First Glance: Understated flash
The A8 L is the long wheelbase version of the A8 -- 5.5" longer than the standard A8. Sharing a big trapezoidal grille opening with the rest of the current Audi line, the A8 sports a surprisingly compact overhang in front. Big Xenon headlights wrap in a horizontal line around the front corners of the car. Subtle chrome trim highlights the grille, underlines the headlights, streaks down the doors and surrounds the windows. The nine-spoke 19" alloy wheels have big openings that reveal enormous polished disc brakes and calipers. The rounded rear corners of the A8 gently reduce the impression of size. Unlike on the competitive BMW 7-series, there are no jarring discontinuities in the elegant lines of the A8.
The exterior fit and finish of my test vehicle was flawless, as you would expect from a car in this price range. Driving around Beverly Hills in the A8 was a real ego boost -- I think that I actually saw a botoxed matron's eyebrows move when I pulled up to the curb in front of her.
In the Driver's Seat: A residence on wheels
If, for some reason, I was forced to move into the back seat, I could live there, too. My test car was set up with four seats -- five seat configuration is a no-cost option. With the four-seat setup, a substantial console separates the two rear seats, housing an armrest, cupholders, climate controls and a compartment to store the headphones for the DVD entertainment system. My test car had a refrigerator in the pass through, accessible between the rear seats behind the armrest. That's where I'd keep my Cheese Whiz and Mountain Dew stashed.
On the Road: Part car, part corporate jet
The ride is where the price tag on the A8 starts to make sense. I only wish I could test the A8 on the Autobahn, where its horsepower and long wheelbase would really come into play.
The A8 has a computer interface to access its functions from a central cluster with intuitive button and wheel controls and a sensible nested menu system, controlling everything from audio to climate to navigation to communications. It's easy to get distracted by all that functionality; I had to make a conscious effort to keep my eyes on the road and not play with the controls.
Journey's End: Executive express
Other manufacturers compete heavily for your luxury dollars. Mercedes S600 is a stunner, with a 5.5 liter 12-cylinder turbocharged powerplant. BMW's 760Li packs 12 cylinders into 6.0 liters and cutting edge styling from Chris Bangle. The bargain 12-cylinder has to be the VW Phaeton, a gorgeous car that starts at just $101,300. Don't overlook the Maserati Quattroporte and Jaguar XJ for luxury and design. If money really is no issue, you might want to take a look at the Bentley Arnage ($212,000), Maybach 62 ($382,500) and Rolls-Royce Phantom ($328,750). There's no real American competitor right now -- Cadillac's DTS and Lincoln's Town Car are just not in the same league with the Europeans, and the Japanese have never made a serious run at the class.
I'll always treasure my week with the A8. Maybe someday I'll get a chance to live out my Autobahn dreams.