From £80,8757

Flagship Audi adds hybrid power to its arsenal of advanced technology - but is that enough to knock the excellent Mercedes-Benz S-Class off its perch?

Find Audi A8 deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
From £80,875
Nearly-new car deals
From £48,900
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

lmost three years have passed since the fourth-generation Audi A8 arrived as the brand's latest super-limousine and new technological flagship, and yet somehow we’re still to subject the Audi to full road test scrutiny.

This week, that changes, although we should say that an all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class will enter the frame this calendar year, and so whatever the verdict today, life is sure to get more arduous for this enormous and outwardly impressive Audi.

Part-electric A8 cuts a subtle figure among its range-mates but, in Volkswagen Group fashion, gets a piercing LED signature in the front bumper that gives away its hybrid status.

This particular version is the recent 60 TFSIe quattro, the first A8 plug-in hybrid powertrain in the model’s 32-year history. It adds a potent and clever petrol-electric powertrain to an already long list of technological innovations, including level-three automation (that is, the car can manage its direction and speed within its lane) and the suspension’s ability to ‘stress or relieve’ the loading on each wheel by using individual actuators and smooth out the ride over inconsistent roads.

Both features are made possible by Audi’s new zFAS nervous system, which collates the inputs of 24 sensors and cameras dotted about the car and enables numerous further tricks, such as the chassis’ ability to rapidly tilt in the event of an impending side collision and take the brunt of the impact on its strengthened sills rather than the doors. Trivial developments these are not.

Advertisement
Back to top

And yet the fundamental requirement of any limousine that wants to topple the S-Class – something the A8 has never achieved but must be sorely desired in Ingolstadt – is world-class isolation and sublime rolling refinement. Time to find out where Audi stands in 2020.

The A8 range at a glance

Audi flirted with four-cylinder power for the previous 2010-2017 generation of its flagship saloon (for the hybrid model). This time around, the lowest available cylinder count is six, rising to eight for the range-topping S8.

As an understated luxury limousine, the A8 goes without Audi’s dual-clutch gearbox in favour of a smoother-shifting torque-converter auto, within the casing of which our test subject’s electric motor is housed.

There has been talk of this A8 receiving Bentley’s W12, which would take power to around 600bhp, though we’re not holding our breath.

Audi A8 design & styling

With both this Audi A8 60 TFSIe plug-in hybrid and the 563bhp V8-engined Audi S8 arriving three years into the sales cycle, Audi has certainly saved its most interesting A8 derivatives until if not last then at least later. And with 443bhp and 516lb ft, neither does the most frugal car in the range lag too far behind the S8 in terms of performance.

It pairs a 134bhp electric motor, mounted within the housing of the eight-speed torque-converter gearbox, and Audi’s existing 335bhp turbocharged petrol 3.0-litre V6. Torque is split variably but permanently between the axles.

It’s the electric portion of the driveline – supplied by a 14.1kWh lithium ion battery pack sitting beneath the boot floor – with which the driver is first acquainted. Start the 60 TFSIe and it wakes silently, pulls away under electric power and will remain that way until its maximum zero-emission speed of 84mph if you’re gentle enough with the accelerator pedal.

Call for greater propulsive force than the motor alone can provide and the engine joins the fray, although with the battery fully charged and primed to deliver its 28.6 miles of official electric range, it should prove no hardship to drive the A8 60 TFSIe like an all-electric car.

Back to top

There are, of course, drawbacks to cramming two power sources into one car. At 2330kg, this long-wheelbase plug-in hybrid A8 weighs 335kg more than its V6-only rangemate and it is also considerably heavier than both the Mercedes S560e L and the BMW 745Le xDrive, which are its chief rivals.

The air-suspended Audi is also the longest car of this trio, which makes it all the more surprising that its wheelbase and boot capacity are the smallest.

INTERIOR

Audi A8 60 TFSIe 2020 road test review - dashboard

Like its rivals, Audi prefers to scale broadly the same cabin architecture among its range of saloons than design something bespoke for the top-of-the-line A8.

