Traveling south on I-95 toward Miami-Dade, I finally found a road to challenge the Audi A8. The sedan bounced around on what felt like cobblestones. It was a chore just to stay in lanes so thin and so close to trucks coming over to say hello.
Then I reached down for a button on the Audi’s center console, appropriately labeled “car.” Using a dial, I switched from the “dynamic” to the “comfort” setting. The ride instantly transformed from tight and sporty to downright pillowy. The steering went from tight and responsive to smooth as banana-cream pie.
Pressing the No. 4 on a black pad, the radio switched from NPR news to the satellite radio jazz station. A button on the side of the seat activated the chair massager, which worked out the I-95 stress for eight minutes, then automatically shut off.
Right then, in that harrowing section of highway north of downtown Miami, it became clear what’s so special about this $86,000 Audi A8. The A8 is a sedan that’s customizable. It adapts to the driver’s mood, immediately converting from taut German sports car to stately cruiser.
The majority of A8 owners will likely want nothing more than a comfortable ride, and Audi’s flagship responds better than any mass-produced car on the market. The cabin of our tester was ringed with dark walnut, diamond-stitched leather and door inserts of Alcantara suede so soft you’ll want to pet it. This is a car that makes everything about driving softer and easier, including doors that close on their own if you fail to pull them shut. The endlessly adjustable seats even relax when you shut off the car to make getting out effortless.
For the driver who wants a sporty ride, the A8’s “dynamic” mode tightens the wheel so that an exit ramp gentle curve requires a constant tug. The suspension in dynamic mode may be about an inch closer to the road, but the car still drifts over nearly everything as if the 20-inch rims are filled with down pillows. Power is there aplenty. Our tester had the smaller six-cylinder engine (there’s also an eight and even a 12-cylinder available), but the eight-speed transmission so smoothly delivers the 333 horsepower that the A8 never works hard.
Those who want technology-stuffed cars have toys to tinker with here. The most brilliant of them is that small black pad close to the driver. Mostly it serves as a list of programmed radio stations, which can include everything from AM to satellite radio on one set of numbers. Press the “phone” button or activate the navigation and the pad becomes a way to input information – the car recognizing the numbers and letters you draw with your finger. Searching the Internet is even easier, as voice commands will search Google for the nearest French restaurant.
What the A8 won’t do is loudly pronounce its presence. Unlike the luxury-label German auto makers, Audi styling remains understated. The exceptions are the massive chrome-lined grill and zigzag daytime lights, but they’re nearly indistinguishable from the lower-priced A6. The A8, though, is noticeably longer and sleeker, with a roof line that drifts casually down to a buttoned-down back end. The sides are sculpted smooth, a single crease along the bottom of the doors.
Take the A8 into the lanes of I-95 made curvy from construction and you’ll forget about those concerns. In South Florida, we don’t have a high-speed autobahn or curvy North Carolina highway roads. We have death-defying Interstate 95, and that’s where a car that can be customized to every driver becomes the most comfortable and sporty and tech-loaded way to travel.
Audi A8: Prestige Audi of Miami, 14780 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami Beach, 888-514-1995, prestigeaudimiami.com; Audi Lighthouse Point, 4250 N. Federal Highway, Lighthouse Point, 954-545-4650; Audi Coral Springs, 5555 N. State Road 7, Coral Springs, 954-509-8960; Audi Pembroke Pines, 15000 Sheridan St., Pembroke Pines, 954-620 2000.
— Eric Barton