They sure don't build back seats like they used to.
Audi's new A8 L is one of the latest large, luxury sedans to improve rear-seat room. It's about time.
With 38.4 inches of legroom in the back of its regular A8, Audi was at a disadvantage against competitors like the Jaguar Vanden Plas and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
JUST THE FACTS Audi A8 L
BASE PRICE: $67,900.
AS TESTED: $72,525.
TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger, large, luxury sedan.
ENGINE: 4.2-liter, double overhead cam V8.
MILEAGE: 17 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: 130 mph.
LENGTH: 203.3 inches.
WHEELBASE: 118.5 inches.
CURB WT.: 4,156 pounds.
BUILT AT: Germany.
OPTIONS: 18-inch performance tires $1,500; Pearlescent white clearcoat $1,200; parking aide system, front and rear $700; Xenon high intensity headlamps $500; ski sack $200.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $525.
This year Audi introduced a longer-wheelbase A8 called the A8 L, and every dimension of back-seat room has been expanded.
Legroom grows to 41.1 inches, topping the 39.2 inches in the Vanden Plas and the 40.3 inches in the S-Class. I had enough room to easily extend my legs in the A8 L, even with the front seats pushed back.
In the L, the wheelbase -- distance between the middle of the front and rear wheels -- is stretched from the regular A8's 113.4 inches to 118.5. That's longer than the 115.4-inch wheelbase of the 2000 Cadillac DeVille.
And headroom for back-seat riders grows from 37.9 inches to 38.2 inches in the sunroof-appointed A8 L -- more than the Vanden Plas and Lincoln Town Car Cartier L.
Despite the extra room, Audi didn't shrink the 17.6-cubic-foot trunk.
The 2000 A8 L has the same formal styling as a regular A8, Audi's flagship car since 1996. But the L's back doors are larger and for easier access to that newly roomy rear. There also are manual sunshades on the rear doors to keep out hot sun and prying eyes.
The L comes standard with the same Quattro all-wheel drive system and 310-horsepower V8 as in the A8.
It has the same five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, too. Tiptronic allows a driver to shift gears manually without having to use a clutch pedal.
The L's starting price tag is nearly $6,000 higher than the regular A8's, and it comes with a few more luxury appointments. An electronic stability system and navigation system are standard, for example.
Like the A8, the L has a high-tech, aluminum space-frame body. Audi notes that on the A8, this space frame stood up so well in government crash testing that it was the first in the premium luxury segment to receive five-star ratings for driver and front passenger in a frontal crash.
But don't think an aluminum means flighty lightweight.
This 4,156-pound sedan feels like the substantial car it is. You hear the solid thud as doors close. You're enveloped by the serious, almost studious environment inside.
The A8 and A8 L's interior of firm, leather seats, tastefully placed wood trim and non-gimmicky controls remind me of an executive's office, albeit mobile and with autobahn-ready manners.
Everything is laid out in an orderly way. Nothing shouts at you or flashes gaudily.
Even the navigation system is a subtle, thinking person's system. There's no big, glaring, multicolored map in the middle of the dashboard. Instead, the system uses a narrow display area in the middle of the instrument gauges to provide very concise route instructions. It continually calculates and displays your estimated time of arrival.
Torque is plentiful in this big car, with the maximum 302 foot-pounds available from 3,000 to 4,000 rpm. The 310 horsepower, by the way, is more than the maximum 300 in the 2000 Cadillac DeVille DTS with Northstar V8 and the 200 horses in the Town Car Cartier L with 4.7-liter V8.
Still, the long-wheelbase A8 L is 88 pounds heavier than the A8's so its 0-60 mph of 6.8 seconds is a second longer.
Average drivers won't notice, of course. The A8 L tester surged forward smoothly and powerfully from a standstill and jetted ahead of other cars in city traffic.
It smoothly accelerated onto the highway and slotted itself easily into traffic as I switched lanes.
There wasn't any sense that this nearly 17-foot-long car -- shod with optional, 18-inch performance tires in the tester -- was unwieldy or difficult to handle. In fact, I tossed it cautiously into corners and was amazed at how well it held its line.
But note that these more aggressive tires, while conveying a good road feel through the steering wheel, do send in more road noise.
Also watch out when making U-turns. The turning circle for both the A8 and A8 L is 40.2 feet.
Standard safety features in the A8 L include adjustable head restraints, three-point safety belts, Audi's inflatable Sideguard curtain air bags a nd rear-seat side air bags.
But this largest Audi still only seats five. To get a six-seat large luxury sedan, you still must look at domestic brands like Lincoln and Cadillac.
Fuel economy is the same in both A8 models -- 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Audi recommends the more costly premium fuel, while Northstar V8 in the 2000 Cadillac DeVille uses regular unleaded.
Audi expects most A8 L buyers, like A8 buyers, to be married men with median household income of $300,000, against $250,000 for A8 buyers, and median age of 53 -- three years older than A8 buyers.
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