Monterey Car Week in August is a destination for automobile collectors, vintage racers, enthusiasts, and luxury carmakers from around the world. It is also a free-for-all in the best—and worst—sense of the term: Multiple auctions, rallies, races and concours gatherings, topped by Sunday’s granddaddy of car shows, Pebble Beach, all conspire to make the Monterey Peninsula a circus best navigated by a lion tamer with a whip and side chair. What should be simple journeys, like getting from points A to B, are more often a matter of ricocheting from A to G to M to D to Z and finally back to B. So onerous are the traffic congestion, road closures, and incompetent parking-cops-in-training that I always ask myself why I keep coming back.
Living in Los Angeles, I find that the decision is never whether one drives or flies, but rather what one drives. The solitude afforded by the five-hour road trip is always anticipated, a welcome respite from the traffic chaos to come once I reach Ground Zero in Monterey. This year, I opted for luxury in preference to hard-driving sport, knowing well how quiet comportment in a spacious, well-appointed cabin would inure me to the tedium of the bumper-to-bumper traffic that waited. The chariot of choice for this journey: the 2015 Audi A8 L TDI Quattro Tiptronic, a mouthful of a model designation for Audi’s long, luxurious—and parsimonious—diesel flagship.
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Powered by a 3.0-liter TDI clean-diesel V-6 engine, the big Audi A8 sedan holds so much #2 and gets such good fuel economy (24 mpg city/36 highway, for a combined 28 mpg) that one can make a round-trip from Los Angeles to Monterey and back without setting foot in a gas station. Of course, driving on fumes isn’t my style, so a stop midway home for a fill-up and junk fare seemed prudent.
Diesel power may be the best-kept secret from most U.S. drivers, seduced by hybrids and electric-powered this and that. But the cost/benefit ratio of diesel makes it perhaps the most sensible alternative to regular internal combustion. And diesel engines are torque monsters, making the Audi A8 L a real luxury stump puller when going up grades and passing slower cars. So while the V-6 develops just a modest 240 hp, it churns up a whopping 428 ft lbs of torque and delivers it to all four wheels in a 40/60 torque split. Audi’s superb 8-speed Tiptronic transmission stokes the performance fire, accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. In today’s hyper-performance age of sub-3-second cars, this may seem so-so, but remember: This car is about comfort and luxury, tasteful style, and, ultimately, civilized driving.
Luxury is the order of the day, being ensconced as one is (in my test vehicle) in the Nougat Brown Valcona-leather interior with Alcantara headliner and diamond-quilted Comfort Sport seats, offering ventilation and massage. For those who haven’t driven a diesel-powered automobile since the days of the smoke-belching Mercedes-Benz 300D, forget everything you know about diesel power. Standing next to the Audi A8 L TDI, you can scarcely tell that the engine is not a gasoline power plant. Inside, quiet reigns supreme thanks to dual-pane acoustic side windows and slippery aerodynamics that cheat wind and wind noise. Even the sporty 20-inch, 10-spoke aluminum wheels and 40-series tires do not conspire to disrupt the smoothness and tranquility of the ride.
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Driving the big Audi A8 L TDI reminded me how pleasant a long road trip can be when one sits back and takes in the scenery at a reasonable velocity. I was also reminded that driving much over 75 mph on our interstates is a fool’s errand—literally—and that cruise control set to that speed raises no eyebrows and almost guarantees a hassle-free journey. Passed countless times by road warriors piloting everything from Ferraris to half-ton pickups, I also saw at least a dozen of them eventually pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. Like death and taxes, there are some systems that are nearly impossible to beat, and the big Audi certainly mollifies one’s need for speed.
With a base price of $85,100, my well-equipped, Glacier White Metallic example was stickered at $98,575. I would have to give the A8 an unqualified A+ in the $100,000 luxury-sedan segment. Consider the added economy and extended driving range a bonus. (www.audiusa.com)