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Audi A8 6.0 W12 review (2004-2008)
Model: Audi A8
Bodystyle: 4dr saloon
Engine: 6.0-litre petrol W12
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Date of test: May 2004
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What is it?
Audi is a brand very much on the up. UK sales are at an all-time high - they've doubled in six years - and the brand's perceived image is ascending all the time. It's now seen as a true rival to BMW and Mercedes; in buyers' eyes, 'premium' usually means 'German'. So it's natural for the confident maker to push its models ever-upwards. We're familiar with the A8 luxury saloon, and now here's the most expensive derivation yet, the A8 L 6.0. It's the largest-engined Audi ever, the first production V12, the first UK Audi to top, with options, the £100,000 mark. Should you so wish, you can spend over £115,000 on a fully-loaded 6.0.
Where does it fit?
Naturally at that price, it's a 'super-luxury' car for the super-rich. A8s are becoming very popular with celebrities - check out the chauffeur-driven cars at any London film awards evening - to whom money is no object. Audi's simply catering for folk who want the best. It competes with the class-standard Mercedes S 600 L, BMW's 760iL and, in the UK at least, Jaguar's stretched XJ8. However, so competent are standard A8s, it'll also face competition from long-wheelbase 3.7 and 4.2 variants of the all-aluminium saloon. Note the imposing new grille, which differentiates it from such 'lesser' A8s.
Is it for you?
The 6.0 is a technological masterpiece. If you like cutting-edge kit, you'll love it. The engine is the star, and without doubt is a miracle of mechanical engineering. Essentially two narrow-angle V6 units mated together, the 'W' configuration is enormously complex but exceedingly effective - powerful, yet barely any larger than the existing V8 units. It drives a permanent quattro four-wheel-drive chassis which, like the rest of the car, is made entirely from lightweight aluminium, one of the few cars in the world to be constructed so. Inside, a central command unit -MMI, Multi Media Interface - has replaced many dashboard functions but unlike BMW's controversial i-Drive, it's pretty intuitive with a little acclimatisation.
What does it do well?
The engine is a gem. Start it up and while you can hear it, distantly, you absolutely cannot feel it - there's no vibration, and this is true whether you're idling or revving at 6000rpm. The rotary-smooth sound is a tasty mix of V8 burble and V12 serenity, but you rarely have time to study it if you're pressing on, for the 6.0 is ferociously rapid. The quattro drivetrain ensures stunning traction from a standing start, the A8 rocketing to 60mph in around five seconds, with minimal fuss. It's missile-like, but even more impressive is pace on the move. Hold a gear using the tactile steering wheel paddle-shifts and, so long as 3000rpm is registering, throttle response is electrically neck-snapping. Stunning, and enough to see off many a Porsche. Needless to say, it's quiet, ultra-stable at speed and smart-handling through bends, but the engine dominates this car. Quite rightly.
What doesn't it do well?
The test 6.0 was fitted with 19-inch wheels, which looked superb but took the edge off ride quality. It was a little sharp over pot-holes and expansion joints, though otherwise it was commendably smooth and even, rarely shaking passengers even over the most undulating surfaces. To enjoy the full benefits of the W12 engine's prodigious power, you need bigger roads than we enjoy in the UK, which can be frustrating at times, making the premium over lesser models a bit rich if you're counting the pennies. The new, imposing front grille that's unique to the 6.0 is too controversial for some (though we love it, think it an improvement), and the sheer length of the LWB A8 can make it a little bit tricky to manoeuvre in car parks. But then, that would be the case for any of its rivals too - at least most offer, like the Audi, standard accoustic parking sensors front and rear. But BMW goes a step further with a fantastic visual warning indicator too.
What's it like to live with?
Fuel economy of 20.9mpg is unlikely to impress accountants, but it's par for the course when you've 450bhp. The fact that it's no worse than the smaller S4 performance saloon - which it out-performs too - is a measure of the A8's light weight. As it's a long-wheelbase model, rear space is colossal, seriously indulgent, and seats are lavishly comfortable. Build quality is truly world-class, the dashboard is stylish and attractive, there's every conceivable extra (including a stunning BOSE surround-sound stereo) - if you can park it, living with this car is painless. Even Audi dealers cosset you, even more than usual because you're brought their most expensive car. Oh, to have money.
Would we buy it?
However miraculous it is, we personally wouldn't buy the 6.0 - because the 3.0 TDI quattro does much of its vast repertoire in real-world conditions, for half the money. But then, we're not super-rich. If we were, we'd enjoy that stunning engine without worrying about fuel, option the £75k car up without letting costs concern us, and have an indulgent luxury saloon that's extremely dignified, understated and not brash, not 'in your face', like rivals. It's elegant, classy and very 'now', the 6.0, and just the car a contemporary celeb or high-line businessman should be moved around in. If you can afford it, it's wonderful. But luckily for those with more down to earth wealth, lesser model do a fine impersonation.
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