The sad reality of the car world is that executive saloons such as the Audi A8/S8 are a dying breed. Within that culling process, the magnanimous twin-turbo V8 is also making its exit ever so slowly but surely.
Driving the Audi S8 then is always going to be a standout and exceptional occasion. Its form continues in that traditional, understated limo stance with charismatic and large trapezoidal face and taut rear separated by a full length light strip that joins the two rear LED taillight clusters. That S-badge bolts on 4, shiny tailpipes that match the chrome strip surrounding the greenhouse and machismo 21-inch, 265/35 Anthrac alloy wheels. It’s a stunning set of rubber, a R20 700 option over the standard double-spokes.
HD Matrix LED lamps are standard but the test car was fitted with the R80k Laser lights too. I know they’re expensive but the world would be a better place if all cars were fitted with such smart tech. It makes driving in the dark that much safer and there’s an imbued confidence that comes with it – that’s always a good thing.
Nicking that R2,5M mark, the S8 represents the sportiest and most luxury-focused executive saloon product and Audi offers the car in South Africa with most of the bells and whistles one would expect at this level.
It’s pure luxury in here. The only hints at the sporty character are the requisite S-badges forged into the sports seats, the steering wheel, the door sills but other than that, it feels immensely first class in here.
The haptic-touch working concept is a known feel. The entire dual-screen infotainment and operating system cluster is beautifully crafted and fairly intuitive. There’s depths of information and functions here and that’s before you get to the interface directly in front of you that carries almost the same amount of operability directly controlled from the steering wheel. There are a number of cars that feature a fully digital driver’s information display but Audi were the first to do it properly and I’d say they still do it best.
The art of luxury is in the feel and tactility of the product as well as the customisation of options. Audi’s interior is high in its build quality, it’s luxury feel and in the sheer amount of features built-in. From massaging sports seats to soft carpeting and a variety of materials all coming together in homogeny to deliver a classy and luxurious experience.
The rear cabin is longer than its predecessor ladling on the legroom. Headroom here is also excellent and rear passengers sit lower in the cabin than in the BMW 7-Series. The central seat isn’t ideal, robbed of space because of the transmission tunnel but it’s still conveniently large in here with a central tablet in the rear armrest for rear passenger remote instructions and electronic seat adjustment.
There’s a sense of grace in the Audi S8 cabin. It’s a clutter-free environment that just bridges luxury and comfort in an honest and well put together package. It’s not as overt as an S-Class or a BMW 7 but it doesn’t need to be. Mind your hands though…the touch surfaces are perfect for finger prints so don’t commit any crime in this car…no references to Ronin or The Transporter here.
It’s an S8…the fastest and most powerful Audi exec saloon. 420kW and a mega 800Nm of shove is nothing to scoff at, thanks to the employ of that well-known twin-turbo petrol V8 that does work in so many VAG products. Here, it’s been detuned from the raucousness of the RS6 or RS7 for instance, because it is devoid of that ‘R’ fore of the ‘S’.
It’s a perfect powertrain for what is a luxo-cruiser that needs to have some monstrous mile-eating ability. The S8 gathers speed wonderfully fast. 0 – 100 km/h in 3,8-seconds is double-take fast! A number of my colleagues, family and friends just couldn’t believe the numbers mainly because of how the S8 transfers its power to the tarmac. You can compare it to the whole car really – understated, graceful power. There’s a doctored V8 roar, but it’s subdued in how it clears its throat. Don’t compare this to any AMG-badged bullies – no, this is a well-mannered V8 with absolutely enough power and speed but with an air of maturity about it.
Large on the agenda here is ride quality. The Audi S8 rides in magnificent comfort and silence. The big news here is the Audi’s Predictive Adaptive suspension that controls the level and ride quality by monitoring the road ahead and then adjusting to it at each wheel. If you’re looking for it, you’ll just about pick out when this happens well but as an overall concept, what it means is that this is just about the most cosy ride quality you can get over tarmac that isn’t pancake smooth.
It’s very clever – as is the whole underbody system including 48V mild-hybrid tech and the ability for the V8 to decouple 4-cylinders to save fuel when possible. Our fuel consumption figures were 14,8l/100km on an urban cycle but I did manage to bring it down to 11,2l/100km when sojourning deep into the MP province.
As a sporty executive, its ride and handling is equally impressive. The adaptive suspension, while working to make the ride less harsh also works to keep the body level during hard cornering. It’s charmingly competent at cornering but the sheer weight and girth will eventually break the computer's will and call in the gentle nudge of another computer, the traction control. In ‘dynamic’ mode if you really time it well, you can even get the rears to give up some traction for some tail-happy, albeit short, jaunts.
As the flagship in the range, you’d expect a lot of built-in kit here. You’d be right. The S8 is a full-house limo package with just a few added extras that you may want to throw in. Rear seat entertainment or some interesting pearlescent colours might tickle your tastes but standalone there’s a significant measure of vehicle here. . For the executive in you, you can option your own idea of trim inserts from wood to piano black lacquer but being the S in the range, the standard look is a carbon fibre trim. Then it’s down to your roof lining, rear seat entertainment, massaging seats, upgraded 3D sound system from B&O, powered sunshades to keep the paparazzi guessing and higher levels of autonomy with the adaptive cruise control. For all of this included, a highly specified S8 vehicle will dip just under the R2,9M bracket.
While writing this, Mercedes Benz SA is yet to officially launch the new S-Class. BMW 7-Series then is the only real competitor in this class. The S is faster and more powerful than a 750Li and only slightly less powerful than the V12 760Li, the pricing of the latter extending into close on R3,5Million territory.
So Audi then is well placed as far as packaging and positioning and it really makes for an impressive consideration. No doubt the S-Class will boast some interior fare and tech that is different but I doubt the Audi will feel unworthy of its price tag still.
The Audi S8 is understated and quietly confident. Some will love that – like me – yet some will want more. More exterior standouts perhaps or more noise and that will always be a choice of taste. Black packages and blacked out badges are an option too – these have become more and more popular amongst new Audi customers.
The Audi S8 stands well within its segment fully competent and powerful enough to warrant that S-badge and to haul executives in supreme comfort at incredibly brisk speeds in respectable silence.
Images are courtesy of TopGear UK and Audi South Africa.