The all-new fourth generation Audi A8 has now debuted. For weeks we’ve been teased by images showing bits and pieces of the new model, a partially camouflaged model at a movie premiere with a certain web-slinger propped up on it’s hood, and, most curiously, photos of blindfolded people touching the new car. Audi delivered on its promise of cutting edge technology, unparalleled luxury appointments, and a new design language for all future models. And while we’re transfixed by this new A8, we thought it would also be a great time to take a look back at the original, and quite revolutionary, Audi A8.
There’s one feature that stands out above all the rest on the first A8: the aluminum space frame (ASF). While the large sedan debuted in 1994, the origins of this model stretch all the way back to 1982 when Dr. Ferdinand Piech signed a strategic deal with Alcoa, the Aluminum Company of America, to help develop a lightweight aluminum structure for future models. It was truly a game changer for Audi.
The ASF allowed the large car to weigh considerably less than its steel framed counterparts, which helped offset the added weight of the Quattro AWD system. Back in the early 90s most large luxury sedans were rear wheel drive; the Quattro system, along with the lightweight chassis, helped differentiate the 8 from its competitors. Quattro equipped models came standard with the 4.2L V8 engine, while front wheel drive models had a 2.8L v6 mill.
Styling was conservative and clean, and altogether classy. Where this big Audi shined was inside: the fit and finish of the interior materials were exceptional. The A8 featured real wood and real aluminum inside – no fake veneers or painted plastic. Rear seat passengers were treated to heated seats, dual zone climate control, electric rear headrests, and much more. The large sedan truly coddled its occupants.
But it all comes back to the space frame. The weight saving use of aluminum helped the big car be light on its feet. It bested many other luxury sedans in 0-60 times, and handling, but all-season tires on early models held the car back a bit. Auto magazines praised the featherweight model and the new technology used to create it. The A8 was Audi’s test bed for aluminum manufacturing and now there are alloy bits in all of their models. Quite revolutionary.
There were a number of A8 variations of the first model during its eight year run. Most notably: the S8. This high-performance model featured a more powerful 4.2L V8, Quattro AWD, and sport springs and struts, and a number of styling changes. The S8 was only available with the short wheelbase, and European buyers could get an S8 with a manual transmission. The first generation S8 may also be the true star of the movie Ronin. A8s have also had prominent roles in the Transporter movie franchise. Perhaps it’s time for an Audi star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
While we patiently wait to see what magic Audi engineers have dreamed up for the fourth A8, let’s take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate how truly ground-breaking the original A8 was to Audi. It set them on the path for an entirely new future.
A version of this article first appeared on Fourtitude