For the last couple of decades, the luxury car market has grown dramatically, suggesting that there’s still opportunity for automakers to build big, powerful ,and expensive vehicles. But a closer examination of the luxury landscape reveals that the models that are selling briskly are often “near luxury” and carry a premium brand at a down-to-earth price.
While sales of big sedans like our Audi A8L are diminutive, these flagship models are very important to a luxury brand’s prestige since they are a rolling statement of the very best technology and performance the automaker offers. In that context, Audi’s A8 is clearly equal to its German rivals in stylish substance and it raises the bar for fuel efficiency.
Twisting & Turning
The Santa Cruz Mountain wine appellation is one of California’s oldest viticulture regions, reaching from the Pacific Ocean into a dense, forested mountain range. The rugged terrain is not easy to nurture or harvest, with many vineyards planted on steep slopes, but the mild climate and slow ripening help develop great wines. And unlike California’s flat wine valleys, the mountain roads are a challenge for visitors.
We set out on a tasting adventure with friends who are fellow wine enthusiasts. The perfect vehicle for this party of four was Audi’s A8L, a big luxury car that’s as comfortable on winding roads as it is on an Autobahn. Since I was the designated driver, I contained both my consumption and driving enthusiasm. After all, it’s no fun to end up with green passengers and shaken wine.
Audi’s 4.2-liter V8 is a bit less powerful than its luxury German counterparts, but the car’s aluminum construction saves weight and an eight-speed transmission always finds the right gear, so passing slower traffic down the Pacific Coast Highway was effortless. And over mountain roads, the lighter weight and Quattro all-wheel-drive delivered surefooted confidence.
Our first stop was at the Beauregard Vineyards in Bonny Doon near Santa Cruz. From there, we meandered up through the mountains on roads perfect for goats to the Byington Winery, perched high above Los Gatos. Then we spiraled our way to the picturesque Thomas Fogarty Winery with a view from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. All three wineries produce the popular varietals — unique offerings like Cabernet Franc and Barbara, and exceptional Pinot Noirs.
Over time, Audi has perfected its design language into a bold statement of confidence, especially with its prominent grille. It may not be a hit with everyone’s taste buds, but clearly enough like it to help Audi to maintain steady growth and increased market share in this tough arena. Appropriately, the A8 takes its grille quite seriously, leaving no doubt what make and model just arrived in the visitor’s lot. BRIAN DOUGLAS