Review: Audi A8 (2003 – 2010)

Rating:

Quiet cruiser, with a classy, spacious cabin and good line-up of engines. 3.0 TDI quattro is very impressive. Excellent security rating.

The ride lacks the cosseting suppleness you'd expect from a luxury car.

Recently Added To This Review

28 April 2017

Report of water ingress in D pillar area of 2009 Audi A8 D3 model. Appears to be via the door seal. Also an intermittent parasitic drain on the battery causing all sorts of problems and the battery... Read more

20 October 2016

Report of carbon build up interfering with the operation of the swirl flaps in the inlet manifolds of an Audi A8 3.0V6TDI. Owner had both inlet manifolds, electric motors, linkages and swirl flaps replaced... Read more

25 June 2016

Beware of mileagy used Audi A8s. One reader's experience: Bought a 2008 Audi A8 3.0TDI with 145k km. Had been a company car, apparently regularly serviced, and passed its pre inspection report without... Read more

Audi A8 (2003 – 2010): At A Glance

The Audi A8 of 2003 had a troubled beginning, starting with the launch in Southern France.

At the time I was a Mercedes man, more at home in a Mercedes E Class or S Class than any other car. I was especially happy in the LHD only Mercedes W220 S500 4-Matic.

So the new Audi A8 Quattro had plenty to prove from the start.

And then, just to compound the misery, we got landed with a duff car. The choice was 4.2 or 3.7, so naturally we plumped for the 4.2, loaded our luggage and headed out into the countryside.

Brief note to Mercedes here, the boot of the Audi A8 holds a LOT of luggage. It appears to be about 50% bigger then the S Class rear compartment.

Audi A8 2003 Range Road Test

What does a Audi A8 (2003 – 2010) cost?

List Price from £73,390
Buy new from £57,949
Contract hire from £620.72 per month
Get a finance quote with CarMoney

What's the Audi A8 (2003 – 2010) like to drive?

So we got moving down the first straight. The new A8 has a 6-speed Tiptronic torque converter gearbox with DSG, or "Dynamic Shift Control" in Audi parlance. This allows you to make manual downshifts or upshifts using a pair of steering wheel paddles whether you're in full Tiptronic mode, Drive, or Sport. Sport has the advantage of holding the gear you use to enter a bend all the way round, so you don't get an annoying downshift that unsettles the car on the apex.

Anyway, pretty soon the speedometer was registering 100 and, since this was a RHD UK spec A8 (though not in the UK), that was miles per hour, not kilometres per hour. The engine makes a lovely V8 howl as it hits higher revs and you gather speed very rapidly. All that was fine. And so was the intuitive MMI ("Multi Media Interface") control centre that makes BMW's 7-Series I -Drive look like a colossal mistake that could drive buyers away from 7s and into A8s.

But then we reached the twisty bits and it didn't seem to matter what suspension setting I chose, I got howling tyres and understeer on almost every corner. In direct contrast to the S Class 4-Matic I just could not trust the front not to move a few feet from where I wanted it to be. And I'm not even talking extremes here. The roads we were using were admittedly very demanding, with bend following bend swooping up and down all over the place. And it was very difficult to keep the car on line. "Well slow down, then," I hear you say, and, of course you're right. But the new A8 is supposed to be a World-beater. What's the point of an amazingly rigid body structure and an extremely sophisticated four-wheel drive system if the car washes out all over the road? Okay, sure, with an understeery car you can take it by the scruff of its neck and force it to handle. Even an old Vectra will if you turn-in exceptionally early. But you shouldn't have to.

It wasn't until discussions over dinner that I spoke to a well respected driver whose opinion of the car was the absolute opposite. It turned out he'd been driving the 4.2 Sport, which rides 20% lower, has 20% stiffer suspension and sits on bigger, 19" wheels and tyres. So next day we tried that one, and it was chalk and cheese. The 4.2 Sport was fantastic. Easily the equal of my favourite S500 4-Matic, which you can't buy with RHD anyway. And probably better.

