FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Audi A8 — A Great Getaway Car

2019-Audi-A8 (1 of 2)

I grew up watching movies like Ronin and The Transporter, movies where sophisticated baddies would  chase good guys (or vice versa) in luxurious performance machines. While some movies were obviously better than others, I really loved anything with a great car chase. Especially a car chase involving high-priced European exotics. The car chases in Ronin are still some of my all-time favorites and the irony that an Audi S8 is featured in one isn’t lost on me. So when I started driving the new Audi A8, I was reminded of the cars from Ronin and that instantly put a smile on my face.

Understated Elegance

The Audi A8 that showed up at my doorstep certainly looked the part. My specific tester was a 2019 Audi A8L (North America only gets the Long Wheelbase model) and was equipped with the First Edition package. However, with its Vesuvius Grey Metallic paint, optional 20-inch wheels, chrome trim and black leather interior, it looked like a proper baddie’s getaway car. I probably should have worn a suit and driving gloves.

That the Audi A8 is also a handsome car on its own didn’t hurt. While it might not be as effortlessly elegant as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, it’s an understated car with crisp lines and a clean design. It’s not flashy but it’s smart looking and that’s what you want in a getaway car — something that can slip into traffic unnoticed. Because the A8 lacks a lot of the pomp of other luxury cars, it can do that well. But it’s also elegant enough to both represent you well at all of your evil-doer meetings and take your mistress out to dinner. So it can be equal parts Blofeld or Bond, respectively.

Audi A8

While it might be understated enough to slip into traffic, a closer look will reveal that it’s a serious luxury car. That massive Singleframe grille, its sharp headlights and 20-inch wheels all make it seem like a car that’s owned by somebody you do not want to cross. Over the course of my week with it, I began to really like that look.

Business Class Interior

Inside, it’s all business. The cabin features clean lines, a horizontal design and an almost shocking lack of buttons. One of the main points of criticism many enthusiasts have of the current Audi A8 is that its interior relies too much on touchscreens, theoretically making it a bit tricky to use while driving. However, that lack of buttons is actually quite relaxing. Modern luxury cars are so high-tech that they’re often packed to the brim with buttons, switches and means of controlling everything. While Audi’s Touch Response MMI system is a bit less easy to use while on the move, its clutter-free design is actually easy on both the eyes and the mind. And because it locks you out of certain functions while driving, it really forces you to stop thinking about fiddling with it and just drive. Which is perfect while evading the police in a dramatic car chase through Paris or Munich.

Audi A8 Interior

That’s not to say that the Touch Response is difficult to use, though. It’s actually quite simple once you’re used to it and I found myself quickly using almost all of its functions without glancing down too long. Is it as easy to use on the move as BMW’s iDrive? No but it’s not far off. Plus, the Audi A8 makes up for that with its brilliant Virtual Cockpit. It’s not the only digital instrument panel on the market but it’s the best. Hands down. The crisp graphics, fast processing speed, easy-to-read fonts and perfectly simple steering wheel controls all make it super easy to use.

But it also has incredible functionality, with the ability to control almost any aspect of the car’s MMI system that the driver might need to. Need to change the radio station? Yup, right from the steering wheel. What about input a destination into the nav? No problemo. Surely you can zoom in on the nav screen, right? Oh yes you can. The steering wheel controls and the brilliant Virtual Cockpit allow the driver to do almost anything necessary without ever taking their hands off the wheel. And when you’re hustling through city streets in a high-stakes car chase, that’s what you want.

When You Need to Getaway

Speaking of hands on the wheel, the Audi A8 actually drives a lot better than I had anticipated. Sure, its steering is feather light and it does weigh as much as a medium-sized moon. But it’s remarkably composed in any manner of driving. During normal driving, it’s relaxed, supple and quiet. The suspension absorbs bumps like a disappearing act, almost never letting passengers know it was there, and the cabin is eerily quiet. One of the nights during my time with the A8, my wife, my son and I were driving home at night and we got caught in a massive thunderstorm with winds so forceful we came home to downed tree branches throughout the neighborhood. Yet we didn’t even realize until we opened the doors. The cabin of the A8 is so insulated from the outside world, it’s actually shocking. So it should drown out the sounds of incoming police sirens.

My son was also the most relaxed of the three of us, as the rear seat is lovely. Admittedly, he was in a car seat, but it’s the back seat ambiance that does it. Rear seat legroom is incredible and the seats themselves are lovely. My test car didn’t have the optional Executive Rear Seat Package, with the awesome center console and foot massagers, but it did have a tablet in the center armrest, which was pretty cool. So your heist buddies will be in the lap of luxury while losing the feds.

Audi A8 Back Seat

Yet, when you want to hustle it, it’s more than capable. Admittedly, it’s not exactly fun to drive hard but it’s willing enough. The steering, while lifeless, is accurate and the front end is responsive. Also, even in Comfort mode, the suspension has this wonderful duality where it also doesn’t allow the A8 to lean much through corners yet never feels sloppy. So it’s both soft and composed, which is a clever party trick. Dynamic mode does stiffen things up a bit but I never noticed a meaningful benefit, even when driving like I was running from baddies. So it stayed in Comfort mode and was able to handle anything I threw at it. Though, the Individual setting is probably best, as you can keep the suspension and steering in comfort but put the engine and transmission in Dynamic, which is how I liked to drive it.

Maybe Wait for the Audi S8

If there’s a problem with the the A8, it’s the engine. Well, not so much with the actual engine itself but the choice to engine. The only engine option available in the Audi A8 at the moment is a 3.0 liter turbocharged V6. It’s the same basic engine you’ll find in an Audi S5 or Q8. It’s a fine engine, with decent power (335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque) and surprising smoothness. However, it’s a bit outmatched in such a heavy car. Audi claims 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds and that’s probably right but it just feels a bit lazier than that. Which isn’t what you want when you have a trunk full of loot and sirens in your ears. We can’t wait for the Audi S8, with its monstrous twin-turbocharged V8 and 563 hp.

Aside from its relative lack of punch, the Audi A8’s powertrain is incredibly refined. The calibration between the V6 and its eight-speed automatic is near-perfect. The A8 was never hunting for gears and, when left in automatic mode, always had the correct gear on tap. The entire powertrain was also silky smooth. Though, a word of advice: always leave it in automatic mode. Not that manual mode doesn’t work well but it’s just not very fun to use in such a smooth, yet relatively unexciting powertrain. Also, Audi’s paddle shifters are laughably bad and don’t belong in an A3, never mind an A8.

A Good Getaway Car

If I needed a car that could replicate the sorts of car chases I remember from the movies I watched as a kid, the 2019 Audi A8 would be on my short list. Sure, it’s slightly enormous and would be difficult to fit through traffic. However, it has such duality, such an ability to be both capable and supple at the same time, while also being able to pack people in. In fact, I don’t remember driving a luxury car that I enjoyed so much in a very long time. If I was recreating Ronin, I think I’d choose the Audi A8. Though, I’d probably actually wait for the S8.

Editor’s Note: I’m not condoning running from police or driving a getaway car, of course.