Audi's luxury S8 saloon - a serene yet ballistic lounge suite on wheels. This was one of the phrases that came to mind while at the wheel of the latest derivative of Ingolstadt's flagship performance sedan. Who could forget the first generation of the luxo barge being the chosen protagonist's car in the 1998 action-thriller movie Ronin and driven at the ragged edge in the streets of Nice, Paris? It was easily one of my favourite movie car chases. It was shot in real-time with very little in the way of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) or post-production foolery, and that truly placed the S8 on a high pedestal of cars I ached to one day drive. Boasting a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 with 250 kW, it was claimed to scoot to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds, which was mighty impressive for a 1.7-tonne-plus behemoth.
It was not until 2007, following the introduction of the second-generation model a year prior, that I would finally get behind the wheel. Replete with a thunderous 5.2-litre V10 lopped off wholesale from the Lamborghini Gallardo and slightly detuned to produce 331 kW – 368 kW in the Gallardo – it was my first stab at the model, and I wasn't disappointed. It looked understated parked and, except for the quad exhausts and V10 badging on the flanks, you could easily pass it for your grandad's Sunday church coach. OK, make that your rich grandad, but the point is that it hardly shouted from the rooftops that it shared a heart with a raging bull. And that remains the golden thread that knits the S8 lineage's tapestry.
What you see in these pictures is the latest incarnation of the model launched in 2020, and it has recently been to the tailor to prim and proper its Saville Row suit, which includes a few nips, tucks and hems sown into mainly the exterior. These are subtle, of course, as there was very little wrong to begin with, in my view.
The cabin, meanwhile, is a heady mix of fine Nappa leather swathes on the pews, while exotic materials such as the carbon fibre inserts on the gear lever and centre console add a sporty feel without being over the top. It is done in the tastiest way, as we have come to expect from the Vorsprung brand. Plush, intricate and a great sanctuary to while away the time as you contemplate life's complexities and the next big move. It's a car at home being chauffeur-driven or paddling yourself; we will dwell on the latter aspect for this exercise.
Suspended on a 21" wheel and tyre combination, the standard air suspension offers a comfort access function where the suspension lifts for easier ingress and egress, while the system also lifts the body while going over speed bumps. The former makes absolute sense, but the latter is gimmicky at best. I get the concept of raising the car and isolating shockwaves from occupants as a result, but the system feels rudimentary and requires some polishing since there's still some suspension thud permeating into the cabin. Also, what of wear and tear in the long run and the replacement costs of the contraption a few years down the line? Only time will tell.
Powering the S8 is a tried and tested 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that does duty in the RS 6 Avant but is slightly detuned in this application to make 420 kW and 800 Nm via an 8-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. That sweet motor whirrs to life in a distinct but almost velvet-glove-wrapped refinement befitting a luxury saloon. A tractable engine with a huge seam of torque from the bottom of the rev range, there's an effortless disposition in how this car goes about its business. That transmission is silky smooth in its transitions, working in unison with the torquey engine, making for a harmonic marriage. So too does the adaptive suspension that breathes so well with the road that the large 21" wheels have very little consequence on ride quality and polish. It is an accomplished luxury cruiser, which perhaps comes as no surprise, but there's another streak to the S8's repertoire - the performance envelope…
Mash the throttle from a standstill, and there's a slight pause as the turbos begin to spool up, and those 8 cylinders take in a lung-full mixture of air and fuel. The rear squats as the entire weight of the car sits on the rear axle, and the nose tilts skyward as the car lunges forward with a burst not far removed from an Olympic sprinter. Usain Bolt, is that you? Impressive is the S8's turn of speed, and the handling is dynamic enough to entertain the driver as the trick suspension does its level best to keep the car's overall body control in check.
At a base price of R2 750 000 (R3 029 100 as tested) the S8 commands a premium price befitting its stature. It is the busy executive's chariot that has the requisite comfort and speed to ensure you arrive at your next board meeting in record time with your soul throughly stirred.
With BMW not bringing the M Performance version of the 7 Series and Mercedes-AMG S63 yet to make its debut in Mzansi, the S8 plays in quite an enviable position as a unique proposition in the segment. Its subdued styling, painstaking interior appointments and unadulterated performance make it a compelling package for the executive with an innate performance streak.