It had started raining by then after a long dry spell, so the conditions I tried it in were ideal for comparison with my wet drive through the Black Forest in the Merc. The A8 4.2 Sport is a serious piece of kit. It turns into wet corners confidently. If the corner turns out to be tighter than you anticipated, you can make a Mercedes-like adjustment half way round without upsetting the applecart. Even if you get it silly wrong and lose traction to all four wheels, it's easy to pull back under control without turning your little drama into a crisis. And on a decent straight that V8 engine yowls it up to 120 very quickly indeed. Top speed is artificially limited to 155 and without the limiter you could expect 165 - 170, if you were a very bad boy.

Okay, but this is a limo (even the standard car had bags of rear seat legroom, and the A8L an extra 13 centimetres). Very few owners are going to be seriously concerned about its ultimate handling characteristics in extreme conditions. To them I'm pleased to say it doesn't matter whether you set the suspension on Comfort, Automatic or Dynamic, the ride quality is always excellent especially for chauffeured rear seat passengers. As an adman once wrote of something else many years ago, "it stops the FT index going up and down".
Last, but far from least, we tried a 3.7 non-Sport. While it doesn't have the grunt of the 4.2, if you use the DSG paddleshifts it will yowl its way up to 135 or so no bother at all. And it's extremely stable at those sorts of speeds. It also handled far better than the previous day's 4.2 non-Sport, with well-contained understeer and a tidy, predictable front end. A very nice car, but if you've got the money, still go for the 4.2 Sport.

After this we could only conclude that something had been wrong with the first car we drove. Could have been tyre pressures, which would have been easily fixed. Could have been tyre compounds. More seriously, could have been a geometry misalignment. But the most likely culprit was tyre pressure. Audi Sebring and Le Mans driver Perry McCarthy admitted he had driven that same car a few days previously and thought it was a bit "off".

Before I wrap up, there are a few more things prospective buyers need to know. There will be a 4.0 litre V8 TDI with 274PS and 650Nm torque from 1st June. Audi is offering a 5 year / 75,000 mile service and maintenance package for a very reasonable extra £500, which includes Audi (not RAC or AA or something else) roadside assistance. The new aluminium spaceframe and panels not only provide a 60% more rigid structure than before, they are easy to repair; easier even than a steel monocoque because new sections can be inserted like a jigsaw puzzle and aluminium panels are actually cheaper than competitors steel panels. If you need to stretch your legs in the back, deliveries of the 130mm longer A8L will start on 1st October 2003, and of the W12 6.0 Quattro A8L on 1st December. And that's about it.

A great car. And a strong competitor to the Mercedes S Class, never mind the 7 Series and the new XJ8.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2

Real MPG average for a Audi A8 (2003 – 2010)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance

103%

Real MPG

17–42 mpg

MPGs submitted

51

Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Audi A8 (2003 – 2010)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

My car was written off at no fault of my own - can I claim any future premium increase from the other insurer?

A driver recently pulled out from behind a parked car and hit my 2004 Audi A8 quattro. I've been offered £3400 as an uneconomical repair. My insurance is with Elephant UK and theirs is with Diamond, which are both part of Admiral. So, effectively, I'm dealing with the same person regardless of who I ring. I've spoke with Elephant in the morning, then Diamond n the afternoon, only to be told that I've already spoken to them that day. My insurer has not got my best interests at heart and are not trying to get me the best deal. Am I entitled to personal compensation for the inconvenience of this accident and can I seek any future price rise from the third party insurer for the next five years?
I would suggest contacting a claims management company or solicitor to ensure there is no conflict of interest. You are entitled to any out of pocket expense incurred as a result of the other parties negligence. Should it be your premium increase due to "needing" to make a claim, then it would follow that you should be able to pursue any increase in premium that you would otherwise not have incurred.
Answered by Tim Kelly
More Questions

What Cars Are Similar To The Audi A8 (2003 – 2010)?

Unclear on what your next car should be? Use our Car Chooser to pick something that suits your needs.

What do owners think?

Our view gives your our opinion, based on driving hundreds of cars every year, but you can't beat the views of someone who lives with a car day-in, day out.

  • 5 star 67%
  • 4 star 33%
  • 3 star
  • 2 star
  • 1 star

See all owners' reviews