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2004 Audi A8 L Luxury Full-Size Sedan

Base MSRP Range: $68,500

Base Invoice Range: NA

MSRP As Tested: $68,500

Versions: A8L

Vehicle Category: Full-Size Luxury Sedan

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: All Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 4.2liter, Dual Overhead Cam, V-8, 330- horsepower at 6500 rpm and 317 lb-ft torque at 3500 rpm

Transmission As Tested: 6-Speed Tiptronic Automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): NA/NA

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front, front knee and side airbags, 4-wheel disc brakes, "> Antilock Braking System, Traction Control, In-Trunk Emergency Trunk Release, Daytime Running Lights, Tire pressure monitoring system, front and rear Parktronic™ Acoustic Parking System, Remote Keyless Entry., Immobilizer III transponder system, First aid kit in rear center armrest

Competition: BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S Class, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS 430, Infiniti Q45, Volvo S 80, Cadillac DeVille, Lincoln Town Car


Automotive journalists have long considered the Audi A8 to be the best deal in the full-size luxury car market. The A8 bests significantly larger sellers like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS430 and the Infiniti Q45. The 2004 Audi A8L is the company's way of communicating to affluent consumers that the company is a First-Tier Luxury automaker and that their products belong in a consideration set containing any of the aforementioned products.

Vehicle History

The original Audi A8 was introduced in 1984. It was the world's first full-size luxury car to be built with an all-aluminum body. Audi's "Space Frame," as the all-aluminum body was called, proved that weight does not always equate with strength. At the time the concept of an all-aluminum bodied passenger car (let alone a full-size luxury car) was a bold one. The prevailing wisdom was that aluminum was not as durable as steel. The Audi A8 proved that wrong and has been a technology leader in the segment ever since.

Engineers at Audi saw tremendous advantages with the aluminum Space Frame concept. The most important being a tremendous weight savings, as much as 40% when compared the same structure made of steel. The weight savings dramatically improved performance and fuel economy. It enabled Audi to use saved weight for the implementation of other technologies, such as the fantastic Quattro all-wheel drive system.

Along with the weight savings, the Space Frame reduced the number of parts in the car by 17%. Fewer parts mean fewer joints which in-turn increases chassis stiffness for a better ride and greater vehicle longevity.

The new A8L is also sixty percent stiffer than its predecessor.

Changes Over the Previous Model

The 2004 Audi A8L is an all-new car built from the ground up with the exception of the engine, which is the same 4.2-liter offered in the 2003 Audi A8 and A6.

Currently A8s are only available in the "L" version, which stands for "long wheelbase." According to Len Hunt, Executive Vice President of Audi of America, "Most of the A8s sold in the states were L's. Audi has been able to bring it in at a price point where a customer can have an A8L for the price of a short wheelbase BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S Class. That makes it a great value."

Vehicle Exterior

The new exterior design brings the in to the new Audi design family. The outgoing A8 was developed before the other cars Audi currently manufactures and hence it looked data and didn't match the other vehicles in the lineup. Now the family resemblance, especially between the A6 and the A8, is clear. The new A8L is much less boxy with a long, flowing arched roofline that sweeps from the base of the windshield, up the A pillar and then down the swept back C pillar, almost disappearing into the trunk. This gives the car the look of a large four-door coupe. Lovely!

There is a short overhang ahead of the front wheels which, combined with the large tires and wide stance, gives the car a solid and more performance-oriented look that its predecessor. The exposed twin tailpipes reiterate that this is a serious performance car preferred by its owner for its sportiness. It isn't just a mobile office.

Vehicle Interior

The cabin demonstrates the most significant difference between the outgoing model and the new 2004 Audi A8L. The interior is larger, more spacious; hence it is more comfortable for passengers. The dash matches the other models and makes the new A8L sleek and refined with fine leather and real wood trims, flat buttons and elegant gauge faces. The fit and finish of the A8L is second to none.

The previous model's instrument cluster was cluttered by controls for the fabulous technology in the car; it made being behind the wheel of the A8 more like being in the cockpit of a B2 Bomber than in the driver's seat of a fine luxury sedan. Though other luxury automakers have the same problem, Audi has done the best job of addressing the issue. The new dash is simple and the technology has been elegantly hidden.

BMW tried to control the 'clutter' problem with their "I Drive" system -- which is difficult for most people to use. Audi has a Multimedia Interface (MMI), which is easy for the driver to use immediately, with a short learning curve, and gives the instrument panel a cleaner look.

The instrument cowl is the same size as the steering wheel, giving it an integrated look. The cowl contains the speedometer and tachometer with an LED readout for the time, remaining fuel and other information in the center. To the right, and above the center console, is the retractable screen for the MMI display. When in use it opens and is clearly visible. When not in use it stows away flush to the dash. You would never know it was there. Directly below the screen are controls for heating and air conditioning and beyond that the transmission shifter.

