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Has Audi Failed A8 Buyers or Has Their Luxury Sedan Never Been That Great to Begin With?

When was the last time you turned your head in admiration to look at an Audi A8? A while back? Maybe when some dark-accented S8 drove by? For me, that’s pretty much the case. It's been ages since I’ve thought long and hard about the A8, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone here.
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The A8 has always been kind of luxurious and understated, which a lot of people appreciate. However, there’s “good understated” and “bad understated”, and I fear the A8 has already drifted into the latter category after the unveiling of the fourth-gen D5 variant, which came out in 2017.

What do I mean by good and bad understated? Well, “good understated” would be something like the E39 BMW M5 or the W211 Mercedes E63 AMG, or even the first and second-gen A8/S8 models. Meanwhile, the concept of “bad understated” is perfectly demonstrated by the current Audi A8, both in a vacuum and against direct rivals such as the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series.

Now, the question is, should Audi A8 buyers feel slighted by this? In the first half of this year, Audi had to add together A8 and S8 sales in order to barely move more cars than Genesis did with their G90 luxury sedan. Compared to the S-Class and the 7 Series, the A8 remains nothing more than an afterthought.

Still, if you want numbers, here they are: 641 units (A8/S8) sold, according to Carsalesbase. That’s H1 2022 – nearly five times less than the BMW 7 Series, and we’re talking about the old G11 7 Series, not the quirky one that just came out. No, the 7er that was unveiled two years before the current A8, which technically means the Audi has always held a technological advantage, without being able to properly cash in on it.

I’m not saying I hate looking at the current A8, especially if it’s the 2022 S8 variant, but we’re discussing the overall package here and it just feels as though Audi really dropped the ball with the design and yes, sales figures do back this up, from 2017 all the way through 2022.

Let’s look at some older A8 models, starting with the D2 generation, which is technically the first generation; a direct successor to the Audi V8, which by the way, was so cool.

The A8 (D2) was developed as a lightweight luxury sedan fitted with all-wheel drive as standard. It had to weigh less than its competitors because of the quattro AWD system, and for the most part, it was a massive hit. It came with standard luxury amenities such as dual-zone climate control, 14-way power and heated seats, a premium sound system, plus so much more. Oh, and it was also the world’s first production car to feature both front and rear side airbags.

Most importantly though, the D2 looked like it was properly embedded into that 1990s landscape. It didn’t underwhelm, despite its stoic aesthetic. The S8 was brilliant too, obviously. Audi launched it back in 1996, rocking a 4.2-liter V8 with 335 hp initially. Before pulling the plug on this generation, the carmaker gave the A8 (D2) an even bigger 6.0-liter W12 engine, with 414 hp and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) of torque. It was for the long-wheelbase variant though and on paper, it was a tiny bit slower than the S8, but let’s not get into all that right now.

Then came the second-gen D3 model, which I’ve always liked – even more so than the E65 BMW 7 Series or the W220 Mercedes S-Class.

The A8 (D3) was introduced in the U.S. in the summer of 2003 as an MY2004 car, bringing with it innovations such as the carmaker’s MMI interface, bi-xenon HID headlights, adaptive front lighting technology, a whole bunch of amazing suspension tech, a new-generation Tiptronic gearbox and an insane 1,000-watt, 14-channel sound system from Bang & Olufsen, among other things.

To me, the D3 looks good in both A8 and S8 trim, with and without a facelift. The same cannot be said about the D5, nor the D4 for that matter, which only look relatively handsome in top-spec form. In fact, let’s separate the two because the S8 (D4) was probably the last Audi luxury sedan to adhere to a “good understated” philosophy.

But remove all the S-bits and the facelift, and the D4 loses a lot of its personality. The picture immediately below should demonstrate that quite clearly.

The sad part is that Audi might never fix this with the A8. They might never make a stunning, dynamic yet stoic-looking luxury sedan again judging by all the reports we’ve been receiving. In fact, if the next-gen A8's design is directly influenced by that of the Grandsphere concept, the end-product won’t even be a four-door sedan anymore, but rather a fastback that looks more like a speedboat than an automobile.

But let’s not push the panic button just yet. Audi is pretty much the only luxury carmaker that hasn't built any controversial-looking battery-electric cars. That’s a great achievement, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, for now.

As for the questions I raised in the title of this editorial, I think the answer is a definitive ‘yes’ on the first one, and a ‘wouldn’t go as far as to say that’ for the second one.

 
 
 
 
 

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