As it happens, the new Audi A8 will be sailing into the midst of perhaps its fiercest competition yet, with a hot new 7 Series from BMW; a forthcoming new S-Class from Mercedes that promises a range of powerplants from the pedestrian to the ludicrous; and a sexy all-new Jaguar XJ that has finally ascended as a truly viable contender.

Good thing for Audi, then, that this is its best A8 to date. The next generation has been improved in just about every area, beginning with the chassis. Through the advancement of the aluminum Audi Space Frame, the platform is more rigid than that of its predecessor by a claimed 25 percent, helping contribute to a distinct feeling of driving precision and tautness.

Through ongoing development of the 4.2-liter V8, the new car is faster, with 372 hp compared to the outgoing base model's 350, as well as being more efficient. Audi estimates fuel economy has improved upwards of 20 percent. The V8 is hooked to a new eight-speed transmission that offers seamless shifts and helps efficiency, and those eight gears turn all four wheels via Audi's signature Quattro system with a sporting 40/60 front-to-rear split.

For now, the 4.2-liter V8 is the only power unit available for either the normal-wheelbase (NWB) A8 or the long-wheelbase A8 L, although we expect a new version of the more powerful 12-cylinder engine, arranged in the VW Group's W configuration, to come down the line at some point. But expect a significant price premium to accompany that unit. Europe gets further options like a 3.0-liter TDI, but those won't be making it over to the States-not, at least, any time soon (naturally).

Typical of a new-generation vehicle, the styling has created a stir among admirers and detractors. There are those who argue the new fascia with the large central trapezoid grille is too pronounced. Audi goes so far as to say the car wears its grille "proudly" like a "coat of arms." We might not go that far, but really it just follows the Audi family styling DNA; if the grille seems big, it's because the freaking car is big. The rest of the design remains conservatively, classically A8, with traditionally simple, yet elegant and dynamic body lines evocative of the car's design history. A new multispoke 19-inch wheel is standard, with a 20-inch wheel/tire package available at extra cost.

The base model 4.2 comes with plenty of standard equipment to put it on a level with its competitors. One notable feature is the next-gen Multi Media Interface (MMI), which features an integrated touchpad. By default, the pad allows access to six preset functions (like your favorite radio stations), but used in concert with the navigation system actually allows you to write letters with your fingertip, when entering a street name or point-of-interest destination for example. In addition to English (and German we presume), the pad is quite multilingual and recognizes Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters. Trick, yes, but in our experience still a little clumsy; drawing the letter "Q" posed a unique challenge (overly eager to please, the system kept entering "O" before you had a chance to give the Q its little tail). Still, it's a neat idea and could probably be smoothed out with simple software updates (or practice on our part).

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