2021 Audi S8 Review

Flagship Audi S8 performance limo comes with a 420KW V8 punch.

Captains of industry are having to clean up their image these days. Premium car makers can provide plug-in versions of their most luxurious models for them, but there are buyers out there that still want something big, comfortable, quiet and fast.

While Audi does have an electrified A8, it also offers its S8 flagship, a V8-powered super-saloon that sticks to the brand’s understated styling approach for its rapid S models.

Rapid it most certainly is, too. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 produces 420KW and 800Nm. The eight-speed auto handles this mostly smoothly, and with quattro four-wheel drive the chunky 2305kg S8 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds. There’s a muted rumble from under the bonnet; you’d never say the S8’s engine or exhaust notes were overt, but it has enough presence. However, it cuts out altogether when coasting at low speed, thanks to the 48-volt mild-hybrid tech that powers the ancillaries to help improve efficiency.

On the move, the S8 handles well, helped by active rear-wheel steering which makes it feel smaller and shorter than it really is. The 48-volt tech also adds active anti-roll, which helps, while quattro four-wheel drive gives a feeling of reassurance with unbreakable traction. But the steering doesn’t offer any feedback, and while the bulk of the car’s weight is relatively well concealed, you don’t get much of a sense of what the chassis is doing.

Yet that’s what makes it a good luxury car. In Comfort mode, the S8 smothers bumps well enough, its predictive adaptive air suspension scanning the road for bumps and adjusting the damping to react accordingly.

The way the gearbox responds from a standstill can be a little aggressive, because it sometimes wakes up late and engages drive with a noticeable thump. Most of the time it’s seamless in how it manages changes, even if it is a little sluggish in the normal mode.

These are small gripes, because while the S8 is pricey, the tech and quality on offer are great. The leather-covered surfaces, metal finishers and digital screens are impressive, and the cabin is beautifully built. The 10.1-inch touchscreen, 8.6-inch climate control panel below it and 12.3-inch digital dash ooze advanced engineering, with lots of features, great graphics and superb response. However, you get this set-up in a regular A8, too.

The standard semi-autonomous driver aids work well, taking a little bit of load off the driver (or chauffeur) on longer trips. They’re the kind of luxury appointments you’d expect from a car like this, while the 505-litre boot means there’s plenty of luggage space. But the S8’s big drawback is that other models in the A8 line-up are so strong and offer the majority of what it does for significantly less.

If you want a fast flagship limo, then the S8 ticks the right boxes. But look at it more with your head than heart (the S8 isn’t an ‘emotional’ car anyway) and a plug-in or diesel long-wheelbase A8 offers similar tech and luxury, more space and as much performance as you’d need, yet boasts better efficiency for less. The S8 isn’t a car you buy with an eye on the budget, and while the V8 suits it, the car is still flawed in some small ways.

Sean Carson

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