How the other half lives -- and drives
A weekend behind the wheel of the sumptuous Audi A8 LWB was the stuff of dreams, writes Ronald Quinlan
WE may be living in the age of austerity, where indul-ging in luxury of any kind is frowned upon. But if you can afford it, should you really care too much about what others think?
That, at least, was the conclusion I came to after a long weekend behind the wheel of the Audi A8 LWB (Long Wheel Base).
Having hopped back and forth to London during March and April to cover the case taken by Belfast-born property tycoon Paddy McKillen against the billionaire Barclay brothers over the ownership of the iconic Claridge's, Berkeley and Connaught hotels, I had come to wonder what it might be like to put my foot down and leave the hoi polloi in my rear view mirror, if only for a few short days.
The sumptuously appointed Audi A8 -- which, according to its makers, is amongst the executive saloons most frequently favoured by the rapidly-expanding legion of wealthy Chinese -- went a long way towards sating my childish curiosity.
At this point, it's probably best that I apologise to Germany's other high-end car manufacturers -- BMW and Mercedes -- for any offence this review might cause them.
For while both of Audi's biggest competitors produce fine cars for the executive and HNWI market, to my mind, the country's roads seem to be full to overflowing with 'pre-owned' 5 Series BMWs particularly. Mercedes S350s meanwhile, will forever hold associations for me of the numerous overleveraged property developers I've had reason to pursue as part of my work for this newspaper.
But what should you expect should you decide to buy the Audi A8 instead? If my all-too fleeting experience is anything to go by, quite a lot.
The Long Wheel Base version of the car I drove to Galway three weeks ago had all the baubles and beads. Starting on the outside, this 3L behemoth came with 20-inch alloy wheels that barely even acknowledged the potholes I encountered on the secondary roads at each end of the M50 and the M6.
The motorways themselves either weren't long enough or the country simply wasn't wide enough to allow for a proper appreciation of the Audi A8's impressive engine. Given its acceleration of 0 to 100kmph (0 to 60mph) in 6.1 seconds and its top governed speed of 250kmph (150mph), I was chomping at the bit to unleash just a little bit of hell on the journey west.
And while I won't admit anything in writing, I can say that the Audi A8's ability to switch automatically from its 'comfort' drive setting to 'sport' and back again to facilitate the overtaking of dawdlers was an experience in itself. For where the engine of your average family saloon or executive wannabe might loudly protest at your sudden need for speed, this car gave out a low and menacing growl of the kind you only ever get to hear in the cinema.
It probably didn't help any that I had already seen and heard the Audi A8 in action the previous night on TV as Liam Neeson drove one at high speed through the streets of Paris in the movie Taken.
Cruising at the legal limit of 120kmph on the M6, meanwhile, didn't trouble the Audi A8 at all, judging by the manner in which its rev counter ticked over at the relatively serene level of 2000rpm.
With those kinds of readings, you might reasonably expect the car's emissions to be enough to bring former Green Party leader John Gormley out of political retirement in a renewed effort to save the planet. Thankfully, the people at Audi have been ruthlessly efficient when it comes to lowering the A8's carbon emissions. At a combined 174g per km, the car falls into Band E for road tax, or €630 a year. But enough about what goes on under the hood. Quite apart from its impressive yet refined engine power, the Audi A8 is simply a joy to sit in to and to drive.
Starting with the aesthetically pleasing appearance of the leather upholstery and walnut inlays in its spacious and comfortable cabin, the Audi A8 employs all the bells and whistles you would expect and more in the most modern executive car, from its built-in navigation system to front and rear park assist with rear reverse camera to adaptive air suspension.
Other features that come as standard on the Audi A8 are heated front seats, anti-theft alarm with tracker preparation, cruise control, automatic boot lid operation and electric front seat adjustment with memory function.
Among the welcome extras I enjoyed on the Long Wheelbase Version I drove to Galway were: adaptive cruise control (€3,232) panoramic glass sunroof (€1,778), Bose surround sound stereo (€1,860), seat ventilation with massage function for front and rear passengers (€4,881).
While there's no doubt that with its price tag of €94,350 for the standard model and €131,290 for the fully-loaded version, the Audi A8 won't suit everyone (or more particularly everyone's pocket), for those with the means, it's well worth taking a serious look and a test drive.