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Audi A8: Buying guide and review (1994-2002)

Audi A8: Buying guide and review (1994-2002) Classic and Performance Car
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It’s hard to believe, but Audi’s range topping A8 has been with us for 22 years now. A development of the Audi V8, the company’s first ever top-line luxury car, the A8 introduced some cutting edge new technologies such as an all-aluminium construction along with Quattro four-wheel drive, in an attempt to challenge the dominant Teutonic duo. 

The Audi Space Frame concept car of 1993 demonstrated the new weight saving techniques that the new A8 would employ and it was the lightest in its class when it launched the following year. An electronic stability program introduced in 1997 was a world first for an all-wheel drive car as were the front and rear side airbags.

In its third generation now, the large Audi has carved itself a niche in this tough class and competes head-to-head with the best cars in its class. We will be looking at the first generation cars and seeing how viable they are as used purchases and whether all that innovation and advanced '90s design has stood the test of time.

Which Audi A8 to buy?

The A8 may have an all-aluminium design but at close to two tonnes it is still a heavy car, so the smaller engined variants have their work cut out for them. The first 174bhp 12 valve 2.8s are rare these days, but it is worth opting for the later 193bhp 2.8. Ideally, you’ll be able to opt for the beefier 3.7 and 4.2-litre V8s. Quattro all-wheel drive was standard on the range topping 4.2l cars from the outset and was phased in to the rest of the range over the years. It can aid traction in slippery conditions however cars with Quattro do carry a weight penalty over the front wheel drive cars.

Handling was commendable for such a large luxury car and matched up well to its opposition however the ride was criticised for being a bit hard, especially when specified with sport suspension. Gearbox options range from 5 and 6 speed manuals to 4 and 5 speed automatics, the tiptronic autos were a good match for the large Audi’s character and most are so equipped. The 340bhp S8 was introduced in 1997 and with its Quattro drivetrain, 6 speed manual gearbox and sporty suspension settings was a unique offering in its class. These cars are rare but not as rare as the 420bhp W12 6.0l. The W12 was sold in very limited numbers and mostly to Asian customers so finding one will be tricky. The 2.5l diesel variants also did not make it to the UK. Values for most models are as low as they are likely to get but running costs can be a lot more affordable on the 2.8l cars so bear this in mind. 

Interior space was more than generous, even more so in the LWB 4.2l models which became available from 1999 on. Specification levels were high across the range with climate control, heated seats and electric everything as standard. For our money, one of the later V8 models is the one to go for, smooth and refined they offer strong performance for comparatively very little money. High mileages are not a concern but many owners and patchy service histories can mean big bills in the future. 

Performance and specs

Audi A8 4.2 Quattro
Engine 4172cc 24 valve DOHC V8 
Power 300bhp @ 6000rpm 
Torque 295lb ft torque @ 2300rpm
Top speed 155mph (limited)
0-62mph 7.4 seconds 
Fuel consumption 20 mpg
Gearbox Four-speed automatic/five-speed automatic

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2880mm
Length 5034mm
Width 1880mm
Height 1436mm
Weight 1750kg

Common problems

• Aluminium body panels mean that it is easy to dent and this can be expensive to repair so ensure that the bodywork is in very good condition. Minor damage and scratches can be repaired at most Audi approved workshops however larger damage will require specialist attention.

• High mileages are common on these cars and should not be an issue as overall reliability is good. Evidence of regular servicing is important though.

• Parts are still widely available however as the A8 was a range topping vehicle and build numbers were relatively small, prices can be high for model specific items.

• Suspensions generally provide a hard ride in true Audi tradition however replacement dampers and suspension rubbers can help matters considerably.

• Some early cars suffered from ECU and tiptronic gearbox issues so check if the car you are considering has had any work carried out in the service records.

Model history

1994: All aluminium Audi A8 debuts with Quattro drivetrain and 300bhp 4.2 litre V8 with a four-speed automatic transmission as standard. 174bhp 2.8-litre V6 introduced, featuring front wheel drive and the option of manual or automatic transmissions
1995: 230bhp 3.7-litre V8 front-wheel drive model introduced
1996: 2.8-litre models receive multivalve heads and a power increase to 193bhp
1997: S8 Quattro introduced with 340bhp and six-speed manual gearbox
1998: Tiptronic gearbox made available on S8
1999: Minor update introduced with revised front end, suspension changes and interior upgrades. S8 gets power hike to 360bhp. 3.7-litre models now come with four-wheel drive. Long wheelbase variants become available in 4.2-litre form
2000: W12 engined A8 introduced featuring 420bhp. Grille and headlights are redesigned and 3.7-litre model is dropped from the range
2001: 2.8-litre models now also sold with four-wheel drive
2002: Final first-generation A8 sold, with over 100,000 units produced

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.a8oc.net A8 owners club
• www.audi-owners-club.co.ukOwners club for all Audi models
• www.unit20.orgAudi specialists

Summary and prices

If you are in the market for a cheap luxury car, then the A8 is a fantastic and almost unbeatable option. Audi’s evolutionary design philosophy means that this first-generation A8 still looks the part too. Value for money is the overriding factor here, as most models can be found for well under £3000. Some high-mileage V6 and 3.7-litre V8s can be found for under £1000, however you should be careful of expensive mechanical issues. Cat C and Cat D cars can be very tempting thanks to their bargain basement prices, but it is imperative that all bodywork repairs have been carried out by reputable Audi specialists as issues here are very expensive to rectify. 
The rare S8’s are closer to £5000, with the odd low mileage mint condition examples trading for £15,000. Limited availability means that you cannot be too picky but as long as you make sure that the car has a verifiable service history and have factored in running expenses, the first generation A8 can provide years of motoring pleasure for potentially very little outlay.