It’s why the stern, corporate geometry of our test car’s dashboard, which is inlaid generously with digital displays on both the centre console and within the instrument binnacle, is recognisable from the less prestigious A6 and Audi A7. This is also clearly a more austere, serious and business-like place to sit than the curvaceous innards of an Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the sporting plushness of the 7 Series so will appeal more to chauffeur-driven operations than to owner-drivers.

Large wheel feels appropriate for a limousine such as the A8. It’s also mercifully uncluttered with buttons.

The A8 does come alive at night, however, when the fine-line lighting embedded about the cabin glows warmly in whichever hue you’ve selected.

No A8 passenger will find themselves left wanting for space or amenity, particularly if they are aboard the long-wheelbase version, which adds 130mm of leg room for rear occupants and beats the Mercedes and the BMW in this respect. Four-zone climate-control and heated, electrically adjustable seats are standard fit even in the rear, which gets its own display control panel.

The long-wheelbase model also gets electric sunblinds, while for the driver there is a vast suite of aids, including predictive navigation, which automatically slows the car as you approach junctions, roundabouts and low-speed zones. Like many electric cars, the A8 can pre-condition its interior prior to departure and this is controllable through the myAudi smartphone app.

As is typical for plug-in hybrids that house their battery beneath the boot floor, luggage capacity is significantly reduced in the A8 60 TFSIe, falling from the 505 litres of the regular model to just 390. This is much less than even the comparatively small Audi A4 offers, and neither can the A8’s rear seats be folded forward to recover space.

Audi A8 infotainment and sat-nav

Audi’s latest MMI system splits opinion – and for good reason. Mounting a high-definition 10.1in touchscreen (for infotainment) directly above another, 8.6in display (for climate) will appeal to the magpie in anyone, but the dearth of physical switchgear means it’s difficult to make quick commands on the fly and the glass attracts unsightly fingerprints like nothing else. The command wheel found in the 7 Series is certainly easier to use.

In truth, pin-sharp graphics and helpful haptic feedback can’t disguise the fact that Audi’s MMI is also less intuitive than the iDrive system in the BMW when it comes to navigating menus, although the range of connectivity, which includes Amazon Alexa, is comprehensive.

Our test car was also fitted with the Comfort and Sound pack, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system that this option brings is certainly worth having.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Audi A8 60 TFSIe 2020 road test review - engine

For luxury limousines, the word ‘performance’ pertains not only to the cold, indisputable numbers that define acceleration and braking but also to the nature of the delivery. And the latter is of greater consequence.

With its turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 and electric motor working at their maximum, the A8 60 TFSIe will surge to 62mph in less than five seconds despite its 2330kg heft, but if the experience is that of an unruly scramble, the car’s very reason for being is holed below the waterline.

You’ll want to disable the lane-keep assist because, on a car this wide, it intervenes far too often. You can find the button to do so on the end of the wiper stalk.

Fortunately, the way this new powertrain deploys its substantial reserves of power and torque is never anything less than elegant and controlled. With healthy assistance from the electric motor, throttle response is fast and thereafter propulsive force builds predictably and, if you so choose, rapidly. And yet given that the engine and motor develop their combined and mighty peak of 516lb ft at only 1370rpm, much of the time there’s little reason to allow the engine to stray past 2000rpm, below which it is almost undetectable from within the confines of the vault-like, double-glazed cabin.

If you do let it rip, you’ll find it surprisingly sonorous, and sweeter than its diesel sibling, if not quite as satisfying on the ears as the straight six found in the 745Le.

However, most of these cars will be driven in chauffeur-like fashion, and it is at sedate speeds that you’ll find Audi has got the business of feeding electric power into the driveline proper – and then withdrawing it – down to a fine art. There are no hiccups, no delays and very few audible cues to give away the complexity of the operation. Shifts from the eight-speed auto are also supremely well executed, with no apparent break in the flow.

