2013 Audi S8
2013 Audi S8. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

You’re looking at the most powerful sedan Audi has ever sold in North America: the 2013 Audi S8 sedan. Returning after a four-year absence and sporting a slightly sportier version of the A8’s standard-wheelbase body style introduced in 2011, the new S8 is now motivated by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that pumps out 520 hp and 481 lb-ft of torque – that’s 70 hp and 83 lb-ft more than the last generation S8’s naturally aspirated 5.2L V10 engine. Audi’s new 4.0L twin-turbocharged engine is offered in both the A8 and S8, but the S8’s extra turbo boost, bigger air intake, revised camshaft profile, and higher redline give it an extra 100 hp and 37 lb-ft of torque. Amazingly, this full-size 2,105-kg aluminum-space-frame all-wheel-drive luxury sedan is good for a 4.1-second 0 to 100 km/h sprint, putting it into the same super-sedan league as the Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG, BMW Alpina B7 and Porsche Panamera Turbo.

2013 Audi S8
2013 Audi S8. Click image to enlarge

Yet despite those 520 ponies, the S8 won’t overwhelm you with its brute power. The S8 is amazingly civilized and deceptively fast – to the point where you may yearn for more excitement. From a standing start, a brief period of turbo lag creates a comparatively sedate take-off followed by a smooth but blistering rush of forward momentum undisturbed by the intrusion of engine, tire or wind noises. The shift action of its eight-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission is so smooth that it is barely experienced, and the steering can feel eerily light and somewhat uncommunicative. And thanks to Quattro AWD and a rear sport differential, it’s almost impossible to invoke any tire-spinning drama or loss of traction.

There may be a less dramatic way of getting from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds, but I’ve yet to experience it.

Still, this is an expensive, full-size European luxury sedan that attracts an older demographic who probably want to be coddled as much as they want to be stimulated. By offering top-notch performance without infringing on the expected niceties of a quiet cabin, comfortable ride, ease of driving, and general luxuriousness, the S8 performs its dual roles in a way that’s likely to please its executive-class customers.

2013 Audi S82013 Audi S82013 Audi S82013 Audi S8
2013 Audi S8. Click image to enlarge

Having said that, there is a way to improve the sensory, auditory, and mechanical experience: Audi’s driver-selectable performance parameters (Audi Drive Select) can improve throttle response and handling with the twist of a dial. Using the MMI’s round dial on the centre console, the S8 driver can scroll between the four primary Audi Drive Select options: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual.  Each one offers a different level of throttle response, shift timing, air suspension settings, sport differential operation, adaptive cruise control, and even engine sound.  For typical urban/suburban driving, I preferred Comfort mode for its comfortable ride, economy-oriented transmission shifts and easier steering, but even in Comfort mode, the S8 handles with surprising stability and agility for such a big car. Choosing Auto mode lets the car automatically adjust the suspension, steering, and engine/transmission performance for different driving styles and road conditions – I found this most useful when road conditions weren’t constant. I would not recommend Dynamic mode for city commuting because of the stiffer steering and delayed transmission shifts:  it’s best used if you’re heading out of town where speeds and roads can be challenging and you intend to drive with more spirit. Individual mode allows the driver to set each parameter individually – for example, you could have a softer suspension and firmer steering.

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