Audi's Well-Exectuted A8L Takes Home The Gold
Audi's MMI touch with handwriting recognition is by far the best infotainment platform we've tested. Yes, we liked Chrysler’s Uconnect Access, Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch, Hyundai's solution, and Kia's as well, but Audi's technology package is in a league of its own. The experience starts with sitting down in the A8L's driver's seat and realizing that you're surrounded by an expertly-designed interior that's comfortable, classy, and ergonomic.
The process goes a little something like this: you melt into the driver's seat and start the A8L using its push-button ignition. The chair remembers your memory setting and gets itself into position. Then, you rest your arm above the center console; all of the infotainment features are at your fingertips. Audi's well-positioned control knob provides quick access to the system's functions. It's surrounded by those four buttons associated with operations on the display's four corners. When you want to write-out your search, the touchpad reads writing from your finger, and that's located to the left of the control knob. If you want to adjust the volume, you move your arm to the right and the control is right there. You can do all these things without taking your arm off the rest.
As you put the car in gear and start your drive, the analog gauges fluidly react to the motor; there is no pure LED gauge cluster for the simple sake of looking edgy, and we appreciate that. The LCD between Audi's analog gauges ties in with the MMI touch system fantastically. Access to your phone book, music folders, and favorite radio stations is made easier with steering wheel controls that convey great tactile feedback and response.
You're driving in the city and there's traffic you don't want to deal with. So, you turn on cruise control. The adaptive system takes over throttle control and braking to speed up, slow down, and even stop the car in traffic. If you're only stopped a couple of seconds, it'll hold onto the reins. When you're stopped longer, tapping the resume button or pressing the gas pedal gets you back on your way. Say you need to change lanes. You hit your turn signal and the Audi side assist technology flashes its bright cluster of LEDs, letting you know there's a little Geo Metro in your blind spot.
Or maybe you're on a rural road as it gets dark. The headlights turn on automatically and illuminate the road with 20 bright white focused LEDs. But, just to be safe, you turn on the night vision assistant technology. A deer might run across the road as you're driving along, windows down, stereo up loud. You slam on the brakes, but Audi pre sense plus detects that you won't stop in time. So it rolls the windows up, closes the sunroof, flashes your hazard lights, and forces maximum brake pressure to mitigate the damage.
Alright, that's a little dark. Hopefully you're driving along your favorite windy road and want to have some good clean fun, so you switch over the vehicle settings for a sportier stance. Audi's MMI touch system lets you do this with the turn of a knob. The steering and throttle become more responsive, and the suspension stiffens a bit. You put the transmission in sport mode and assume control with the paddle shifters. The A8L, as massive as it is, provides plenty of entertainment. It offers immense power and you marvel at how well the car handles. The ZF eight-speed transmission shifts so smoothly and responds so quickly that you forget there is no third pedal.
It might seem like I'm gushing about Audi's A8L, but it truly is a technological marvel. Everything is integrated so well. The vehicle systems work together, and not just for the infotainment system. Audi connect with Google Earth overlays take already-good navigation and make it perfect. After driving this car and using its MMI, every other mapping solution seems underdeveloped. As a cherry on top, you even get Google Maps Street View to identify destinations easier. Here's hoping more automakers follow Audi's lead on this. The car and its accompanying technology are virtually perfect for our tastes. My only complaint on that front is the lack of USB connectivity for data access and charging.
If you're in the market for a luxury sedan with smartly-integrated technology and sporty driving dynamics, you simply can't go wrong with Audi's A8L. Yes, it's expensive. But we've been in more expensive cars that we didn't like as much. This truly is the best marriage of technology, comfort, and driving dynamics I've encountered. Audi understands the purpose of technology in a car, and its A8L is a manifestation of that.
In fact, I like the D4-based Audi A8L so much that I'm giving it the Tom's Hardware Elite award. This is the first time our highest honor has ever gone to a vehicle. The company did a great job with its MMI touch with handwriting recognition system. The interior ergonomics are fantastic, as we'd expect from an Audi. The Google Earth map overlays really take the cake for infotainment systems, too. If I had the money to drop more than $100,000 on a luxury sedan, this is the one I'd want. Of course, if the A8L's 4.0 L engine doesn't have enough muscle, there's always the 500 hp W12 engine available as an option...