THERE'S SOMETHING vaguely immoral about having a massage while travelling at 270km/h on a banked curve in the back seat of a car its creators describe as the sportiest luxury saloon in the world. Surely it's taking things too far to turn on the pampering function in the back seat of the long version of the Audi A8L 6.0 quattro at such high speeds, but perhaps not - the pleasant kneading motion functioned perfectly well, even at this kilter. Audi launched its flagship A8 in Beijing last week, with attendant bells and whistles. And a quick spin revealed not a few hidden secrets. Of course, people buying this car are more likely to be driven than to actually drive themselves, but should the mood take the owner to give the driver a night off and take the wheel himself, there's much to recommend spending a bit of quality time in the driving seat. One particularly snazzy function is the automatic transmission's ingenious Sports setting, which waits for higher engine speeds to kick in before shifting up, and shifts down sooner, allowing you to maximise your use of the full revving ability of those 12 cylinders. The first hint that the A8 isn't your usual limousine is the size of the wheels: big, sporty, 19-inch radials that can propel the luxury saloon to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds and to double that speed in 17.4 seconds. 'It's our fleet flagship - it drives like a sports car and it's the sportiest car in the luxury limousine market,' says Ulrich Hackenberg, the German marque's head of concept and body development, at the the launch at Audi Forum, near the Wangfujing shopping street. I'm then taken on public transport to the marque's test track out of town. The bus takes an aeon to leave Beijing's infamous traffic snarl along glitzy Chang'an Avenue. There are 1,000 new cars a day joining Beijing's gridlock, and it felt as if all of them were in front of us. Ninety minutes later, we reach the test track, a pristine piece of German autobahn just outside the capital, eerily quiet except for the rustling of tree branches and the occasional screech of tyres and throaty rev. The A8L is a good-looking car that will draw a crowd. Indeed, there were a couple of hairy moments during the test drive when several over-keen bystanders, who seemed to be workers employed on nearby housing construction projects, ambled too close to the track and had to be escorted away. Those big wheels give the A8 a vintage feel, even though the styling is state of the art. The A8 long version is hefty - 5.19 metres long, 1.89 metres wide, and 1.45 metres high - but it doesn't give the impression of being bulky. The wheelbase of the A8L is 3.074m, an extra 130mm compared with the regular version. Some of its critics say the design lacks a certain passion - a charge levelled too regularly, and often unfairly, at German cars. I think it's an extremely handsome car, with clean lines and a beautifully balanced feel, and it communicates a brooding sense of power. The A8L will earn admiring glances outside Beijing's Grand Hyatt Hotel, or even crawling through the traffic on Jianguomenwai in the Central Business District, and that will be a deciding factor in people choosing the model. The DVD player in the back counters the boredom of Beijing gridlock. The A8 has been accused of lacking enough legroom in the rear, but I find it more than adequate, even when my legs are fully extended. The dividing arm-rest is of a good size for putting documents on, and the seating position is fine for a laptop. I've always been a Jaguar fan, but the A8L gives the Big Cat XJ8 3.5-litre V8 and BMW 7-Series a run for their money, and worries the bosses' S-Class. The stretch raises a few journalists' pulses on the test track, too. The engine in the retail version has an electronically governed top speed of 250km/h, which the marque claims it can reach in half a minute - and that's quick for such a big car. Equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission with tiptronic function, the A8L gives 331 kW, or 450 brake horsepower, of torque, and most of its peak torque is available between 2,300 and 5,300 revs. Our driver gleefully demonstrates this pulling power, although I can think of few surfaces in China where you can crank up the Audi A8, or any other car, to such speeds. But then, that's not the point. The test driver then takes a group of increasingly queasy correspondents on the slalom to show how safe the A8L is. Although I'm slightly green around the gills after the experience, I can attest to the stability and smoothness of the stretch's braking system. In Beijing, the A8L will cost between 1.8 million and 2.1 million yuan (HK$1.7 million to HK$1.98 million). In Hong Kong, it's $1.21 million from Harmony Motors, but a point in Audi's favour is the marque's 15 years in China. Ralph Weyler, Audi's head of marketing, says Audi has 98 exclusive outlets in 59 major towns and cities in China, which gives the Ingolstadt-based marque a massive advantage over the border. 'It's clear evidence of our market leadership and strong customer orientation in the premium segment,' says Weyler. Audi's sales rose 28 per cent in the first quarter of this year to 22,601 cars.