Back when investment bankers and mining executives made more money than anyone else, the Audi A8 was the choice for executives who didn’t want to attract too much attention. Wooden dashboards were a measure of wealth and success. A V8 was the ultimate engine choice.
Since then, a lot has changed.
Wooden trim has disappeared from option lists. The V8 is an endangered species. Tech geniuses are making all the money and hardly anyone is buying super saloons anymore.
These days, it’s all about Range Rovers instead. The Audi A8 is now in its fourth generation, but you probably haven’t seen one of the latest models on the road.
Then again, when last did you see a new 7 Series, other than in a taxpayer-funded convoy?
The argument in favour of a super saloon is that the handling is far superior to the SUV alternative. This has been true until very recently, when a new breed of performance SUVs emerged that offer impressive dynamics. Very few consumers are now choosing beefy saloons over high-end SUVs.
Before you wax lyrical about your hatred of the SUV, a 5m long saloon car isn’t exactly a Lotus either, especially in Quattro format. The A8 is a showcase of technology and build quality rather than a driving weapon.
Audi needed to build a competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz but of course they wanted to stick with the Quattro technology, which is much heavier. This necessitated an all-aluminium body, launched in 1994 as the first generation A8.
To make the task more difficult at the time, Audi was launching a car into a market that suddenly cared about the impact of enormous cars on the environment. The S-Class was referred to by the German press as a “cathedral on wheels” which gave credence to Audi’s landmark decision to take space frame construction from the racetrack to a production car, albeit a pricey one.
Kerb weight of 1,750kg (although the CAR magazine test car weighed in at 1870kgs as tested) is impressive for a car this size and is less than the BMW 740i of the same period, although not by as much as one might expect because the Audi is also larger than the Beemer. Using aluminium construction brought numerous other ecological benefits, ranging from less waste during manufacturing through to a recyclable body at the end of the car’s life.
The motoring press also made a fuss of the Audi’s gearbox, with CAR Magazine going to the length of explaining that a “shift forward towards the plus sign triggers an upward shift, while a backwards movement causes a swop to a lower gear.” It seems ludicrous to read that in this day and age, but this was a super-advanced gearbox in its day.
The only other super saloon of the period that we’ve driven is the Jaguar XJR, specifically a 1999 X308 which is a fair comparison to this A8.
From a driving dynamics and performance perspective, it’s a dead rubber. The XJR puts out 276kW and only weighs 40kg more than this A8 which puts out 221kW. The S8 of the period would be a fairer fight (250kW) but we suspect would still come off second-best against the big cat.
The Jag’s rear-wheel drive layout lends itself to a more responsive driving experience vs. the Audi which is more of a highway cruiser with Quattro for ultimate roadholding. The Jag is an enthusiast’s choice, whereas the Audi is a more sensible choice and arguably a better all-rounder.
The A8 is no slouch either, with a 0-100km/h time of 6.9s.
None of the cars in this class are exactly cheap to maintain, but the Audi does exude a level of build quality that would embarrass Jaguar models far newer than the 1990s XJR. Everything in this car works and the interior shows very few signs of wear.
This 1998 A8 is a luxurious, safe and powerful way to move yourself, the family and an entire household of luggage. This is the first car we’ve driven where we could easily crawl into the boot!
The vehicle is being sold through Road & Race, along with an ongoing selection of interesting and iconic vehicles.