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Understated opulence: Audi A8 L 4.0T quattro melds luxury, performance, low-key style

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s something a bit unnerving about climbing into a $120,000 German luxury sedan for the first time and heading onto I-25 into Albuquerque’s raucous rush-hour traffic.

Especially when that luxury sedan isn’t your own (as if!), but loaned to you by the manufacturer for review.

The car in question is Audi’s biggest, the A8 L 4.0T quattro. It’s an imposing vehicle, especially since the “L” stands for “long wheelbase,” which adds some five inches to the car’s overall length.

So navigating an interstate jammed with headed-home commuters could be a fairly anxiety-inducing affair, given Albuquerque drivers’ penchant for disregarding the speed limit, changing lanes without the courtesy of signaling and general inattention. (Seen anyone talking on the phone while driving lately?)

But surprisingly, in the big Audi it’s just not that nerve-wracking.

The A8 is so smooth, quiet and responsive there’s an instant sense of feeling perfectly in command. And jammed with all the latest safety and warning systems, the A8 driver is constantly made aware of the surroundings.

The A8 excels at passenger comfort. Nestle into the impeccably crafted, leather-lined cabin on front thrones that are nothing short of perfection, with a multitude of power adjustments guaranteeing an exact fit. The L’s extra five inches in wheelbase show up in the NBA-level, rear-seat legroom. As fitting for such a grand conveyance, both front and rear seats are equipped with selectable massage settings, heat and ventilation and power recline.

Many of these features are included in extra-cost options packages, of which our test vehicle sported quite a few: upgraded interior trim; a killer Bang & Olufsen sound system; a sport package with adaptive air suspension; a Driver Assistance package of techy convenience and safety items; a panoramic sunroof; 20-inch alloys and tires; and a cold-weather package with a heated steering wheel. The cost of just the options alone: $32,350.

13A8L30T_22_hrgbThe twin-cam, turbocharged V-8 powering the A8 (a supercharged V-6 is the standard offering and a V-12 is optional for those who must have the ultimate) is as magnificent as most everything else about this car. It rockets the 4,600-pound sedan to 60 mph quicker than any number of muscle cars. Yet it never feels like it’s working hard, in part due to the smoothness of the eight-speed automatic transmission, but instantaneous power is always available at any speed.

Despite the compliant highway ride, the big Audi dispatches curves like a sport sedan. And braking is race-car confident.

Doesn’t the A8 L deserve at least one demerit? Let’s see … oh, yeah, the trunk’s kind of small.