Audi’s slick A8 once defined the big-daddy luxury sedan in terms of design and craftsmanship, while boasting lightweight aluminum construction, all-wheel drive grip, high-tech lighting and more. But in most respects, the competition has more than caught up, particularly in the case of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which not only does everything the A8 does — and in most respects, does it better — but makes the A8 look dull by comparison.
And so the A8’s mid-cycle refresh arrives not a moment too soon for Audi.
It’s a subtle freshening, but it works. A new hood and front fascia add a more stern look to the A8’s mug while a full-width lower air intake gives it a wider appearance. A new headlamp design replaces the A8’s somewhat messy checkmark-style LED headlights with an elegant wing-like lamp arrangement, evoking the daytime running lights on the original A5 coupe for which Audi became famous. Out back, a redesigned decklid makes room for wider LED taillamps joined by a horizontal chrome band, while a new bumper houses trapezoidal exhaust outlets. New 20-inch wheel designs round out the exterior changes for the A8 and its long-wheelbase partner, the A8L.
Not to be outshined, the steroidal, 520-hp S8 model gets a nip/tuck in the form of a more shovel-nosed front fascia with large outboard air intakes in addition to the A8’s sassy new front and rear lights. Changes to the A8’s splendid cabin are less obvious, involving added sound insulation to make it even quieter—something we didn’t necessarily know was possible—and a few new trim pieces. The S8 also gets a unique brown leather interior paired with “carbon twill copper inlays.” All A8 models get optimized trunk packaging that yields a bit more space, making it all the better to whisk VIPs to and from their private jets, we expect.
The A8 still offers Wi-Fi for up to eight devices, while adding lane-keeping assist, secondary collision brake assist, night vision with animal detection, an enhanced head-up display, and later in the model year, a parking assist system.
The A8’s U.S.-spec powertrains, which includes supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 and turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engines, a diesel V-6, and a 6.3-liter W-12, remain mostly unchanged, save for a bump in horsepower for the 4.0T from 420 hp to 435 hp and fuel-saving cylinder deactivation for the W-12. The A8 has also made the switch to a new electromechanical power steering system, also in the interest of saving fuel.
Pricing for the 2015 A8 will be available closer to its expected summer, 2014, arrival, but expect it to remain competitive. Audi says the current A8 has grown its sales every year since its introduction in 2010, and hopes to keep that momentum going with these mid-cycle changes. We'll see this year whether that's enough.