Audi S8 (2007) Driving Impression

Audi S8 2008

Perhaps Audi’s product developers were inspired by Jason Statham’s The Transporter movie franchise. Certainly, our hero’s wild antics in Audi’s stylish luxury sedan are inspiring enough to stir the raging petrolhead in anyone. And some would say this theory makes more sense than the spreadsheets the marketing folk will undoubtedly produce in an attempt to show that there are a significant number of grand sedan customers who want their cars to be very, very er… naughty. Whatever the reasoning may be, it has resulted in this rather phenomenal machine, the Audi S8, a grand luxury sedan with the heart of an Italian supercar.

Audi S8 offers grace and pace

The current A8 may no longer be the freshest design around, but it is still a fine looking machine. In “S” guise it gains lots of visual muscle, mostly because the large body seems stretched tightly around those massive 20-inch alloy wheels. As for the rest, the detailing has been quite subtle, in typical “S”-line fashion, and unlike Mercedes’s AMG and BMW’s M-edition cars. For the executive who likes to be in control of something very powerful, but who wishes to remain under cover, the Audi S8 certainly fits the bill.

The A8 interior remains arguably the best in the business, boasting an elegance and solidity that even Mercedes can’t quite match with the latest S-Class. The facia is set quite low and features straight, simple lines, but exquisite detailing and the type of fit and finish that engineers could write poetry about. A party trick remains the navigation screen that slides so elegantly out of its hiding position. Of course, Audi’s MMI control system is fitted, and is arguably superior to BMW’s iDrive, the latter improved in itself in recent years. MMI allows the driver to delve into the car’s various entertainment, information and even drivetrain set-ups.

The driving position is quite superb, with a seat that is electrically adjustable every which way, and a steering wheel which can also be electrically adjusted for rake and reach. Although there are a few reminders that you’re sitting in the “S” version of the A8, the details are subtle. And while sports-editions of German cars are usually less opulent than their siblings, this is not the case here, because Audi has been generous with the standard features, including climate control, satellite navigation, front and rear park-distance control, cruise control, automatic headlamps and no fewer than eight airbags, in the mix.

V10 thunder for Audi S8

Audi knocked on sister company Lamborghini’s door for the engine to power the Audi S8. What it got was the heart of the sizzling Gallardo, a supercar that has helped re-establish Lamborghini as one of the world’s premier makers of quality supercars. The 5,2-litre unit is basically the same as the one used in the Audi S6, but in the S8 it delivers a few more kilowatts (11, to be exact) at slightly higher engine revolutions. Torque is the same as in the S6 (540 Nm). Looking at the substantially larger Audi S8 next to the S6, you may rightly expect the latter to be a significantly lighter, and therefore faster car, but this is not the case. So much aluminium is used in the S8’s construction that, for all intents and purposes, it weighs exactly the same.

Consequently, the two cars have similar performance, with the Audi S8 actually boasting the slightly faster 0-100 km/h sprint time (5,1 seconds). Both are electronically limited to 250 km/h top speeds, but without the restriction the top end is said to be significantly higher. It really is quite a special experience to be behind the wheel of something so large and luxurious, yet so indecently quick. Smash your right foot into the thick carpeting and the response is immediate. There are no turbos to get up to speed here, just a bucket load of immediate torque. Oh, and the sound… While Audi’s engineers have certainly worked their magic to make the S8 sound less than a screaming Italian exotic, there is a definite aural signature, and it’s a loud one. The Audi S8 roar is perhaps not as deep and thunderous as a V8’s, but there’s an “urgency”, for lack of a better word, to the sound that is hugely addictive. By the way, the sound (and the power), remains on tap up to very high speeds – overtaking slower traffic is a cinch.

The Audi S8 features a very complex air-suspension system, with anti-roll bars at the front and rear. It also boasts a system that allows the driver to choose from four settings (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Lift). In Auto mode, it does a very admirable job of ironing out the road surface, yet firming up and keeping the big body in check during enthusiastic cornering. Remember, this model also boasts Audi’s trademark quattro all-wheel drive system, so cornering speeds are extremely high. Selecting Dynamic makes the suspension noticeably firmer, perhaps to the point where passengers will not appreciate the ride anymore. Comfort, on the other hand, doesn’t bring that much a different compared with Auto. Consequently, Auto is probably the best setting, unless you’re really in a hurry, and alone in the car. Once again we have to point out the sheer size of the Audi S8. That it can corner with such poise and grip, yet still offer a near-limousine like ride when necessary, is quite an achievement.

Audi S8 - Verdict

Another day, another brilliant new Audi. Yes, perhaps there are not too many buyers out there looking for the S8’s particular combination of talents, but then again the luxury sedan market may have moved on from the “Jeeves, take me home” era. This is a car for the sophisticated, successful go-getter who likes to be in control, but doesn’t like to flash success. At the price, there isn’t a grand “sports” sedan to match the Audi S8.

We like:

· Massive grunt

· All-weather grip

· Cabin comfort

· Quality

· Equipment levels

We don’t like:

· Precious little

Fast facts

Engine: 5,2-litre, V10, petrol

Power: 331 kW @ 7 000 rpm

Torque: 540 Nm @ 3 500 rpm

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Wheels: 20-inch alloy

Top speed: 250 km/h

0-100 km/h: 5,1 seconds

Fuel economy: 13,4 litres/100 km


Also consider:

· Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG: This colossus demands a big chunk of extra cash, but it does however pack an even harder punch and sounds glorious in the process of doing so. More OTT (over the top) than the restrained Audi.

· BMW 760i: In the absence of an M7, this is the uber 7 Series. It is powered by a beautifully refined 6,0-litre V12 engine, but is nevertheless not as powerful and as fast as the others. And the looks… even after the facelift this BMW remains an acquired taste.

· Jaguar XJR: Often overlooked, this Jaguar’s classical British styling is something of a disguise, as the package underneath is properly up to date. Although ultimately not as powerful and fast as the others, it is a great deal cheaper and in some instances even more fun to drive.