The Audi A8 is a full-size luxury sedan manufactured and marketed by the German automaker Audi since 1994. Succeeding the Audi V8, and now in its fourth generation, the A8 has been offered with both front- or permanent all-wheel drive—and in short- and long-wheelbase variants. The first two generations employed the Volkswagen Group D platform, with the current generation deriving from the MLB platform. After the original model’s 1994 release, Audi released the second generation in late 2002, the third in late 2009, and the fourth and current iteration in 2017.
Noted as the first mass-market car with an aluminium chassis, all A8 models have used this construction method co-developed with Alcoa and marketed as the Audi Space Frame.
A mechanically-upgraded, high-performance version of the A8 debuted in 1996 as the Audi S8. Produced exclusively at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant, the S8 is fitted standard with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, and is available in short- and long-wheelbase form.
In 1982, Ferdinand Piëch signed an agreement with Aluminum Company of America. The objective was to design and develop a car that would be substantially lighter than any other vehicles in its class (to compensate for the fact that standard all-wheel drive was around 100 kg (220 lb) heavier than competitors’ rear-wheel drive). In the late 1980s, it was decided that the target vehicle would be a successor to the V8 (Typ 4C) flagship introduced in 1988. By 1990, a final design by Chris Bird and Dirk van Braeckel was chosen and frozen for series production in mid-1991. In September 1993, the Audi Space Frame (ASF) Concept was unveiled at the 1993 Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) as a D2 Typ 4D prototype in polished aluminum. Pilot production began in December 1993 and development ended in early 1994, at a total cost of $700 million (£418.1 million).
The Audi A8 (Typ 4D) was presented in February 1994 and debuted at the 1994 Geneva Auto Show in March, with full-scale factory production commencing in June 1994, although it was not until October 1996, for the 1997 model year that it became available in North America. Unlike its predecessor, the Audi V8 model, which was built on an existing steel platform, the A8 debuted on the then-new Volkswagen Group D2 platform, an all aluminiummonocoque, marketed as the “Audi Space Frame” (ASF), which helped to reduce weight and preserve structural rigidity. The saloon/sedan was offered in both the A8 (standard wheelbase), and the A8 L extended or long-wheelbase (LWB) version. The A8 L adds 5 inches (127 mm) of rear legroom. Updates to the car in 1997 included the addition of six interior airbags.The A8 was designed as a competitor to fellow German rivals Mercedes Benz S Class and the BMW 7 Series it also competed against the British Jaguar XJ and the Japanese Lexus LS.
In 1997, Audi introduced the first series production electronic stability control (ESP) for all-wheel drive vehicles (Audi A8 and Audi A6)– the world’s first production cars with both front and rear side airbags.
For 1997, the new A8 was available with either front-wheel drive (FWD), or the Torsen-based quattro permanent four-wheel drive. The FWD models are powered by a 2.8-litre V6 engine, producing 142 kW (193 PS; 190 bhp), and a 3.7-litre V8 engine producing 169 kW (230 PS; 227 bhp), while the quattro received a 4.2-litre V8 producing 221 kW (300 PS; 296 bhp).
The A8 is available with standard luxury amenities, including dual-zone climate control, wood and leather interior trim, 14-way power and heated seats, and an enhanced Bose audio system.
In 1999, Audi’s flagship received side curtain airbags, new colours, and restructuring of option packages. The North American “warm weather package” added a solar sunroof which allows the interior ventilation fans to run, keeping the interior cool while the car is parked with the engine turned off. Changes to all models included a larger passenger-side mirror, and a first aid kit located in the rear centre armrest.
In 1999 for the 2000 model year came a minor front-end restyle, with new, larger, clear headlights, a revised grille, and lower front valance with standard projection fog lamps. On the interior, the seats received a new, horizontal stitch pattern. Also, the 3.7-litre V8 FWD model was dropped, leaving the 2.8 V6 model and the long-wheelbase and short-wheelbase 4.2-litre quattro. These restyled cars also featured revised external door handles and an integrated radio antenna. For 2000, the North American A8 line-up was expanded to include the A8 L.
In 2001, Audi introduced its new W12 engine, a compact 6.0-litre unit developed by effectively mating two VR6 engines together at the crankshaft. The engine quickly became available in the A8, though only to European and Asian customers. From its introduction through its discontinuation in 2003, only 750 of the D2 “W12” models were produced. 2001 also marked the debut of the high-performance S8 variant in North American markets.
In 2002, the A8 L received standard xenon high-intensity discharge lamp (HID) headlights, and a heated steering wheel. A tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS), an updated Symphony II stereo, and new exterior colours were also added. For 2002, all A8 variants received a trunk/boot interior release lever to facilitate escape in the event an individual became trapped within.
Factory production of this generation ceased at Number 105,092 on August 4, 2002.