New Audi A8 2021 review

Can revisions to the Audi A8 limo make it a more effective rival for the Mercedes S-Class? We find out…

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    This mild refresh for the A8 hasn’t transformed its eternal position as bridesmaid to the Mercedes S-Class. Even so, while we wish the S8’s predictive air suspension was offered across the full range, Audi’s largest saloon is still every bit the hi-tech tour de force you expect and, whether you’re in the driving seat or reclining in the back, the facelifted Audi A8 is a consummate professional.

    However you look at it, a 5.2-metre-long, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 limousine like this facelifted Audi A8 will cast something of a dinosaur-shaped shadow in 2021.

    Yet the new Range Rover and Mercedes S-Class, not to mention existing rivals such as the BMW 7 Series, all offer potent V8s, so why wouldn’t Audi? Of course, the A8 will come with a range of options, including a 3.0-litre V6 petrol or diesel in the 50 TDI and 55 TFSI respectively, and a plug-in hybrid, the A8 60 TFSI e. This boasts a more energy-dense 14.4kWh usable battery capacity, so will go a bit further on electric power than the 29 miles previously achieved (the official WLTP range has yet to be confirmed). The 523bhp Audi S8 still tops the line-up.

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    • Other highlights for this update include fresh styling with a wider, brasher grille, new OLED rear lights, and digital matrix LED headlights on top-spec Vorsprung models. These contain 1.3 million micromirrors, which can be adjusted 5,000 times per second. They know whether you’re on the motorway or a country road, and adapt the beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic.

      Our European-spec test car had a detuned version of the S8’s V8, which Audi won’t sell in the UK. But every A8 will get all-wheel drive and adaptive air suspension, while our car’s four-wheel steering and predictive suspension are pertinent to the S8.

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      Even with a low-fat, 453bhp version of the V8, the Audi A8 is lavishly potent, with the enormous spread of torque making it easy for the smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox to keep the engine in its comfort zone; the shifts are barely perceptible unless the engine is under full load. But it must be noted that the plug-in hybrid offers very similar performance to this V8, and is likely to be the pick of the range for most UK buyers considering an A8.

      It’s a shame that the predictive air suspension won’t be optional on the rest of the range because it works seriously well and would improve the ride comfort on those standard cars that we know falls a little short of newer rivals.

      This system uses a camera to read the road ahead and adjusts the suspension for maximum comfort, while in high-speed corners it “leans” the A8 to keep it from rolling too much. It even helps to counteract any heavy pitch and dive under braking and accelerating, and lifts the car by 50mm when you unlock it to make it easier to get in.

      It gives the A8 unflappable confidence no matter whether you’re on the motorway, chauffeuring clients into town, or making the most of a good road. Nothing flusters it, which is precisely what you want from a big limo. Sure, the Mercedes S-Class has more fluid, tactile steering, and SUV alternatives like the current Range Rover and Bentley Bentayga have more practical boots, but the Audi remains a precision masterpiece in all the ways that you expect it to be.

      Naturally, there’s enough room in the back for a couple of very tall passengers to recline in lavish comfort – especially in the long-wheelbase A8 that can be had with the full gamut of footrests, massage functions and entertainment and connectivity tech.

      Up front, the stack of twin touchscreens still dominates the A8’s dashboard, and although they don’t look as modern as the uninterrupted, single-screen architecture in the S-Class, the Audi’s are actually easier to use. A straightforward menu layout, pin-sharp graphics and a gearshifter that steadies your hand as you prod away at the screen all help, and of course you get sat-nav, Android Auto, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging and more on every model. The secondary screen for climate control isn’t quite so responsive, but it’s still perfectly easy to use while driving.

      There’s no doubt that the Mercedes S-Class has a more cutting-edge feel, but don’t discount the Audi – especially given that its lease costs are likely to be usefully lower than those of its shiny new nemesis.

      Model: Audi A8 L 60 TFSI
      Price: N/A (in UK)
      Engine: 4.0-litre V8 petrol
      Power/torque: 453bhp/660Nm
      Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive 
      0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
      Top speed: 155mph
      Economy: 26.1mpg
      CO2: 246g/km
      On sale: December 
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