By Frank S. Washington
NNPA Columnist

DETROIT – Diesel used to be a dirty word in the American market. But spearheaded by the Volkswagen Group, oil burners have gained a foothold in this market and they are widening their footprint.  Audi, VW’s luxury brand, is leading the charge in that segment of the market.

The marque offers five models powered by diesel engines and plans to introduce two more in the next 12 or so months. We had the top of the line Audi A8 L TDI Quattro tiptronic. Of the five-model Audi A8 lineup, the TDI is definitely the slowest by more than a second. Still, the Audi A8 TDI can get to 60 mph from a standing start in a startlingly quick 6.4 seconds.

The long-wheel base car was powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine that made 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm. This engine moved the 4,500 pound Audi A8 L TDI effortless and quietly.

Audi used a lot of soundproofing to shield the passenger cabin from what sometimes can be the rough startup of diesel engines in cold weather. The car’s quattro system featured permanent all-wheel-drive with a 40-60 torque split.

Mated to an eight-speed tiptronic transmission, the Audi A8 L TDI had paddle shifters but we never bothered to use them. The car’s character didn’t call for simulated manual shifting. Speed sensitive power steering added to the A8 L TDI’s sure treaded handling. The air suspension with its ride selection enabled the car to hug the road. And the engine shutting off when the car came to complete stop helped its fuel efficiency.

Not that anybody who can afford a luxury sedan priced, as tested, at $99,445 would care but the big sedan’s fuel rating was an impressive 24 mpg in city driving, 36 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. With a 23.8 gallon fuel tank, the Audi A8 L TDI had a highway range of more than 700 miles.

This car was impressive. It had an aluminum space frame and body panels that reduced weight and increased fuel efficiency. Its reduced weight also helped the five-link front suspension and trapezoidal-link rear suspension kept the car balanced in most situations. The A8 L TDI rode smooth, handled with rifle shot accuracy and kept the driver aloft from most other traffic.

Audi has now switched its entire lineup to what it’s trademarked as its Singleframe grille. On the A8 L TDI it had angled corners and horizontal chrome struts. As do all Audis, the A8 had LED running lights underlining the LED headlights. The effect was like eyeliner. Audi was one of the first and is one of the best in the business at utilizing LED running lights aesthetically.

No matter the design, luxury is always conveyed in the interior of any vehicle. The test vehicle had a panoramic roof. The front half was retractable and the back half was fixed but it did tilt. Power sun screens were available all round.

The A8 interior had the feel of a living room and it bristled with technology beginning with its information screen that deployed and retracted into the dashboard. Heated and cooled front power seats could be moved 22 ways and included several different massages.

The side assist not only monitored the car’s blind spots, it monitored fast approaching traffic that was up to 150 feet away. And the alert was not in the mirror but in the mirror housing so it could be seen easier.

What Audi called Driver Assistance package featured a 360 degree view of the car at the corners, the rear, the front and an overview. This proved invaluable in parking lots with tight spaces. It allowed the driver to see exactly how much space the Audi A8 TDI had on either side of the car and how much in front or the rear.

And the long-wheel-based sedan featured Audi’s Bang & Olufsen 19-speaker, 1,400-watt audio system. Audi Connect had real time weather, nearby gasoline prices, news from the area the car was is and for where the car was going.

About the only shortcoming on the A8 L TDI was that it didn’t have a USB jack. It had two slots for SD cards and its own SIM card let you conduct Google searches and find destinations and points of interest in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S.A. and the Virgin Islands. Still, no USB jack means you’ve got to buy a charger to plug into the 12- volt socket for long trips. You should not have to do that with a vehicle of this caliber. We expect when Audi’s electrical architecture is changed the lineup will accommodate USB plugs.

That won’t make the next Audi A8 L TDI perfect but it will be close.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.


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