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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 3.0 TDI Sport Saloon Quattro 4dr (LWB) Auto

    £9,695 £9,695

    Type: Used Year: 2009 Make: AUDI Model: A8 Trim: 3.0 TDI Sport Saloon Quattro 4dr (LWB) Auto Body: Sedan Trans: Automatic Mileage: 100000 Engine Size: 2967 Ext Color: Grey

    • Mileage: 100000 mi
    • Engine size: 2967
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    01256449309 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
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