At the bottom of the center console are the controls for the MMI. The MMI is, in many respects, similar to BMWs I Drive, except that it is much simpler to use. The MMI controls the navigation, audio, suspension and ride height. Beside a knob in the center console there are four switches one for each of the adjustable settings. Push the button for the item you wish to adjust, turn the knob and push to select "enter." There is none of this confusing fishing-around-with-a-joystick and inadvertently changing the temperature when what you really wanted was to change the radio station.

The long wheelbase provides so much rear-seat legroom that the driver and passenger might just be in two different time zones. There are climate and audio controls for the rear seat and power adjustable rear-seats are available. Ambient lighting throughout gives the Audi A8L the look of a limousine on the inside, but with the comfort, performance and practicality of a luxury sedan.

Ride, Handling and Performance

The most impressive aspect of the new Audi A8L's ride and handling is that it feels like a much smaller car than it actually is. You feel like you are behind the wheel of a nimble sports sedan, rather than the large car that it is. The ride is as comfortable, as the handling is precise.

The A8L features Audi's "Adaptive Air Suspension," which was first offered on the Allroad wagon several years ago, and replaces the entire conventional steel suspension system. Its components are "layered" to provide excellent driving characteristics while maintaining the sensitive response needed to handle minor roadway imperfections.

At all four wheels, air-suspension bellows surround continuously variable, twin-tube shock absorbers and air-suspension struts. The struts are pressurized by a compressor in the engine compartment, and a pressure reservoir at the rear of the car. Information from four sensors on the axles, and three acceleration sensors on the body, is evaluated in the suspension control unit. Based on the driving situation identified, the computer adjusts individual shock absorbers, in milliseconds, to maintain optimum driving dynamics and ride comfort. The adaptive air suspension system maintains vehicle suspension height, regardless of loads and it can be adjusted from the MMI. With high weight loads, extra air is pumped into the springs at high gross weights, and discharged when the load is removed. This adapts the firmness of the springs to the load situation at all times, resulting in a consistent ride and stance.

Power in the 2004 Audi A8L comes from Audi's 4.2-liter, 5-valve, 330-horsepower, V8 engine. The engine delivers 20 more horsepower and 15 lb.-ft. more torque than the predecessor. The power is sent to the wheels through a new six-speed, Tiptronic transmission that allows the driver to enjoy the benefits of an automatic while commuting, or converting to a manual mode when you want to have more control. Engine response and acceleration is quick, the 2004 A8L goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds with the top speed electronically governed to 130-mph. Acceleration is as smooth as you would expect from a fine luxury car.


Audi is has as strong a list of safety features as any Tier One luxury automaker. The 2003 version received dual 5-Star ratings for driver and passenger safety in a 35-mph frontal crash from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Although the 2004 A8L has yet to be tested, similar results are expected.

The driver and front passenger's airbags have dual-stage inflation for optimum protection in frontal collisions. In the event of a side collision, side-impact airbags in the seatbacks and the SIDEGUARD™ head airbag system help provide occupant safety in the outboard seating positions. Additionally, knee airbags bring the A8L's total number of airbags to ten, throughout the vehicle.

In Conclusion

The 2004 Audi A8L is an excellent ride for both the driver and passenger – whichever you may happen to be at the time. It represents a true value in the full-size luxury segment and is a strong competitor to the Mercedes-Benz S Class, BMW 7 Series and any other car you may put it up against. Audi is has arrived as a true Tier One luxury automaker and the 2004 Audi A8L is the shining star in the lineup.

Editors' Ratings

Pros: Great looks, great ride and great value in a full-size luxury car.

Cons: As of the publication of this review you won't be able to get one for a while.

Annoyances: Not a one.

Ratings (1-10)

  1. Style: 9
  2. Performance: 8
  3. Price: 8
  4. Handling: 9
  5. Ride: 10
  6. Comfort: 10
  7. Quality: 9
  8. Overall: 9.0

More Data

Where Built: Ingolstadt Germany

Major Options: Adaptive Cruise Control, 18" wheel with all-season tires, 19" wheel with performance tires, Solar sunroof, Acoustic Parking, Dual-Paned Security Glass, Dual Rear seat climate control, Cold Weather package, Alcantara package, Electric Rear Sunshade, Power trunk open/close, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, Front Seat Ventilation, Rear Seat Vanity Mirrors

Seating: 5

Rows 2

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: Not Yet Tested

  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Not Yet Tested

Length in Inches: 204.0

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles limited bumper-to-bumper, 12 years limited corrosion, 4 years/50,000 mile powertrain, 4 years/unlimited mileage free Roadside Assistance.

Weight in Pounds: 4399 lbs.

Towing Capacity in Pounds: NA

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 23.7 gal.

Destination Charge: NA