November 12, 2007
Surrey, British Columbia – Overheard at an Audi new-product think-tank meeting: "Why don’t we get one of our traditional four-door sedans — the bigger and more luxurious it is the better — and stick the most powerful, hottest engine we can find into it . . . Yeah, then we’ll take it on the Autobahn and surprise the heck out of every two-door sports car we come across!"
A fictional conceptual conversation about the Audi S8, but it must have been something along those lines. The S8 is based on the Audi A8, a business-suit sedan that oozes opulence and competes with the likes of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
For that extra under-hood heat, Audi turned to its Italian affiliate, Lamborghini. And came back with a 5.2-litre, 10-cylinder engine for the S8. Previously used in the Lamborghini Gallardo, this engine can muster-up 450 horsepower when unleashed and allowed to climb to its 7,000-plus rev range.
Actually it’s more like singing at full voice — the S8’s pipes can fill your ears like the Three Tenors at full vibrato. Fuel is injected directly into the V10’s combustion chambers and its precise fuel metering system allows a super-high 12.5:1 compression ratio. Audi claims a 0-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 5.1 seconds and the S8 has an electronically governed top speed of 250 km/h.
There’s more, as the driveline, brakes and suspension of the S8 have all been modified to coincide with and complement the extra power. Its six-speed automatic transmission has both an auto-sport-shift mode and a manual-shift mode. In manual mode, the driver can change gears with either the shift lever or finger-tip steering wheel controls.
Power gets to the wheels via Audi’s renowned Quattro all-wheel drive system. Normally, 60 per cent is routed to the rear, in tune with the sporty character of the S8. Depending on demand, a mechanical centre differential can divert up to 85 per cent of power to the rear wheels, and up to 65 per cent to the front wheels.
Like the A8, the S8 has a lightweight aluminum space frame and an adaptive air suspension. The S8, however, has a firmer sport setting that reduces body roll, a slightly faster steering gear plus bigger, better brakes and 265/35 tires on 20-inch wheels.
The price (you had to ask) starts at $129,700. Yes, there are options: a $4,800 premium package, adaptive cruise control costs $2,900, a Bang & Olufsen sound system for $7,800 and a full-leather upgrade, another $6,400.
All in, my test car came with a $146,940 price-tag. Now, that may seem like a lot (and it is) but an S8 is actually still priced below most of its prime competitors.
It surprised me how many people actually recognized the S8 as a special automobile, even stopped me to ask about the car. A lower front air dam, big wheels with skinny tires, an integrated deck-lid spoiler and the S8 badges were the more obvious clues. Eagle-eyed Audi-aficionados also spotted the four oval exhaust tips in the rear, S8 badges on front brake callipers and aluminum-look trim on the side mirrors and door handles.
High performance with luxury accommodations for five puts the S8 into an elite car category.
Audi offers some of the best interiors in the industry and the S8 doesn’t disappoint. In particular, the range of driver-seat power adjustments is second to none. I counted six multi-function adjustment control switches on the S8’s driver seat — and it didn’t come with an optional back massage feature. The front cushion extends and tilts, and there’s an extra adjustment for the upper section of the seatback.
That big knob in the centre on the console is Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI), an integrated control system for climate control, navigation system and audio systems. It comes with a separate operator instruction manual. I slid it back into the glove-box after showing it to my wife; she gave me that blank (do you honestly think I’m going to read that) stare.
Two front airbags, four side airbags plus knee-bolster airbags are highlights of an extremely good passive safety package. All five seat belts are fitted with belt tensioners and the front seats also have power adjustable active head restraints.
Press the keyless push-button start and the engine fires up. An 18-centimetre colour screen then appears out of its concealed central dash position to display MMI information. A rear window sun shade also rises up from the shelf behind the rear seats. Never did figure out how to stop that happening — should have read that manual.
The engine is surprisingly quiet below about 4,000 r.p.m. The S8 behaves well if you choose to drive around sedately, just loop along with the air suspension in cushy comfort.
Let your foot sink deeper into the gas pedal and the V10 lets you know it’s still there. A quicker jab and the g-force will pin you into the seatback as the S8 rockets down the road. For a big car, the S8 can certainly move and it doesn’t have the heavy handling feel you normally associate with this class of car.
The steering is geared about 10 per cent faster than the A8 and it possesses excellent straight-ahead stability. Quattro drive is coupled with traction and stability control to offer a double handling benefit. In addition to sure-footed traction on slick roads, the awesome power of the V10 is distributed and controlled at all four wheels.
Was the S8 all good? Well, not completely. The Italian engine didn’t appear to like the cold and acted limp when woken on one very cold morning, but it quickly warmed up. Rear vision is also a bit of an issue, as its rear-seat head restraints do limit rear vision.
Exceptional without being conceited, the Audi S8 is a high-octane indulgent pleasure that borders on excessive, much like an expensive bottle of fine wine.
Pricing: 2007 Audi S8
Base price: $129,700
Options: $ 17,100
($2,900 adaptive cruise control, $7800 Bang & Olufsen sound system $6,400 full-leather upgrade)
Freight $ 700
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested: $147,600
Manufacturer’s web site