Overall rating: 4.5/5
The new S8 continues to prove Audi's ability to seemingly challenge the laws of physics. Its super-saloon undergoes some minor changes and continues to prove that performance and luxury can be taken to impressive levels.
In the Metal:
Even to the uninitiated, the first time you lay eyes on the new Audi S8 you get a sense that this is no mere luxury saloon. The stance of the car, helped somewhat by the 20-inch alloy wheels that frame the enormous optional carbon ceramic brake disc - 400mm up front and 365mm on the rear. The tell-tale signs that this is indeed something that bit special are the aluminium-look mirrors which are the trademark style of Audi's 'S' cars. Helping to keep air flowing into the S8's thumping heart is a unique single-frame front grille that is painted in a platinum grey and features horizontal double bars that are finished in chrome. Mounted onto the grille is a discretionary S8 badge. Around the rear is where the most obvious suggestion at the car's potency is demonstrated. The two sets of twin exhausts which exit from the rear of the car tell you all you need to know about this car. The rear bumper design along with the thicker side sills help to complete the performance-orientated look. Audi's unique 'S' styling continues on the interior where unique dial instruments are finished in grey with white needles. Throughout the cabin, 'Carbon Atlas' and brushed aluminium trim inserts serve to remind that this is still every bit a luxury car as it is a high performance conveyance.
Sliding into the supportive sports seats you are met by an S8 badged steering wheel and an aluminium engine start button that on the centre console that is adorned with an illuminated red ring. Pressing it with one foot on the brake pedal causes the 650Nm V8 to burble into life. Engaging Drive on the car's 8-speed Tiptronic transmission and pulling away may surprise some at the ease at which the Audi S8 can simply potter around a town at low speeds. In fact were you to refrain from stabbing the throttle with any vigour, you would almost never know of the true potential that lies under that re-designed bonnet. The car's 4.0-litre TFSI engine even comes equipped with COD (cylinder on demand) technology that allows it to shut down half of its eight cylinders when only a small proportion of the car's 520hp is called for. But turn onto an open stretch of road and plunge the right pedal all the way to the floor unleashes the kind of performance that one would expect more from a sports car that is smaller and lighter than this luxury saloon. The four-wheel drive system ensures that every shred of traction is transmitted to the tarmac while the turbocharged engine emits a hard-edged wail as it near-seamlessly accelerates through the gears. Despite its imposing size, the S8 is a car that is capable of being hustled along at quite a pace outside of the usual motorway runs although you are always mindful of the cars mass and related inertia when approaching tighter bends. Go in that bit too hot and a quick dab of the car's optional carbon ceramic brakes pull the car up without fuss or drama. If your daily commute involves un-restricted stretches of German autobahn, you will become quite friendly with the staff of your local petrol station, as time spent near the car's electronically governed top speed of 250km/h will see the fuel tank empty at a decent rate. Away from the high performance activities, the S8 is a car that isn't overly sprung and does offer a high degree of comfort not only for the driver but also for the passengers. It is the only model in the updated A8 range that isn't available in long-wheelbase form but it does still manage to offer enough rear legroom to keep the majority of passengers happy.
What you get for your Money:
Those considering the purchase of an S8 aren't likely to be overly concerned about the cost of optional extras but when you do weigh up the cost of this high-performance Audi saloon it isn't perhaps as scary as you would think. Yes, it costs in excess of €130,000 but when you consider the size of car, impressive levels of standard equipment throughout and then that immense performance and compare it to impractical, two-seater sports cars that cost even more, relatively speaking the S8 starts to look like good value.
The S8's Tiptronic transmission does allow the driver the ability to 'manually' shift through the gearbox using the steering-wheel mounted paddles which in combination with the car's drive settings still allows for a degree of variety in setup.
It may remain a realistic choice for a tiny proportion of the market, but leaving the financial aspect of it aside, the Audi S8 is a truly impressive engineering accomplishment. The turbocharged engine has tons of character and loves to be driven hard yet on the flip side it's a car that can be driven very sedately (and discreetly) around town. It may have few direct rivals, but it is a car that could win over a lot of people from other market segments.