2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI Quattro: The sweet smell of success

Photo courtesy of Audi
Photo courtesy of Audi
Warren Brown
Friday, December 10, 2010; 10:25 AM

Luxury is non-democratic. It is attractive precisely because it is exclusive.

Luxury does not imitate. It is, instead, imitated. It sets standards. It usually is the first to innovate, or to apply innovations deemed by others to be too expensive, too risky or simply unnecessary.

Luxury has a feel all its own. It even smells rich.

Luxury is superior without apology. But because it is blessed with genuine self-confidence, it usually does not embrace arrogance, which is inherently flawed by the germ of self-doubt.

Luxury on wheels is the 2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI Quattro sedan, the subject of this week's review, and arguably the standard by which all other luxury cars should be judged.

What immediately catches the eye and offends the aesthetic sensibilities of some observers is the A8 4.2's egregiously wide-mouthed grille, which prompts thoughts of the gaping mouth in Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's "The Scream." Love it or hate it, you will neither ignore nor forget it, nor will you mistake it for anything else.

That grille is a bold statement that the A8 4.2 is different. It's a valid statement, too. Consider the car's body.

The A8 4.2 is an all-wheel-drive full-size sedan that feels as tight and light as a much smaller rear-wheel-drive sports car. Credit here goes to patented Audi Space Frame (ASF) technology, which uses aluminum and strategic applications of lightweight, high-strength steel to increase vehicle-body stiffness while reducing overall body weight.

The use of ASF technology in the 2011 A8 4.2 yields a 25 percent improvement in body rigidity and a 20 percent reduction in weight in comparison with the 2010 model. Increased stiffness improves vehicle handling. Lighter weight improves fuel economy.

Look at the A8 4.2's headlights. They are light-emitting diodes (LEDs), smartly arranged at the lower corners of the car's front end, where they promote maximum night vision without blinding oncoming traffic. The car's high-beam and daytime running lights use the same technology, providing maximum light at reduced energy cost.

Step inside the A8 4.2's cabin. Many luxury automobile manufacturers use high-grade interior materials to impart a sense of wealth and well-being. But few use those materials as creatively or install them as expertly as Audi.

In the A8 4.2, supple leather blends with hand-polished walnut wood and brushed aluminum as if they are natural siblings. I've driven every luxury automobile there is to be driven (with the notable exception of the $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 super sports car). It is difficult to recall one that tops the A8 4.2 in interior fit and finish.

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