BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
Audi A8 4.2 FSI review (2010 onwards)
Model: Audi A8
Bodystyle: four-door luxury saloon
Engine: 4.2-litre V8 petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
GALLERY: Audi A8
Read more Audi reviews on MSN Cars
Compare the Audi A8's rivals with Car Guide
What is it?
Meet one of the most sophisticated cars on sale. It is the A8, Audi's technology flagship and the only car in the big luxury class that comes with four-wheel-drive, an aluminium body and the choice of a V8-powered diesel.
The model we're testing is the rare 4.2-litre V8 petrol model because there are still traditional customers out there for whom only a petrol engine will do.
Where does it fit?
Audi's A8 has never been blessed with the mass-market appeal of the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class, but it is, says the German firm, the discerning choice of luxury saloon for those who aren't keen on flaunting their obscene wealth.
Is it for you?
Whether you're opting for the back seats or the fronts, the A8 is geared towards your demands. A long wheelbase model will be along soon, but even in standard form there is plenty of room in the rears for two adults to sit in princely luxury with their copies of the Financial Times outstretched while someone else takes care of the driving.
It does however fall short of the leg space on offer in both a 7 Series and an S-Class. As for the engine choice, you'll need a bank account at Coutts if you plan on running the 4.2 V8 petrol. It isn't as quick as the V8 diesel to 62mph either, but it does provide smoother acceleration and a more refined cabin experience.
What does it do well?
We'll get on to the interior in a moment, but first the drive. Audi's famed aluminium spaceframe is now 6.5kg lighter and 25% stiffer and this is noticeable from the steering through to the handling.
The steering is quicker to react than before, though still devoid of feel, turning the car into corners more sharply with the body less inclined to lean over when you approach a bend too fast.
This is aided by the adaptive air suspension as standard on the A8, which helps prevent the pitching movements associated with accelerating and braking and can be set to Dynamic, Comfort, Raise or Auto depending on the conditions.
On the smooth, flowing roads of the South of France, Dynamic mode seemed to be the best compromise between handling and ride quality, the latter of which was very comfortable and composed on these roads. However, we'll reserve final judgment until we drive the A8 in the UK.
What doesn't it do well?
The A8's forte in the luxury class is its Quattro four-wheel-drive system which, in the case of this car, sends 60% of the power and torque to the rear wheels for a more agile stance in corners.
Being permanent four-wheel-drive, grip is astounding in all conditions, though on slower corners, and particularly in the diesel, we did notice it wanting to push the car into understeer.
You can also adjust the responsiveness of the throttle, gearbox and steering via the on-board computer though this seems needless in a car that will spend most of its life on the motorway and in the city.
There are also too many buttons and controls in the cabin. With cars like these less - or hidden - is sometimes better than too much.
What's it like to live with?
The inside of the A8 is like the furniture department of Harrods. It is the difference between buying a cheap wardrobe from Ikea and a hand-built, solid oak closet. To say the A8 is very well built is an understatement.
The standard seats are voluptuous, heated, leather chairs that are 14-way adjustable for millimetre-perfect positioning. The dash is covered in soft, smooth, typically Audi cow hide. The windows are double-glazed to keep noise from outside hushed. And the interior glows with the sophistication of a bachelor pad thanks to the LED ambient lighting which cycles between ruby, polar and ivory when you open the doors.
Cooling and heating is taken care of via a four-zone climate control system, with separate temperature controls for the driver, front-seat passenger and two rear passengers.
Technology wise, the A8 is crammed full. It is, after all, Audi's showcase car. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is operated using a 'yacht-style' gear lever that is a pleasure to hold when sifting between drive, park and reverse.
And taking care of the business end of things is Audi's MMI control interface for operating the car's intelligent bits. It is an all-new design featuring softer keys for a more elegant touch and a handwriting recognition pad for quickly and easily dialing a telephone number or entering an address on the sat-nav.
The only drawback with this system is driving a right-hand-drive car and scribbling notes with your left hand if you're right-handed.
Another interesting innovation is the intelligence of the car's systems. So, for instance, the eight-speed gearbox can communicate with the sat-nav so that it won't up-shift before a corner for a smoother drive. You can also check your e-mail, the news, weather and travel and browse the web via the MMI on-board computer by linking it to a Bluetooth-enabled phone.
How green is it?
Audi claims the 4.2 FSI has the best fuel consumption in the class, but at 29.7mpg and a range that is about half that of the diesel, it's clear why only 2% of buyers will choose this engine over the TDI versions.
It does have the best carbon emissions in class when comparing it against a BMW 740i, Mercedes S350 and Jaguar XJ 5.0 V8, but with a tax rating of 219g/km you will pay tax on 32% of the car's list price. The diesels are much more attractive in this respect.
Would we buy it?
Would we buy an A8? Absolutely. This car is sophisticated and understated and not as common as a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class. However, the 4.2 petrol makes no sense when the V8 diesel offers as much performance and more involvement for less outlay at the pumps and to the taxman.
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
MSN Cars' Steve Walker takes the UK's cheapest new car for a test drive to see if it's worth parting only £5,995 for.
Date 23/05/13, Duration 4:17, Views 755