Other standards features include Bose surround-sound audio, adaptive headlamps, and 12-way adjustable power seats with heating, ventilation and massage. The new A8 also incorporates the Audi drive select system that can adjust the car's driving characteristics on the fly to suit the driver's mood. Adjustments can be made suspension damping, steering and accelerator inputs and transmission shift points. Four modes are available: Auto (default), Dynamic, Comfort, and Individual, wherein the user can preset a custom combination of settings using the MMI interface. The drive select system can also be enhanced with an optional sport differential in the rear that actively varies torque between the rear wheels, reducing understeer and enhancing the big car's cornering capabilities.

But the options list is where you start to delve into the really juicy tech stuff. In the audio department, the high-end Bang & Olufsen sound system makes a return to the option checklist, incorporating no less than 19 speakers to tickle the hard-core audiophile. Up front, all-LED headlamps are also available, just the second application of this technology in the Audi world (the first being the lamps on the R8 5.2). Available safety and convenience features are also present to match those of the A8's competitors: active cruise control, lane departure awareness and blind spot monitoring, and night vision with pedestrian marking capability. There's also the option of equipping this car with a factory-installed WLAN hotspot for wireless Internet access. The system is activated by inserting a data-capable SIM card into the online car phone and communicates through the car's rooftop antenna to offer reported access speeds up to 7.2 megabits per second. It can support up to eight terminal devices like laptops, notebooks or iPad-like tablets, giving the A8 potential to become a literal four-wheeled mobile hotspot.

The new A8, as with the old A8, is sumptuously appointed with high-grade materials like real aluminum and smooth leather, intuitively arranged controls, and possibly the best ergonomics of any German carmaker. But for us, the most striking thing about the new A8 is not its high degree of interior craftsmanship, superior material quality, or the way even the base 4.2 brims with cutting-edge technology; we expect all of that from the company flagship. More exciting is the way it drives: tighter and more taut than previous generations, with greater steering feel and precision-all combined with Quattro's peerless roadholding ability. In some respects it seems an altogether different kind of car than previous generations. Which, essentially, it is.

Audi chairman Rupert Stadler has called the new A8 "the sportiest sedan in its segment." We'll withhold judgment on that sentiment until we get a little more seat time, maybe do some back-to-back runs with a few of its competitors. But at the very least, we reiterate: This latest A8 is definitely the greatest.

2011 Audi A8 4.2 (NWB)

Longitudinal front engine,all-wheel drive

4.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve

Eight-speed automatic

Lightweight aluminum multilink front and rear, adaptive air suspension

Ventilated discs, ABS, EBD, ESC

Length/Width/Height (in.):
Wheelbase: 117.8
Curb Weight: not listed

MSRP: $78.050

Peak Power: 372 hp @ 6800 rpm
Peak Torque: 328 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.7 sec. (estimated)
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)

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