Audi A8L — Now with six cylinders

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Audi's incomparable A8 flagship sedan has become synonymous with the V-8 engine — at least on this side of the pond. Big luxury and big engines go together. That was then and this is now — throw synonymous out the window for 2013.

For the first time ever in North America, Audi has inserted a V-6 engine into its flagship sedan. Residing under the hood of the new A8 and A8L is a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 making 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.

It's understandable to assume that removing the V-8 and 39 horsepower from a big luxury sedan is a mistake, but that assumption is wrong, backed up by the performance of the 2013 model which is just as quick as the outgoing V-8. It's doubtful anyone will miss the naturally aspired 4.2-liter engine, but new owners should notice the increased gas mileage that the downsizing brings.

Timed tests show the new V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission can rocket the A8 from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds and complete a quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 103 miles per hour.

After a week behind the wheel we can attest to those numbers — the new 3.0 model is indeed luxury-car fast. And it proved an amiable companion during an afternoon stint on our favorite stretch of twisting and turning back roads even with the extra 5.1 inches of wheelbase and 5.2 inches of length in the long-wheelbase version.

This luxury performance brings exemplary gas mileage for the segment measured at 17 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for a combined 21 mpg. Remarkable numbers for a 4,409-pound sedan — with no gas guzzler tax. Perhaps some of this mileage can be attributed to a new stop-start feature that shuts the engine down when the car is stopped. Unlike start-stop examples we have driven in BMW and Jaguar models, it's nearly seamless.

Aside from the new engine, the fourth-generation A8 — introduced as an all-new model in 2011 — remains one of the top luxury sedans in the world with a rich mix of modern styling, luxury appointments, cutting-edge technology and outstanding performance. It's certainly no stretch for us to say the new 2013 A8 is among the best of the best.

From a styling standpoint, the A8 conveys a sleek profile, flowing gracefully from front to back, imparting a rich, luxury appearance. We realize design is subjective and it’s up to the individual to determine if the big-mouth grille, which is becoming a staple in the industry, is a turn-off or an attractive standout feature.

Perhaps more important to the average A8 owner is the interior execution. The polished walnut wood-trimmed horizontal dash layout, with touches of brushed aluminum, is conservative and handsome. The main gauges are widely spaced allowing for a large information screen in between.

We had one small problem with the switchgear — the A8 retains the old-style stalk cruise control and it makes using the adaptive cruise settings awkward. Steering wheel cruise controls as found on many cars would be a better option.

The seating is plush and comfortable for long rides. Rear-seat space is adequate in the short-wheelbase version (starting at $73,092) and limo-like in the long-wheelbase format such as our test car (beginning at $79,395). The starting prices are another reason to applaud the new V-6 engine — they are $5,833 and $5,480 LESS respectively than the previous V-8 base models.

While passenger space is good, trunk space is sorely lacking. At a paltry 13.2 cubic feet, cargo capacity is far below that of its competitors and not adequate to accommodate luggage for four adults.

When we drove the A8 in 2011 it was outfitted with an outstanding 1,400-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system at an option price of $6,300. We recommended it, and still do for those who want their music at its unbelievable best. But the good news that we discovered with our 2013 test car is that the standard Bose Surround System with 650 watts and 14 speakers is exceptional. No need for an extra cash outlay.

There are numerous tempting options. If we were to pick one it would be the $3,000 Driver Assistance Package that includes adaptive cruise, a blind spot monitoring system, a lane-departure warning system (the steering wheel vibrates when you touch or cross a painted line), and Audi Pre-Sense Plus, which monitors traffic and alerts the driver if a potential collision is detected.

Our test car with several options carried a bottom line of $85,045. If there is such a thing as a bargain in the luxury sedan ranks this could be it.

Base price: $73,095; as driven, $85,045
Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V-6
Horsepower: 333 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 325 foot-pounds @ 2,900 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 117.8 inches
Length: 202.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,409 pounds
Turning circle: NA
Luggage capacity: 13.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 23.8 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 17 city
0-60: 5.4 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ

The Good
• Luxurious cabin
• Performance-infused supercharged V-6
• Standard all-wheel drive
• Top notch driving dynamics

The Bad
• Front-end styling may not be to taste

The Ugly
• Unusually small trunk for segment