Audi says that its new S8 is the most advanced and comprehensively equipped model in its line-up but does the 420kW twin-turbo V8-powered limo also offer driver involvement?
Effortless. It’s the perfect descriptor for the new Audi S8. Powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 displacing 4.0 litres, the S8 is endowed with 420kW at 6000rpm and 800Nm from 2000-4500rpm, and it’s the torque figure that helps establish the effortless nature of the S8. The V8 is familiar from its many applications across the Volkswagen Group including, but not limited to the Bentley Continental GT V8, Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne and Panamera, and Audi’s own RS6 and RS7 models. However, the 3996cc V8 in the S8 speaks in hushed tones compared to the voice it uses in every other application – even the Bentley is more vocal than the big Audi.
But channelling President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy mantra, the S8’s hushed tones are backed by a big stick, as evidenced by the claimed 3.8-second sprint to 100km/h. And remember, the S8 weighs in at 2230kg. However, it’s away from the standing start sprint that the S8’s effortless, turbine-smooth thrust is most evident and impressive. Roll into the throttle pedal at 100km/h and there’s the briefest of pauses as the turbos spool up and the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox shuffles back a few ratios, before the S8 surges forward on a seemingly endless wave of acceleration. In very short order, the Audi’s head-up display is proclaiming very large numbers, but this and the blurring scenery, are the only hints at the speed. And only a 250km/h speed limiter would stop it dominating the autobahn in its native Germany.
The theoretical autobahn blast, or Sydney to Melbourne schlep if we’re ever allowed to cross borders with ease again, is where the Audi S8 and its ilk truly shine, but neither scenario is first choice when searching for driving entertainment. I’m not going to pretend that the S8 offers the last word in driver involvement, but nor is it completely devoid of interaction. The double-glazing, sound deadening and ample interior luxuries do their very best to isolate you from 2020, but the S8 can still dig in and demolish a twisting road. The entertainment comes largely from the speed that the S8 can muster, but it’s still an impressive party trick when you consider the 5179mm overall length and recall that 2230kg unladen weight.
With Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system and 265/35 R21 Pirelli P Zero rubber at each corner, there’s grip and traction until you do something truly silly. Our test day included some light showers but even the slick tarmac presented no challenge to the S8’s purchase on the road and its ability to deliver maximum thrust on corner exit. The permanent all-wheel-drive system is split 40:60 front to rear and the sport rear diff gives the S8 a more rear-drive feel but oversteer in the dry would require a level of speed and commitment that might even make Ken Block baulk. Understeer is well suppressed but can be induced if you’re too hot on approach.
Even in dynamic mode, the chassis takes a fraction longer than ideal to settle after a crest of compression taken at speed, but that’s the trade-off for a suspension tune that truly cossets even on the worst of Sydney’s endless roadwork and infrastructure sites. The magic carpet ride can be traced to the debut of Audi’s predictive active suspension technology that uses various sensors, including the video camera, to instantly adjust the suspension to the road conditions. Similar in concept to the system debuted by Mercedes-Benz in their current S-Class, the Audi system takes the bump out of speed bumps and in ‘comfort plus’ mode it leans the car into the corner to level it out and reduce lateral loads on passengers.
At $260,000, the S8 isn’t exactly cheap, but it does offer an extraordinary amount of performance and luxury for the money – Audi says that it’s the most comprehensively equipped model in the brand’s range. It also compares favourably on price or performance (or both) with the likes of BMW’s 750Li and M850i Gran Coupe (both $277,900), Mercedes-Benz’s S560 ($283,335) and Porsche’s Panamera GTS ($366,700).
Our test example was fitted with the $13,900 Sensory Package that includes electrically adjustable outer rear seats with four-way lumbar support and memory function, along with heating, ventilation and massage. Additionally, the Sensory Package upgrades the standard 17-speaker, 730W Bang & Olufsen audio system with a 23-speaker, 1820W 3D B&O system. We rarely comment on audio systems, but we did crank this mobile concert hall on the mundane motorway slog back into Sydney and it delivers sound quality and clarity to make you discover new, previously unheard, parts of your favourite music.
The new S8 does exactly as promised and delivers towering performance, technological sophistication and a level of luxury that rivals the very best.