Meanwhile, fuel economy is going to depend on how exactly you deploy the car’s 28 miles of electric range, but in eighth gear, with the battery depleted, our test car returned 35mpg on the motorway.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi A8 60 TFSIe 2020 road test review - cornering front

If seamless performance is expected of any good limousine, the attribute by which it lives or dies as a concept is ride quality. Unfortunately, even the 45-section sidewalls of its tyres and the sophisticated air springs can’t hide the fact that the A8 60 TFSIe makes more of a meal out of lumps, pockmarks and corrugations than we would expect. The car’s ability to manage its ride height is excellent.

The issue is secondary ride, which is too reactive and prone to ‘bump-thump’ whenever one of the struts is asked to absorb a sudden load. British roads ask these kind of questions of cars constantly, so whether the plug-in hybrid A8’s suspension has been materially retuned to cope with the added weight of the battery pack (some 140kg) or the model line is in general set up for smooth German autobahns, the result is disappointing.

I can’t imagine owners will change the pads much on these: any braking up to 0.3g is taken care of by the electric motor running in reverse, and that ought to account for everything except for heavy stops.

The A8 does better elsewhere. The light steering – speed dependent but lazily geared in general and yet precise enough – is perfectly in keeping with the car’s role. The handling balance is undeniably nose led, even with the permanent four-wheel drive slightly biased to the rear axle, but it’s good enough that should you ever need to properly hustle the A8 in Dynamic mode, you can do so without any fear of losing control.

Beyond the long suspension’s propensity to shimmy momentarily when both vertical and lateral control is required at the same time – through a mid-corner crest or trough, for example – the big aluminium body is also kept on a reassuringly short lead.

However, overall the A8 lacks the detached elegance of an Mercedes-Benz S-Class on the move, and neither does it trouble the 7 Series for driver appeal. It leads us to believe that, far from lacking the engineering talent to execute a world-beating limousine, Audi is still struggling to pin down exactly what it wants the A8 to stand for.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi A8 60 TFSIe 2020 road test review - hero front

For company car drivers, the A8 60 TFSIe’s 15% benefit-in-kind rate makes it the standout option in the line-up, although the picture is less clear when you consider its rivals.

The S560e is fundamentally superior to the Audi, and this is reflected in its higher asking price, which nudges £100,000 in long-wheelbase form compared with the sub-£88,000 of this similarly stretched-out A8.

Our lightly optioned test car was impressive in its stature but lacked elegance. We’d go for lighter leather upholstery with eucalyptus inlays, and also the panoramic glass roof.

Residual values for the two cars are broadly similar, each retaining 30% of its original value after three years and 36,000 miles. However, the 745Le undercuts the Audi on list price and is also predicted to retain 38% of its value over the same period. We’ve yet to test this particular BMW in the UK but, from driving the car abroad, we expect it to expose the Audi in both ride quality and driver appeal. A tough group test awaits.

 

VERDICT

Audi A8 60 TFSIe 2020 road test review - static

Looking beyond the increasingly macho exterior designs and recent heavy marketing emphasis on quattro all-wheel drive, Audi’s core appeal has traditionally been the way it quietly innovates, and in this respect the fourth-generation A8 feels something of a return to form.

From the manner in which this plugin hybrid derivative expertly marshals its two sources of power to the complexity of the chassis electronics and the AI that monitors the environment and prompts the driver to make better decisions, it conveys an all-knowing and reassuring competence that’s impossible to miss. Paired with perceived quality that borders on the extravagant, there are obvious reasons why you might fall for this Audi’s colder flavour of charm.

Technically impressive, but not as cosseting as a limo ought to be

Equally, there is one significant reason why you might instead direct your attention to Stuttgart, and the Mercedes S-Class. The fact is that even in standard form, the A8 is prone to labouring poorer road surfaces, and the additional mass of the 60 TFSIe’s battery pack exacerbates this problem.

Simply, it fails to isolate and cosset its occupants as well as a world-class limousine should and therefore fails to earn our recommendation.

 

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Audi A8 First drives