EIGHT BULLAudi's biggest and beefiest is back and it's better than ever. Andy Enright reports on the improved S8.
Ten Second ReviewThe improved Audi S8 still delivers a healthy 513bhp, deployed via seven-speed S tronic transmission to all four wheels. While this might sound a liberal dose of excess, thanks to Audi's efficiency measures it's a lot more responsible than it first appears. And this car is now a touch faster, a touch smarter and a touch cleverer.
BackgroundThe Audi S8 has long occupied a special niche in the supersaloon firmament. On paper, it's hopelessly outgunned by rivals with bigger engines but if you look beyond the Top Trumps figures, it's a car that just oozes cool. Every version of the S8, from the original 4.2-litre car of 1997 to the 5.0-litre V10 of 2006, has always had something exotic about it, as if it's operating to a different set of rules. It's the Ronin car, the vehicle that made the ultimate low-profile, high-drama getaway choice.
The S8 returned to the UK market in mid-2012 after a couple of years away, still a big car that doesn't proclaim its talents too loudly. It was then updated at the end of 2013 in line with the rest of the revised A8 range. The stuff that matters hasn't changed too much though. There's still a potent twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 under the bonnet that makes this Audi a very effective long distance express indeed. This is still the genuine article.
Driving ExperienceThe 513bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 under the bonnet of this S8 might not offer the soundtrack of the previous generation model's screaming V10 but it seems an engine that's a little more in step with the Zeitgeist and one that won't leave many wanting more in the way of power. It's a V8 that's been slightly tweaked for this revised model, leading to a tiny improvement in the 0-62mph sprint time of 0.1s. That means you can reach that benchmark now in just 4.1s with the 650Nm of torque being deployed, predictably, by quattro all-wheel drive.
The top speed is still electronically limited to 155mph and as before, there's 'Cylinder on Demand' technology that allows the TFSI engine to cut four of the cylinders when cruising to aid efficiency. At low speeds or when driver demands more power, the other four cylinders instantaneously spring back into life. Adaptive air suspension with variable damping can vary the ride height of the body between three levels. Dynamic steering and a sport differential also feature, marshalled by Audi's Drive Select driving dynamics system. The driver can then tune throttle pedal response, shift points of the eight-speed S-tronic transmission, the assistance to the electro mechanical steering and the characteristics of the air suspension. Massive 400mm front and 365mm rear brake discs are fitted with the option of carbon ceramic rotors.
Design and BuildYou'll need to be a bit of an Audi expert to tell this revised S8 apart from its direct predecessor. Perhaps the most obvious change is the adoption of powerful MatrixBeam LED headlamps which can essentially keep full beam lights on at all times. There are revised smarter tail lamps too. Otherwise, as before, there are just the right blend of performance cues without any that are too extrovert. Aluminium detailing defines the exterior, while there are body colour trim strips on the sills and door handles with strips of aluminium and polished aluminium-look mirror housings. The diffuser insert at the back of the car includes a blade with a two-layer aluminium-look finish offset with parts in platinum grey. The exhaust system ends in two oval dual tailpipes in a chrome-look finish.
At over five metres long however, the S8 is a seriously big saloon. There's plenty of space to stretch out and a huge 510-litre boot. The multi-way, power-adjustable comfort sport seats were designed exclusively for the S8 and are available in quilted lunar silver at no extra cost. The cabin is smartly finished with stitching and piping in contrasting steel grey, while the upper inlays on the instrument panel and tiptronic selector lever are finished in Carbon Atlas. The leather multifunction sport steering wheel has colour-contrasting stitching and an S8 emblem, which can also be found on the instruments. The illuminated door sill trims with the S8 logo and the S8 welcome screens of the driver information system and the MMI monitor are a smart touch, as are the matching metallic finishes to the shift paddles and pedal set.
Market and ModelThe asking price of around £80,000 seems reasonable value in comparison with other super saloons: a Jaguar XJR is £10,000 more while a comparably performing Mercedes S63 AMG is around £40,000 more - though to be fair, the Merc is a long wheelbase car. The LWB option isn't offered to S8 customers. So this Audi is reasonable value. Whether it's £16,000 better than the 420PS but some would say prettier, Audi S7 Sportback is a question only a potential buyer can answer.
This model is also rammed with the sort of technology this level of buyer expects, the MMI infotainment system featuring Google maps downloads, the ability to select a mobile phone to act as a wi-fi hotspot, plus the display of an infra-red night vision image. 'MMI navigation plus' is fitted as standard and features a touch input system, a large hard drive and a high-resolution 8-inch display. There's also an extended leather package which is complemented by an Alcantara headlining, a DVD changer, the advanced key with a power-operated hands-free opening system and ambient lighting LED headlights and double glazing are also fitted. You need to spend an awful lot more money to buy yourself a manifestly better interior than this.
Cost of OwnershipThe S8 might be many things but it's certainly not an inexpensive car to run. Still, fuel economy is one area where you'll probably be pleasantly surprised, that cylinder on demand technology making the car very efficient on long motorway cruises and helping contribute to an overall economy figure of 29.4mpg. The CO2 figure of 225g/km isn't too bad either.
How's it been done? Well it isn't only that the engine's smaller in size. It also benefits from a cylinder deactivation system that disengages four of the eight cylinders under part-load to maximise fuel efficiency. As for the less welcome news, well insurance is still a top of the shop Group 50. And depreciation at around 34 per cent after three years is not the bulletproof residual figure many come to take for granted from Audi. It's no wonder that the S8 is a car that makes a very canny used buy two or three years down the road. One area where the S8 might save you a few bob is, rather surprisingly, tyres. Owners have reported that due to the modest weight, load spread via the four-wheel drive system and smart traction management, it's possible to see over 20,000 miles from a set of rubber.
SummaryThe Audi S8 is a car that does so much but makes such little fuss about it. Its buyers like it that way, valuing capability and discretion. If you want to get somewhere fast and draw no great attention, the S8 is one of the best cars in the business for the task, which is why it's a vehicle so often targeted by those of extremely high net worth. This latest car teases out those themes still further. The V8 engine is a little harder hitting and the smarter styling will appeal to those who know exactly what those codified design cues mean.
It's a car that credits its owner with a bit of savvy. Audi went through a period when things all got a little bit shouty, when it perhaps became a little too strident for its own good. That never really washed over the S8, sitting at the extremity of the model range, but this latest car eases back a little on the big personality and to good effect. Sometimes the car is merely the supporting cast.