When you live in the UAE, you inevitably get visitors. With endless Etihad and Emirates flights stopping over here, most of us are familiar with the e-mail or call that begins with: "I'll be passing through your part of the world..." And when you get visitors, you're generally obliged to meet them at the airport. Naturally, you want to greet travelling friends and family with a healthy glow and air of prosperity that lets them know you are not feeling the pinch of the recession at all.
So, when my parents were in town, what better car to take to DXB than a great, big, thumping, long wheelbase Audi A8. In black. With blinds on the back windows. "Good grief, what is that?" asked my mother as I unlocked the car from afar. My father, meanwhile, smiled knowingly and confirmed that I had chosen wisely with the A8. "Robyn, this is a very nice car," he said slowly, as if explaining a particularly complex nuclear physics principle.
The boot, which can be opened silently and remotely, was more than roomy enough for my mother's suitcase, which resembled a small fridge about to explode, as well as Dad's more restrained luggage. Then it was off to Abu Dhabi and the long, straight drive was the start of my mother's new-found love, or at least fascination, for the mighty A8. While Dad praised the "excellent finish" and the "smooth ride" and how it is "quiet, especially for such a big car" - and probably kept more than a sneaking eye on the speedometer as I lead-footed it to the capital - Mum busied herself getting comfortable in the leather back seat.
In between catching up on eight months' worth of gossip, Mum kept murmuring that she was very comfortable in the back and that she might take a nap. Then she discovered the blinds on the back windows and rolled them up even though it was 10pm and there wasn't much traffic on the darkened motorway. "In case the paparazzi find me," she explained. Now, I have no idea why the paps would be interested in photographing my mother as she surreptitiously travelled from Dubai to Abu Dhabi but if she felt happier for being shielded from the little-known snappers that target retired librarians, then I was happy too.
The A8 made short work of the drive to Abu Dhabi, which was hardly surprising given that I was in the 4.2-litre V8. The top-of-the-line 6.0-litre V12 would have been an entertaining way to wile away the drive but, hey, beggars can't be choosers. The smooth ride of which my father spoke was assisted greatly by the seamless automatic transmission that is par for the course in this level of German machine. Audi has mastered the six-speed Tiptronic, and it's silky smooth with not a single groaning gear change to be heard. There's a manual mode with paddles as well, but the A8 is the kind of car that lends oneself to setting the cruise control, sitting back and chatting with the parents as the car glides through the miles.
Also assisting my mother in her quest for a jet lag-curing nap in the back seat was the suspension, yet another triumph of German engineering. It's a very busy suspension system indeed with sensors that constantly monitor the damping and automatically level the car. In layman's terms, this is a vehicle that is very unlikely to make you car sick. As one would expect from the most limo-like car in the Audi line-up, there are the usual suspects on board - a terrific Bose sound system with the six-stacker CD player hidden in the glovebox, the reversing camera with a lovely big screen, a new fangled multimedia control system that tells you everything from the outdoor temperature to how to change the lighting to suit your mood, and an interior with plenty of wood panelling to give it a bit more warmth.
Whether you have been blessed with long legs or you struggle to see over the steering wheel, it's easy to find the perfect seating position with the multiple electric adjustments. You can get every aspect of your seat just where you want it. Assuming up to four people drive your A8 and you have up to four friends, there are four memory settings for each of the front seats and the car will also remember AC settings, where you like the outside mirrors and the steering wheel position.
It is good that the A8 has an interior with a bit of soul, because the exterior styling with the wide pug-nosed grille and large expanses of metal is not the most imaginative car design on the market. The long wheelbase only emphasises this fact, unlike the sexier short wheelbase S8, a car that is assisted in the lust stakes by a 5.2-litre V10 engine from company stablemate Lamborghini. The black A8 that I drove is the best colour choice for this car - it looks classy and refined. The silver is a bit too conservative, the burgundy is a bit school uniform, and the blinding white is best left for the Audi R8 where it is sharply contrasted with the sexy black side scoops and air intakes.
But if you're after admiring glances from the opposite sex at traffic lights, you're probably not going to plump for an A8. It's a refined car for those who want comfort, style and more than a little power at their disposal. By the time I had to return the car to Audi, Mum agreed with Dad that it was indeed a very nice car, and then some. email@example.com