It might seem like Audi has always been a mainstream luxury brand forever, given how popular it currently is among luxury car customers. However, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for much of Audi’s life, it was considered a cheaper, quirky alternative to BMW and Mercedes-Benz but not a proper competitor. So when did Audi make the switch from oddball alternative to a genuine luxury giant?
That all depends on how you defined a “luxury” car. Is a luxury brand one that focuses on the luxuriousness of its cars above all else or just that builds the occasional luxury car? Is a luxury brand one that sells its cars in limited numbers, as to be exclusive, or can it sell to the masses? Is automotive luxury just high built quality or is it about the comfort and opulence inside? Is a car luxurious if it also prioritizes sporty driving or does it have to only be luxurious? It’s tricky.
To keep things simple, though, we’re going to try and find a clear-cut dividing line, for when Audi truly made the jump to become a real player in the luxury car market and we think we can pinpoint the moment — the introduction of the Audi A8.
Prior to the Audi A8, the four-ringed brand did make premium cars with nice interiors. However, they were always based off of Volkswagen chassis and were ever up to par with Mercedes-Benz and BMW. While good cars, few customers would have put them even in the same ballpark as their German rivals. That all changed with the Audi A8, though.
Introduced in 1994, the original D2-generation Audi A8 was a massive moment for not only the brand but the industry altogether. There was suddenly a new luxury car on the market, priced to compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series, that was not only as good as its competitors but better in certain ways.
The D2 Audi A8 was based on a then-revolutionary Audi Space Frame chassis, which was entirely aluminum, and featured an all-new 40-valve 4.2 liter V8 engine, and Quattro all-wheel drive. It looked fantastic, had an absolutely stellar interior, and drove with a combination of ride comfort and agility that bested even its German rivals. It was a genuinely massive shift for not only Audi but the entire luxury car segment.
It also made customers take Audi seriously as a luxury car maker. Sure the Audi V8 sedan of the late ’80s and early ’90s was a good car and Audi had some cool wagons but it wasn’t until the Audi A8 that the four-ringed brand stood for genuine luxury.
Now, Audi is one of the most famous and well-respected luxury brands in the world. It has successful racing teams, a mid-engine supercar, a high-end electric GT cars, and 600 horsepower luxury wagons. All of which owe their existence to the success of the first-gen Audi A8.