine world. The W12, with its three banks of four cylinders each, is a masterpiece of engineering.
Consider the stats: Capacity: 6.3litres. Maximum output: 368kW at 6,200rpm. Max torque: 625Nm from just 1,750rpm. Naturally, quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is an eight-speed Tiptronic auto gearbox. The result? Effortless performance.
That’s hard to believe, considering the size and bulk of the A8 L. But remember, like all A8s, this limo employs an aluminium space frame construction, which means it’s a lot lighter than you’d expect. The resulting kerb weight of just over 2tons sounds bulky, but still results in a power-to-weight ratio of 179kW/ton.
No wonder that the dynamic prowess of the big Audi is more akin to that of a thoroughbred sports car than a fat-cat limousine. The zero-to-100 sprint time of 4.7sec is quite astonishing, indicating just how much muscle that W12 can muster. And while top speed is limited to 250km/h, it’s obvious that the big Audi would be capable of much more if the electronic governor didn’t intervene so persistently.
But despite those figures, this is not a sports car in disguise. The A8 L feels serene and unflappable. It’s unexpectedly wieldy and nimble in the twisties, but always underplays just how fast it’s going – until you realise that the passing landscape has become a high-speed blur.
Part of the reason is the way this A8 cossets its occupants in uncompromising luxury. I have to admit that I’m not a good passenger – but I could get used to be chauffeured around town in this beast.
Let somebody else fight the traffic, while I lie back in my seat, switch on the TV, listen to some tunes or watch a DVD. Plus, this seat can recline if I feel like a nap and even offers heating or cooling.
In fact, this A8 L is one of the few cars which boasts a rear passenger compartment better equipped than the front. Two high-resolution, full-colour screens offer each rear occupant the opportunity to watch different programmes simultaneously – be it the news on etv, or a thriller on DVD.
Wireless headphones allow the audio to be enjoyed in private, but if both occupants are watching the same movie, you can also route the soundtrack via the A8’s own, multi-speaker audio system, complete with subwoofer.
Of course, there’s also a hard drive on which owners can store an almost infinite number of MP3 music tracks. And, since in this car the boss is more likely to sit in the back, all the key car functions, including the adaptive damping system and the interior lighting, can be controlled via the Multi-Media Interface (or MMI).
The cabin of the A8 L 6.3 W12 is very tastefully executed, and bristles with a comprehensive array of standard features – from fine-grain leather and piano black (or wood veneer) finishes to multi-zone climate control; from keyless entry and a power-operated boot lid to satellite navigation and a comprehensive array of safety features.
If you ever wondered what the “full house” term in those car ads refers to, this is it. There literally is nothing left to wish for.
So, the big question is: just where does a car like the Audi A8 L W12 fit in? Is it a really a mobile office for busy CEOs, a peaceful haven for decision makers to gather their thoughts between signing multimillion-rand contracts? Or is it simply a very public statement of wealth?
Of course, the Audi can fulfil all of those roles – and more. It all depends on the whims and the wishes of the buyer. And at R1,6 million plus, depending on options, you need to have a pretty good idea of what you are going to do with one of these cars before you buy one.
Spending that amount of money on a car can never make sense – unless you have so much moolah in the bank that an extra million here or there doesn’t really matter. In which case, the A8 L 6.3 W12 is perhaps the finest expression of the genre. DM
Audi A8 L 6.3 W12
W12, 6,299cc, 48 valves
368kW @ 6,200rpm
625Nm @ 1,750rpm
12,4 l/100 km (combined cycle)
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall