It's not all too often I get to drive a car worth tens of thousands of dollars more than my annual salary. But like last year's Dwell on Design show (where I got to drive the electric A3 e-tron), Audi was there again, letting a few of us take their flagship clean diesel sedan for a 10 minute test drive around the bustling streets of Downtown Los Angeles...
So what does it feel like sitting inside and driving a nearly $100,000 vehicle (our test vehicle came in just over $99K with all the added options)? Like kicking back in a temperature controlled Eames lounge chair and ottoman with an immersive Bang & Olufsen sound system and fast Google powered 3G information system always at arm's length.
The luxury Audi A8 L TDI is the most luxurious feather in Audi's Stateside cap of new TDI clean diesel engine vehicles, with a slew of features one would expect from this category of high-end rides. Our test drive model came equipped with automatic climate control, 22 way adjustment heated and ventilated leather seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, panoramic power sunroof (divided for separate control from the front and back sections), a Google Earth powered navigation system with Audi Connect services and 3G connectivity, B&O sound system, keyless entry and start, reversing camera aid, handsome walnut wood inlays, brushed aluminum interior trim, Bluetooth connectivity, and LED cabin lighting throughout.
I'm probably forgetting several other features and details, but what I mostly remembered during and after my drive was how completely relaxing driving this dreamy large sedan felt like compared to the reality of my more modest equipped Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Cabin noise was almost non-existent upon pressing the engine on (no keys required); not that I necessarily noticed, as my attention was pulled by the dramatic appearance of the optional Bang & Olufsen tweeters making a graceful appearance from each corner of the dash in synchronization with a center dash map and information screen before I even started my test drive.
I didn't get an opportunity to give the B&O system a good listen, as I was already quite nervous about driving such an expensive ride around the serpentine and crowded streets around the LA Convention Center, but the system is no doubt sufficient for keeping one aurally occupied with its 1,400 watts, 2 amps, 19 channel, 19 speakers + subwoofer, Dolby Digital 5.1 bona fides.
And to make the experience even more memorable, the Audi reps kindly turned on the optional ventilation and massage system integrated into the front seats, providing a relaxing tactile accompaniment during my whole ride which remained unobtrusive, yet always welcome. Because who doesn't need a road rage repelling massage while being stuck on the 401 freeway?
Beyond luxurious comfort, the A8 L TDI is packed with safety technology: a driver assistance package utilizes an array of sensors all around the vehicle for lane assistance, adaptive cruise control, a precognitive warning and reaction system to prevent rear ending other vehicles, alongside a headlight range control which taps into the GPS system to reactively change their intensity and range according to traffic and location. Hopefully we see many of these predictive smart driving technologies trickle down to the sub-$30K range in the next few years, as city driving is much improved knowing your digitally enhanced co-pilot may be more aware than you are before a morning cup of coffee.
The rated EPA mpg of 24/36 is the only numbers in which my 2009 Jetta TDI bests the Audi A8 L efficient clean turbocharged diesel engine, estimated numbers which no doubt can be improved upon by conscientious driving habits (I've been able to eke out 55mpg during highway roadtrips). But when torque is needed, a firm step on the gas tells the V6 TDI engine to get moving, which it does most obediently and immediately both off the line or while already driving. Cornering is confident, yet cushy in the way a luxury vehicle is expected of, making the A8 as much as a well-heeled city ride as a capable cross state drive.
I'm certainly not the targeted market for the $82,500 (stock) Audi A8 L, but even 10 minutes within inside its cabin and steering its wheels, one can't but be left dreaming of champagne wishes and caviar dreams...a daydream inducing feeling similar to walking through a million dollar open house, exiting with a head full of "what ifs". But possibly more importantly what I got to see was a preview of many of the smart technology creature comforts and safety technologies just around the bend which will eventually make their way to more modest priced vehicles.
More about the Audi A8 L TDI available here.
(Images: Gregory Han. Videos provided by Audi USA)