In today’s homogenized world of cars, especially among the VW Group, it can be easy to forget that Audi used to stuff some wild engines in some of its cars. Now, not only does Audi use essentially the same three engines in every car — almost regardless of size or style — but it shares its engines with every single member of the VW Group, including Lamborghini and Bentley. While that isn’t exactly a bad thing, it’s a bit predictable and boring. Back in the day, though, cars like the W12 Audi A8L were very interesting.
Admittedly, the Audi A8’s 6.0 liter W12 was itself shared around the VW Group, in cars like the Bentley Continental and even the Volkswagen Phaeton. However, its use in the Audi A8L was icy cool and made it cooler than many of its contemporaries.
Based on the D3-generation of Audi A8, the A8L W12 was designed to be the ultimate luxury car from Audi. While it packed enough performance to be genuinely fast, outright performance wasn’t its main goal. Instead, it was meant to be torquey, incredibly smooth, and ultra-refined. Thanks to its W12 engine, it was exactly that.
While its rivals like BMW and Mercedes-Benz used V12s in their top-end luxury sedans, the Audi A8L used a W12. That’s not a typo. It actually used three banks of four cylinders shaped sort of like this “\|/”. It was a bit more interesting and characterful than some of its rival V12s and also had the prestige of being used in a Bentley.
The monster W12 engine made 450 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. That might not seem like much today, considering the Audi RS4 Avant makes more than that with a 2.9 liter twin-turbo V6, but it was the silky-smooth manner with which the W12 operated that made it special. Plus, that was a lot of power back in the early ’00s.
Looking at the Audi A8L W12, it’s shocking how well it’s aged. It looks like it could be sold today. In fact, if it were sold today, it’d probably be the best looking car in its class, including the current A8. The cabin still looks great, too. Aside from the ’00s-era technology dating it, the D3 A8’s interior still holds up very well.
Audi continued the W12 with the D4-generation A8 and event the D5-gen but neither car was as good looking as the D3 model, nor as good to drive. The D3-generation was a sweet spot in the A8’s history, where form matched function in perfect harmony. Throw in a W12 engine and it’s tough to beat, especially when you mod the exhaust to sound like this…