When: October 2011
Where: Pamplona, Spain
What: Audi S8
Occasion: International first drive
Overall rating: 3/5
Audi's S8 is billed as the most sporting model in the range, but, ludicrously quick performance aside, it offers little added dynamism over its already capable A8 relatives. It's a super saloon for those that want refinement, comfort and effortless pace.
Pricing: 'Under €135,000'
Engine: 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbocharged petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Jaguar XJ SS, Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG, BMW M5
CO2 emissions: 237g/km (Band G, €2,100 per annum)
Combined consumption: 10.2 litres/100km (27.7mpg)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h: 4.2 seconds
Power: 520hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 650Nm at 5,500rpm
In the Metal:
The Audi A8 is a handsome thing already in a grown-up A4 kind of way and the new S8 retains all of that. There are really few clues aside from the badging and brushed metal capped door mirrors to signify that this is the range-topping sporting model. Quad exhausts and so-slight-you-might-miss-them changes to the sills and grilles give the S8 an understated, subtly sporting look.
That's true inside too; some unique carbon trim materials and S badging aside it's all familiar A8. Which is no bad thing, as it's all rather tactile, beautifully constructed and generously spacious.
As evidenced by a 0-100km/h time of just 4.2 seconds the Audi S8 is rocket-ship quick. It never really sounds it though; Audi reckons it did as its customers asked and the result is an engine that's rarely vocal - thanks to active engine mounts and a clever noise cancelling system. Clever it may be, but it's disappointing in a car billed as its most sporting. It's mightily quick though, the 520hp turbocharged V8 delivering effortless pace, regardless of which of the slick-shifting automatic's eight ratios you're in.
There's plenty opportunity to fiddle with how the S8 responds via Drive Select. You'll give up on that quickly, as the differences are slight - and largely disappointing. Pick the Dynamic setting for steering and there's heft, but no feel, Comfort delivering the same feedback, with lightness. The suspension does a convincing job shrugging off bumps and ripples though, even on optional 21-inch alloy wheels. That, combined with the engine's massive pace, does mean it's quick cross country - even if it's not very engaging in the bends.
There's turn-in understeer initially, before the S8's numerous driving systems - including Audi's S4-transforming Sports Differential - get to work. Once they do the S8's line tightens, but it's not a car that's particularly composed - or enjoyable when the road gets twisty. The brakes take some punishing too, with even the optional ceramic stoppers going long on the pedal after a testing road. Aluminium or not, the S8 is still two tonnes in weight, and with the 4.0-litre V8 turbo piling on the pace with such intensity those brakes do take some punishment.
What you get for your Money:
Being at the top of its range the Audi S8 comes absolutely loaded with equipment. Added to the already generous specification of the regular 4.2 TFSI model are 20-inch alloys, sports seats with electrical adjustment, double/acoustic glazing, air suspension with electronic control, a Bose surround system and more.
It might be a hard-charging turbocharged V8 supersaloon, but the S8 cares for the environment (a bit). A clever cylinder deactivation system seamlessly changes the V8 to a four-cylinder when cruising, allowing the S8 to return an official combined consumption figure of 10.2 litres/100km (27.7mpg) and CO2 of 237g/km. Press the accelerator and it turns from green to mean immediately though, so don't be expecting to see real-world consumption as low as that quoted figure.
Audi asked its customers what they wanted from the S8 and the answer was a quieter car. They've given them that, but on such a small volume, specialist machine we wish Audi had the courage to be a bit more unhinged, as, speed aside, the S8 delivers little additional appeal over the other models in the already quiet, composed A8 line-up.