The A8 debuted in Europe in 1994, although it wasn't until 1997 that it became available in North America. Unlike its predecessor, the Audi V8 model, which was built on an existing steel platform, the A8 debuted on the then-new Volkswagen Group D2 platform, an all aluminium monocoque, tagged as the "AudiSpaceFrame" (ASF), which helped to significantly reduce weight, without sacrificing structural rigidity. The saloon/sedan was offered in both the A8 (standard wheelbase), and the A8L extended or long-wheelbase (LWB) version. The A8L adds 5in (127mm) of rear legroom. In addition to being the world's first car built on an entirely aluminium platform, updates to the car in 1997 included the addition of six interior airbags, making the A8 the first vehicle to be so equipped.
For 1997, the new A8 was available with either front-wheel drive (FWD), or the Torsen-based quattro permanent four-wheel drive. The FWD models are powered by a 2.8L V6 engine, producing 193PS (142kW; 190bhp), and 3.7L V8 engine, while the quattro received a 4.2L V8 producing 310PS (230kW; 310bhp). The A8 is available with standard luxury amenities, including dual-zone climate control, wood and leather interior trim, 14-way power and heated seats, and an enhanced BOSE audio system. Audi's flagship received new colours, and restructuring of option packages in 1999. The North American "warm weather package" added a solar sunroof which allows the interior ventilation fans to run, keeping the interior cool whilst the car is parked with the engine turned off. Changes to all models included a larger passenger mirror,[clarification needed] and a first aid kit located in the rear armrest.