Classic CARmentary: 1999 Audi A8 4.2 Quattro

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

This was one of the few times where I requested a particular car for a particular week for a particular reason, and the agency that handled press cars came through.  This was a significant achievement because on other times, I’d request a stick and get an automatic, and vice versa.  I’d request a wagon or SUV because I had to haul something bulky, and a sedan would show up in my lot.  For this particular week, I’d requested a high-end luxury sedan to drive to my wife’s high school reunion.  Who wouldn’t do the same given the opportunity?

It definitely garnered its share of admiring glances, and one of my wife’s childhood friends even started to talk about her TT that turned out to be a Nissan NX1600.  Don’t get me wrong – we never claimed that we owned the A8, but it was still fun nonetheless.  Later that night, we all piled into the A8 and drove over to where my in-laws were taking a swing dancing class.  I really wish I’d gotten a picture of that.

The following review was written on May 31, 1999.

The Audi A8 4.2 Quattro stands proudly but anonymously next to its BMW 7-series and Mercedes S-class brethren to vie for your premium dollar. I use the term “anonymously” not because of any inherent failing in the A8 itself, but because Audi is relatively new to this class, and it is still rebuilding the reputation sullied a decade ago by greedy, litigious liars who claimed that their demon Audis were chasing their families through the living room and terrorizing their pets (nee “unintended acceleration”) claims of unintended acceleration. [The portion in strikethrough is what I wrote, but the portion afterward is what actually appeared.  Damn editors.]

What these buyers are missing is an advanced premium sedan whose claim to fame is an aluminum alloy space frame and body shell that are 40 percent lighter than similarly sized steel body assemblies while also garnering five-star ratings in crash tests. The smooth, sleek shape is distinctly Audi, although it doesn’t make the visual statement of the compact A4 or the mid-size A6.

A front drive A8 is available with a 230 horsepower, 3.7-liter V8, but an Audi should rightfully have the Quattro all-wheel drive system, especially to set it apart from the rear-wheel-drive-only BMW and Mercedes. The 4.2 Quattro also includes a larger 4.2-liter V8 that pumps out a more-than-respectable 300 horses. A little hesitant off the line, the 4.2 quickly builds steam and pushes you back against your seat while producing lovely, multi-valve V8 noises. Thanks to Audi’s suspension know-how and Quattro, handling and ride are both well above average.

Since everything is power adjustable, just about anyone can find a comfortable driving position. Our A8 came with the new-for-1999 Alcantara and Leather Trim Package, which engulfs passengers in leather and Alcantara suede. Another distinctive feature are sunroof-mounted solar panels that power the ventilation system to keep the interior cool when parked in the sun. The only complaint is a trunk-mounted CD changer – primitive for this price class. Rear seat room is generous, and the A8 has the greatest cargo volume of any import luxury car.

Compared to the BMW and Mercedes, the A8 is better in some ways, wanting in others. But it’s definitely worth a look, and ultimately will earn you bragging rights at the club.

For more information contact 1-800-FOR-AUDI


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 300-horsepower, 4.2 liter V8
Transmission: Five-speed Automatic with Tiptronic
EPA Mileage: 17 city/25 highway
Tested Price: $73,600