In the 11th century, invaders from the northern French province of Normandy landed on English shores and took over the country for themselves. The ‘Norman Invasion’ was a seminal moment in English history, or rather, the history of English, because French became the language of the English court. Of course, as any good student who read English literature in college, this columnist can tell you, 11th-century English was nowhere near the version we speak today. But the English that emerged in the subsequent centuries had words like mutton, rendezvous and many, many more words of French origin. It became fashionable—and remains so, to this day—to use the French word instead of the English word. Mutton instead of lamb, for example.
What relevance does language have with cars, you might ask. Well, back when I was in school, my Class IX teacher, Mr Alphonso, told my mother that I was destined to be “nothing more than a driver.” How right he was, although not in the way he thought. That said, later in the year, my academics did improve, as did my relationship with him. But when I went home, I didn’t want to be a driver, I wanted to be a chauffeur. I mean, the French word sounds fancy, right? We can get into the semantics of it all. Is there really a difference between a driver and a chauffeur? Well, a driver can be driving many things, such as a bus or a cement mixer, but for the sake of discussion, let’s stick to cars. And I have always believed that chauffeurs did more—from turning up in uniforms to opening doors and speaking clipped English—and were generally fancier.
But chauffeur or driver, being behind the wheel of a car every day and driving someone around is a thankless job on many levels. Some might have fixed hours with limited commutes but have to while away hours twiddling their thumbs. Others might work 20 hours a day, driving an entire family from school to office and even the airport. For those of us who employ them or have grown up with one in the family, we know how vital they can be. But spending hours behind the wheel stuck in traffic can be extremely frustrating.
Chauffeurs, not drivers, for the Audi A8L
Well, that is unless you have something like the new Audi A8L. This uber-luxurious sedan from the German carmaker is, in all honesty, made for the person in the sethji seat. As I wrote in my review of the Mercedes-Maybach, cars of this ilk are not meant to be driven. But what if you have to drive it? Well, the Audi A8L is the sort of car I could imagine being a chauffeur for. While you might think that a chauffeur drives old-school stately coach-built cars ferrying members of the aristocracy, the Audi A8L is the sort of vehicle that members of the new aristocracy, that is technology entrepreneurs, would want to be driven around in. The A8L does, at times, feel like something from science fiction.
And here is the other advantage of not being old-school: The A8L has all sorts of gadgets and gizmos to make you a better chauffeur. Forget the high-definition digital cockpit, this car has advanced driver assistance systems—features that allow you to stay bang in the middle of a lane—and automatic collision avoidance. But the best part is that after a long day of driving, you can activate the complex seat massaging menu for yourself in the front seat. Sure, the car has an utterly brilliant massage chair for occupants in the back, but if you are the chauffeur up front, you can have your shoulders pummeled while on the move. And when your employer is away for a meeting, you could listen to music through the excellent Bang & Olufsen music system.
Sleak, smooth, brilliant
While a ‘driver’ could pilot any vehicle, a chauffeur could only drive something like this. At 5.3 metres and 2.5 tonnes, this car stands out. Add to this the A8L’s signature, pattern-drawing LED headlights and you have an absolute banger of a car. The same brilliance translates to driving, with the 3-litre V6 petrol engine putting out 335 horsepower and managing to get this really large vehicle to 100 kilometres per hour in under six seconds. So, if you have to get to the airport in a hurry, this car can take you there fast. Very fast.
The fact is that few people who buy an A8L will ever drive it themselves, at least in India. At Rs 1.6 crore for the Technology Edition that we drove with the fancy headlights—which has certain features dedicated to driver comfort—why should they go for it? However, being a driver or a chauffeur is tough enough as it is, so why shouldn’t you get a massage or enjoy the audio system?
@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)