It feels unfair to put the ‘S’ badge on the back of the Audi S8. Who knows what you would call it otherwise, but when you look around Sydney and see the ‘S’, ‘M’, and ‘AMG’ badges stuck to everything from base models all the way up cars like this S8, it doesn’t give the car enough pull from a badge perspective and it doesn’t give the car it’s full credit either. It’s fantastic.
From a distance, you’d have trouble convincing someone you spent more than $273,400 plus on-road costs on this thing. It’s a ‘sleeper’ in every sense of the word and would make mince meat of some supercars while transporting rear passengers in reclining massage seats.
It’s no secret that I’ve been on an Audi rotation recently. Moving from the bonkers quick RS e-Tron GT to the do-everything RS 6, and now the S8 that manages to send itself to another league again. It’s not often brands will let us drive cars back-to-back like this because it allows us to cross-compare vehicles in their own line-up. Although, after driving the S8 for 5 minutes I can see why Audi isn’t worried.
Like I was, you’re probably wondering how the S8 could be elevated above something as perfect as the RS 6, but somehow, Audi’s done it.
I’ll get to the technology in a minute, but I want to get something out of the way early. The S8 feels every bit as quick as the RS 6 I jumped out of before it. With 420kW under the bonnet courtesy of a 4.0-litre 800Nm of torque from a 2,000-6,000rpm twin-turbo V8 that it shares with many others, the S8 is no slouch. It completes the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.8 seconds, which is an unbelievable number for its size and 2230kg weight.
You’ll also find it extremely efficient thanks to a 48v Mild-Hybrid Electric (MHEV) system that saves up to 0.8 litres per 100km thanks to a seamless stop-start system. When I took the car out on the freeway I managed a fuel consumption of 9.0 litres per 100km thanks to cylinder-on-demand (CoD) technology that shuts down four cylinders under light throttle load for further fuel savings, resuming instantly when needed.
Push the car through a few corners and you’ll be as shocked as I was. The Audi S8 confidently sends power to all four wheels through Audi’s famous quattro permanent all-wheel drive system and distributes torque asymmetrically with a 40:60 bias front to rear. During sporty driving, up to 85 per cent of the power can be sent to the rear wheels in a similar manner to the Audi RS3. The result is a very fast vehicle that can keep up with the best of them, including most sports cars.
On paper, it’s a rival to vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (from $242,361 plus) and BMW 7 Series (from $277,451 plus), but in reality, it feels a generation behind the competition and that might be a good thing.
Where the BMW and Mercedes have gone futuristic and stuffed the largest high-resolution displays on the interior, the Audi keeps things simple and lets the full brunt of the craftsmanship take over. It doesn’t feel like you’re driving around with a laptop on wheels. It’s the definition of what ‘luxury’ used to mean in this space. Now seemingly reserved for a select number of vehicles like the Bentley Flying Spur.
The Audi S8 is closer to the Apple iPhone in its application. Small incremental changes have been made to the exterior design, but under the skin houses some of the best, most advanced, suspension and chassis control technology on a car right now.
At the forefront sits the predictive active suspension technology found standard on the S8 that does exactly what you think it does. Working in combination with multiple sensors throughout the car, including the video camera, it actively controls the vehicle body. Most notably, raising the car quickly when you get to speed bumps and on entry and exit from the vehicle.
Switch the car into ‘Comfort Plus’ and the system reduces g-forces by ‘leaning’ into the pitch/roll inertia movements of the car. It’s subtle, but you can feel the rear raise as you pull away from traffic lights and the front stays firm when braking. In dynamic mode, the suspension helps the car corner exceptionally flat as the rear wheel steering tucks the rear around the corner.
Audi has always been at the forefront of light technology, but it’s growing its lead on the competition with this combination on the S8. It comes standard with HD Matrix LED headlights, dynamic indicators and Audi laser lights. The latter makes the biggest practical difference with the ability to double the range of the high beam from speeds upwards of 70km/h.
If we’re talking numbers, try 138 LEDs that combine with 32 small adjustable LEDs to provide plenty of active front lighting. OLED tail lights with customisable designs (yep, I said it) round out the lighting package.
When you finally choose between the rear reclining, heated, and massaged seats or the front driver’s seat you’ll enter a first-class cabin. Supple Valcona leather seats are complimented by plenty of premium carbon-fibre surfaces and dark brushed aluminium inlays.
Screens are large without being over-the-top, measuring 10.1 inches for infotainment and 8.6 inches for the lower climate control display below it. The upper screen offers wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto. They’re crystal clear and I had no issue connecting.
In my week with the new Audi S8, I struggled to get through all the features, with everything from the heated front armrests to the Matrix LED rear reading lights, fully-customisable colour ambient interior lighting, 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument cluster, panoramic sunroof, and rear electric sunblinds keeping me entertained.
However, one feature stood out above all inside: the 23-speaker, 1920-watt Bang and Olufsen 3D premium sound system.
It’s safe too, with a suite of airbags, including a front centre airbag, autonomous emergency braking with intersection detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, traffic jam assist, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit warning, Audi pre-sense system (the system that lifts the side of the car when a crash is detected), and more.
I know what you’re thinking… all of this sounds extremely expensive to maintain, but here’s the kicker. This $273,400 Audi is offered with the brand’s comprehensive 5-year Audi service plan package, priced at $3,990.
This sums up the Audi S8 in a nutshell. It’s sensible yet sophisticated with a price that undercuts the German rivals and an engine that will go down as one of the best ever.
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