European Luxury Sedans: Audi A8
A relative newcomer which nonetheless has managed to set a new standard for luxury.
The Audi A8 is a relative newcomer to the arena of German luxury sedans. It got off to a bit of a slow start as well, lagging pretty noticeably behind the 7 Series and the S-Class for a while after it was introduced. But these days it is very much a full-fledged contender, and an impressive one at that. Of course, it’s competing with more than just Mercedes and BMW these days, as new cars keep entering the niche, but the A8 continues to hold its own. The A8 first came about in 1994, and 1997 in the US.
It served as the replacement for the short-lived but nonetheless important V8 model. The V8 was first produced in 1988, during a period when Audi was trying to better define its brand. Things like the Sport Quattro’s success in Group B rallying had been doing an excellent job of helping out Audi’s motorsport image, but Audi is ultimately a luxury brand, and rally wins alone don’t do much for that image. So the V8 was brought out as a flagship model to boost luxury credentials. It was the first Audi model to use a V8 engine, hence the name, and also the first to offer both an automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel-drive on the same vehicle.
The V8 was successful as a luxury flagship, but Audi being Audi, it couldn’t help itself and just had to race it too. So the V8 ended up with a fair number of DTM victories under its belt as well. The V8 had been so successful that Audi decided to stop building it after only a few years. That might sound counterintuitive, but Audi realized that it had clearly been onto something and wanted to carry the idea further. So the A8 was a ground-up project which had its own platform (rather than using a stretched version from another car) and could therefore become an even more effective flagship.