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Audi A8 Quattro 4.2 Car Review | 1 December 1998

Driven December 1998

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Saddam Hussein could be on the back seat stroking his 'tache and still no one would pay attention. Cruising along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice - home to the posiest poseurs on the whole French Riviera - not even a single eyebrow is raised. You see, this A8 is just so understated. I really wouldn't expect anyone to drop their panties in surprise and cry out 'my God, it's the revamped Audi A8' as I trundle past. But as facelifts go, this one's exactly in keeping with the A8's stealthily subtle character.

For starters the biggest, poshest Audi is now blessed with a bigger and, erm, slightly shinier grille. There's a little sub-grille underneath too, plus separate foglamps and extra aluminium rubbing strips, none of which provoke any extra stares. The new wheels attract no added attention too - because even the giant 18-inchers on my car look alarmingly like Halfords plastic hubcaps.

From a distance, an A8 is (still) a wider A4. You don't see many around on British roads because its restrained looks are exactly what stops owners from wearing their bank balances on their bonnets in quite the same way that a big Merc or BMW allows them too. Put simply, not enough people have been noticing the A8's hidden virtues. So while all those fat cats are busy bothering their secretaries rather than concentrating on the best wheels for the business, they're missing out on a thoroughly excellent luxury motor.

Excellent, if not quite perfect. Heading into the twisty hairpin- covered hills of Grasse, north of Nice, the 4.2 quattro version I'm in proves to have plenty of grunt for the job. Its rather muted 4.2-litre V8 engine now benefits from five valves per cylinder (count them, there's 40) with the result that - wahey - an extra 10bhp has been squeezed out. Bang the lever down a couple of ratios on the five-speed Tiptronic 'box (which tends to get a little confused when left in auto mode) and the 310bhp total is plenty for charging up the steepest inclines.

Those wiggling bends aren't much of a problem either. This A8's big rubber and 4x4 quattro driveline sees the power put down ruthlessly to each wheel. ESP stability control (no, not the mind-reading sort, silly) means all that grip is even harder to shake loose.

To match the all-aluminium body, much of the running gear is now aluminium, partly for the sake of weight watching. Though the ride is now softer too, its low-speed lumpiness remains the one area where the A8 is anything other than utterly sophisticated.

Me, I'll slip into the A8's firmly supportive seats, relax in its airy high-quality cabin, let the climate control keep me as cool as my car and allow the sat-nav to show me the way home. Drivers of the plushest BMWs, Jaguars, Lexus and Mercedes, meanwhile, will have to carry on trying so hard to let everyone know that they've made it.

I'll be the smug one, though. And of course, no one will ever know why.

Peter Grunert

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