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“Respect a man’s car and the man will respect you” - not the words of a typical philosopher, but of a great fictional character who owned an Audi A8
The history of the Audi A8 stretches back to the 1980s, when Audi decided to launch a full-size luxury car to expand its portfolio. The German brand already offered luxury saloons like the 100 and 200 (predecessors to the A6) between 1968 and 1994, but one fine day the brand decided to launch a bigger and more powerful saloon that could truly be worthy of being a flagship.
In 1988, Audi launched the V8, a full-size four door powered by a 250hp V8 engine. It also had automatic transmission and quattro 4WD system. The V8 was so robust that it won consecutive DTM titles in 1990 and 1991. However, uniform nomenclature was announced soon and the A8 was born as the successor to the V8 saloon – the brand’s flagship thereafter.
Even though the A8 was the successor to the V8 saloon, they had very few things in common. It was built on an entirely new platform – Volkswagen Group’s D2 architecture, comprising of an aluminium monocoque that reduced weight and maintained structural rigidity of the V8’s steel chassis.
From day one, the A8 established its identity as a tech-laden and supremely luxurious saloon to allure buyers. It was offered in regular and LWB versions along with quattro 4WD being optional. The FWD A8 was powered by a 193hp 2.8-litre V6 engine and a 227hp 3.7-litre V8 unit while the 4WD was propelled by a full blown 300hp 4.2-litre V8 powerhouse.
Jason Statham’s physics defying stunts in the Transporter series behind the wheel of the second generation A8 L 6.0 W12 was the very reason for my obsession with the A8. This one was a massive departure from its predecessor in all regards. Its design was conceptualised from ground up at the brand’s design studio in Ingolstadt and the A8 was now based on VW Group’s next generation D3 platform, which made it longer and more spacious on the inside.
That said, it was a breakthrough for the brand in terms of innovation and technology. The A8 introduced multiple segment first features. In fact, these features weren’t seen on any Audi cars ever. The kit included the now famous MMI in-car user interface, adaptive headlights, cornering lights, adaptive air suspension and driver identification system amongst many more.
Along with the V6 and V8 powertrains, the A8 was also offered with top-of-the-line W12 version with a 6-litre, 12-cylinder engine producing 450hp and 580Nm. Its performance version, the S8, which was introduced earlier in 1996, was now powered by a 5.2-litre V10 from the Lamborghini Gallardo replacing the older 4.2-litre unit. It produced 444hp and 540Nm.
The A8 was no longer based on VW’s D series of architecture. The all-new MLB platform (marketed as Audi Space Frame) built by Audi themselves would now be shared across VW Group Cars. MLB was used for longitudinal, front engined cars while the group’s MQB platform is used for cars with transverse engine orientation. The second generation of this platform, the MLBevo underpins latest generation Audi cars alongside the Lamborghini Urus, Volkswagen Tuareg and the Porsche Cayenne.
Additional features included a suite of radar-based driver assistance systems making the A8 one of the safest saloons in the world. Audi also extensively upgraded the existing A8 L, A8 L Security (heavily armoured A8 for VVIPS), A8 and A8 L hybrid and the S8. The latter, a direct rival to the Mercedes-AMG S 63, used innovative cylinder deactivation technology where it could run as a V4 to improve fuel economy.
The third generation A8 L was the first iteration of Audi’s flagship to be launched in India. It arrived in 2011 as a CBU at Rs 87 lakh and was powered by a 4.2-litre V8 and a 3-litre TDI initially. At a later date, Audi also introduced the facelifted A8 L in India. It was powered by a W12 engine that produced 510hp and raced to a 100kmph in just 4.7 seconds – a mighty quick acceleration time for such a huge saloon.
While the latest generation of Audi’s flagship was launched internationally two years ago, India launch happened only in February 2020 (the party always comes late to us). 55 TFSI is the only powertrain option available in India and that includes a 3-litre turbocharged V6 engine producing 343hp and 500Nm of torque. Mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission and a permanent quattro AWD system, this 2.7 tonne behemoth can be hustled to a 100kmph in 5.7 seconds only.