Words: John Tallodi
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Last updated: 31st Aug 2016
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Audi A8
8995 44850 GBP

    £8,995 £8,995

    • Mileage: 88000 mi
    • Engine size: 2.967
    For sale
    £8,995 £8,995
    Agusta Automotive
    07487 650303 View contact number

    £21,995 £21,995

    Alloy Wheels-9Jx20in 10-Parallel Spoke (SE Exec.), Comfort Front Seat with Natural Leather, Garage Door Opener, Power Operated Bootlid, Audi Exclusive Paint, Cool Box, Twin Pane UV and Heat Insulating Glass, Double Glazing, Rear Vanity Mirrors, Twin Pane UV Heated Windscreen, All-LED Headlights incl. High-Beam Assist, Steering Wheel in Wood Seg for 4-Spoke, Upper Inlays - Fine Grain Ash Velvet Brown, Audi Side Assist Including Pre-Sense Rear, 6 months warranty, 12 months MOT, Full service history, Clean bodywork, Beige Full leather interior - Clean Condition, Tyre condition Good, Four wheel-drive, Standard Features - Satellite Navigation System - HDD - Based, Deluxe 4 - Zone Climate Control Including Rear Comfort Centre Armrest, DAB Digital Radio with Audi Music Interface and CD/DVD Changer for 6 DVDs or CDs (MP3, WMA, AAC and WMV Formats), Audi Parking System Advanced. Aids Parking by Acoustically and Visually Indicating Distances to Obstacles with Guiding Lines. Measured by Sensors and Reversing Camera, 7in High Resolution Touch Screen, Heated Front and Rear Outer Seats, Cruise Control, Mobile Telephone Preparation - High with Bluetooth Including Online Services, Tyre Pressure Loss Indicator, Comfort Front Seats with Memory Function (22 - Way Adjustable), Thatcham Category 1 Alarm, Upholstery - Valcona Leather, Electric Front and Rear Windows, Rain Sensor, Colour Drivers Information System (DIS), Advanced Key - Keyless Entry and Keyless Go.

    • Mileage: 47985 mi
    • Engine size: 4.134
    For sale
    £21,995 £21,995
  • Audi A8

    £43,993 £43,993

    Variant name:S8 TFSI V8 QUATTRO ,Derivative:MK3 FL (4H) (D4) ,Variant: S8 TFSI V8 QUATTRO Massive Spec Inc Factory Options, 21 Inch Alloys, Adaptive Cruise Control, Electric Sunroof, Privacy Glass Due in stock we have a superb Audi S8. The standard specification on this top of the range Audi is comprehensive but it is the factory ordered optional extras that stand this car apart. Factory options include but are not limited to Glacier White metallic paint, 21 inch 5 triple spoke alloys, Piano Black finish, 3 soke leather steering wheel, Adaptive cruise control, Electric sunroof, Privacy glass, One owner from new serviced 08 September 2017 at 18336 by Audi main agent. The same is never the same. This is the car to buy with this equipment level and kerb appeal.

    • Year: 2015
    • Mileage: 19713 mi
    • Engine size: 4
    For sale
    £43,993 £43,993
  • Audi A8

    £25,000 £25,000

    Variant name:TDI QUATTRO SE EXECUTIVE ,Derivative:TDI QUATTRO SE EXECUTIVE ,Variant: TDI QUATTRO SE EXECUTIVE 19" x 9J '10-spoke Y' design alloy wheels with 255/45 R19 tyres, Brushed aluminium, silver lower inlays, Tyres 255/45 R19 104Y xl, Audi Parking System Advanced, 19" x 9J '10-spoke Y' design alloy wheels with 255/45 R19 tyres, Comfort seats, Comfort seats, SE Executive, Electric fr seats w memory, Audi hands-free boot opening system, Advanced key, Door mirrors - with memory and auto dimming function. Electrically folding, adjustable and heated, Front centre armrest, Audi Smartphone Interface, Cruise control, Bluetooth interface

    • Year: 2014
    • Mileage: 23935 mi
    • Engine size: 3
    For sale
    £25,000 £25,000
  • Audi A8

    £44,850 £44,850

    Variant name:S8 TFSI V8 QUATTRO ,Derivative:MK3 FL (4H) (D4) ,Variant: 4.0 TFSI quattro 520 PS tiptronic 21" x 9J '5-arm rotor design' in titanium optic alloy wheels with 275/35 R21 tyres, 21" x 9J '5-arm Rotor' design titanium finish alloy wheels with 275/35 R21 tyres, Tyres 275/35 R21, Enhanced Sport exhaust, Electric slide-and-tilt sunroof, Privacy glass, Piano finish, black upper inlays, Leather gear lever, Audi parking system plus and Audi park assist

    • Year: 2015
    • Mileage: 25283 mi
    • Engine size: 4
    For sale
    £44,850 £44,850