For 2021, Audi is offering a Plug-In Trifecta; its Q5, A7 and A8 are now available as plug-in hybrids offering big-engine performance and small, eco-engine efficiency. These three e-cars represent Audi’s ongoing commitment to an anticipated goal of having a 30% electrified portfolio by 2025.
The 4-door Audi A8 full-size, luxury sedan has been manufactured by the German automaker since 1994. Known for being the first mass-market car with an aluminum chassis, the Audi A8 has always been a technology showcase. Considered the pinnacle of Audi’s luxury sedans, it offers drivers an understated yet beautiful design both inside and out. And it becomes super-athletic when challenging roads demand unparalleled performance.
Sedans haven’t traditionally been big sellers. But the German automakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi have been forced to play catch-up with Tesla since it introduced its Model S in 2012, which began to gobble up enormous market share. In the process, these four carmakers have had to redefine what an eco-conscious sedan is. For BMW, its 745e Plug-In Hybrid started the ball rolling. Its 7-Series all-electric, expected in late 2022, will launch first in Europe and China and won’t compete in the USA until 2023 or later. For Mercedes, it’s the pure-electric EQS, not quite a full-sized sedan, available in 2021. And for Porsche, luxury sedans now equate to the Panamera E-Hybrids and the Taycan EV.
Knowing it had to follow suit, needing an electrified sedan, Audi created the A8 60 TFSI e Plug-In Hybrid. As part of Audi’s aim to be CO2 neutral by 2050, it plans to electrify its full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles, including the A8. Discussing how this would work, Audi CEO Bram Schot says his company has been “thinking about revolutionizing the top-end class with a completely new concept for the A8.” Building a pure-electric A8 from scratch will take 3 to 5 years minimum. It may very well become a completely different car with a new numerical designation. Which leaves Audi large sedan fans with a plug-in version of the A8 for now.
The 2021 Audi A8 PHEV comes equipped with standard quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. It uses a 6-cylinder electric engine, paired with an electric motor and a 14.1kWh battery, to provide 18 pure electric miles. With a starting MSRP of $95,900, the A8 PHEV offers all the bells and whistles, plus more. Ratcheted up with luxury features, the A8 now comes standard with 22-way power-adjustable front seats with heat and ventilation, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and a 360-degree exterior camera system.
The combined A8 e powertrain is rated at a net 443 horsepower and 516 lb-ft (700 Nm) of torque, which means it can output V8 levels of power when necessary. On the opposite end of the power spectrum, it can operate in nearly silent all-electric mode. Offering premium appointments, excellent driving dynamics, integrated hybrid tech, and Audi’s latest MIB 3 infotainment system, this car is a standout in the luxury e-sedan segment.
Sitting under the PHEV’s rear cargo area, the battery pack is equipped with an integrated heat pump that uses the Li-Ion battery’s heat to efficiently warm the cabin. An onboard 7.7kW charger fills battery power to 100% in 2.4 hours with a 240V outlet. The A8 PHEV starts in Electric Mode when charged. In Hybrid Mode it takes advantage of both powertrains. And in Battery Hold Mode it reserves electric power for later use.
The car’s standard predictive efficiency assist increases brake-energy recuperation when the A8 approaches a slower vehicle or is moving downhill. Using its satellite navigation system, the A8 TFSI e reads the road’s curves, vertical profile and speed limits and adjusts the PHEV’s behavior accordingly, increasing efficiency by lowering fuel consumption.
Detectable haptic feedback from the accelerator pedal – how hard or soft it’s pushed – creates a visual signal in the MMI and head-up display telling the driver when to ease off the accelerator, to use as much kinetic energy as possible. The Audi virtual cockpit also displays symbols to the driver which indicate curves, downhill slopes, traffic circles, intersections, highway exits and required speed limits.
Says senior editor Kirk Bell of Thecarconnection.com: “A worthy flagship, the 2021 Audi A8 is thoroughly modern and eminently comfortable. The look is clean and conservative on the outside, high-tech and smartly appointed on the inside. Three screens, including a digital instrument cluster and two touchscreens, provide a wealth of information and controls for the driver. The infotainment system may be complex, but it’s intuitive. With the right package, even the rear seat passengers can commandeer some controls. And every seating position, with the exception of the middle rear, has plenty of room.”
The three screens Bell is referring to are Audi’s excellent 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, plus a 10.3-inch upper haptic screen and an 8.6-inch lower haptic screen which use the MMI Touch Response System. There’s a single volume knob for the audio system, but everything else is controlled via touchscreen. In the cabin front are two USB ports with combined data and charging capability. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone integration is standard, as is Amazon Alexa compatibility. Wi-Fi via Audi Connect Plus is available for an additional subscription fee.
Describing the car’s styling and design, Bell says, “The A8 features a wide trapezoidal grill up front flanked by thin angular headlights that slot right into the grille’s upper section and have their own signature LED lighting elements. Lower air intakes complete the face and add to the wide look of the front end. The profile is largely slab-sided, broken up by a lower character line. The rear has a fill-width taillight panel that gives the car visual width and performs a little light dance upon startup. The rear also helps break up the slab-sided look with some curviness, and the whole car is highlighted with chrome trim to denote its luxury within. Inside, the A8’s multiple screens and luxurious wood, aluminum, and leather comes off like a smartly appointed modern office.”
Car and Driver reviewers sum up the 2021 Audi A8 this way: “In the same way that a simple but well-tailored tuxedo elevates one's style, the quietly luxurious 2021 Audi A8 is handsome and looks expensive without being flashy. Audi's largest and most luxurious sedan – the 2021 A8 –hides its high-dollar cabin behind a handsome-yet-understated façade. From a distance, it's easy to mistake this nearly six-figure sedan for a humble A4, but that sort of anonymity may actually be appealing to more restrained millionaires. Inside, buyers will find a cabin that is just as spacious and elegantly outfitted as the showier Mercedes-Benz S-class and BMW 7-series, including available massaging seats for front and rear passengers. Audi has rolled out its entire cavalcade of infotainment and driver-assistance technology here, as the A8 serves as a rolling showcase of whiz-bang features.”
Though the 2021 A8 PHEV has not been safety tested by the NHTSA or IIHS, it comes with a wealth of safety features. They include: Electronic Stability Control (ESC), ABS And Driveline Traction Control, Side Impact Beams, Dual Stage Driver And Passenger Seat-Mounted Side Airbags, Emergency SOS, Front And Rear Parking Sensors, Audi pre sense basic, Audi active lane departure warning, Tire Specific Low Tire Pressure Warning, Dual Stage Driver And Passenger Front Airbags, SIDEGUARD Curtain 1st And 2nd Row Airbags, an Airbag Occupancy Sensor, Driver And Passenger Knee Airbag and Rear Side-Impact Airbag, Rear Child Safety Locks, Outboard Front Lap And Shoulder Safety Belts which include Rear Center 3 Point Height Adjusters and Pretensioners, a Back-Up Camera with 360 surround view.
The A8 PHEV drives without direct tailpipe emissions in EV Mode, which makes it eligible for HOV lane access stickers and $6,712 in potential federal tax incentives. EPA-estimated MPGe is 53; combined/city/highway MPG is 23.
Offering lower fuel consumption, comfort, elegance, and an abundance of technology, this stylish, torque-rich A8 PHEV offers a compelling case for drivers ready to plug-in.
Revised May, 2021
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