The first expression of a passenger in any car is quite telling of its nature. While many full-size luxury sedans will perhaps get your riders waxing eloquent, the Audi S8 does it with just an “ooh!” just before they are stunned to utter silence. Aggressively luxurious interiors, an ingenious package of gadgetry and an unbridled powerhouse producing 520hp, will literally leave your passengers ‘taken aback’.
THE UPSIDE: Very powerful drive train, Night Vision Assistant, Comprehensive controls at the rear, Detailed comfort settings
THE FLIPSIDE: Some rivals have better below-the-knee comfort, Hint of oversteer and tail spin, Superfluous power for the chauffeur-driven
THE PRICE: Starts at AED 310,000 Test car: AED 555,000
The new S8 is based on the shorter wheelbase flagship of Audi, with a lot of its character retained from the A8 luxury sedan. Yes, the drive is firmer, thanks to tauter suspensions and sport tuned dampers; but on comfort mode, the S8 can please even fastidious backseat riders while feeding the driver with all the road response he wants.
The most overpowering thing (quite literally) about an Audi S8 is the new four litre bi-turbo engine which is shared by not only Audi’s S family, but the Bentley GT Continental V8 as well. But in no other version does it develop so much power as in the S8. With the intoxicating mix of 513 bhp with 615 Newton metre torque, you better watch how far your foot digs into the well.
Two tonnes isn’t as heavy as many of its rivals and not many cars have their torque available through a range of 1700 to 5500 rpm cycles. So, for the Audi S8 with our 0-100 test timing of 4.9 seconds (I swear it can go faster), the entire drive is a climb up the acceleration ladder. As in most Audis these days, there is a choice of driving modes – efficiency, comfort, automatic and dynamic besides an individually customisable mode, which applies to a wide range of driving dynamics including the throttle response, suspension stiffness, steering weight and the shift speeds.
Riding on gigantic 21-inch wheels and bolstered by every driving aid you can think of, the Audi S8 is still no S6. While it is more agile than you would expect of such a large car, the largeness got to show somewhere after all. In the Audi S8, it surfaces with a hint of oversteer in corners and a bit of a tailspin with the torque rush, which gets corrected almost instantly. Once you get used to its tendency to nosedive a bit into sharp corners, you will be drifting along fine.
Coming to the generously endowed electronic assistance kit, the Audi S8 features the now common adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and adaptive headlights. Going beyond, those headlights can be tuned to suit left lane driving even as driver support touches a new high with the night vision assistant. With that latest bit of gizmo on screen, the infra-red detectors highlight vehicles and pedestrians as though in a film negative. It felt like I was on a ‘surveillance mission’ in the dark.
The Audi S8 isn’t for loud tastes, and I mean it literally. It’s only in the dynamic mode and the sport shift that you can actually listen to the motoring drum roll of the V8 which otherwise remains a calmly flowing tap.
Starting at 470,000 dirhams and going beyond five and a half million dirhams in the avatar I got to test, this car would be wasted on someone with no sporty inclination or wouldn’t bother to self-drive it at some point. The S8 is one chariot of fire for horse-whisperers.
If there isn’t a marked departure from the A8 itself, or for that matter most Audis, we can understand. Even car designers can’t resist the temptation of copying ‘elegance’ over and over again. To the distinctly identifiable character of an Audi, the long, lateral rear lamps, the lower diffusers and the quad exhausts add a unique touch in the Audi S8, as do the front LED headlamps and daytime running lights (which by the way reminded me of a village chieftain’s moustache!). No other automotive brand perhaps achieves an elegance so impressive with strokes so few.
Cabin and Controls
Looking at the cabin materials in the Audi S8, one would assume that the housekeeping brief was to find every elegant bit of luxury on earth and create something really nice out of them. Leather, suede, aluminium-finish steel and carbon have been sprinkled all over the cabin in strips and panels, creating an absolutely luxurious and aesthetically admirable cabin space.
Even though it isn’t based on the long wheelbase version, at 5,131 mms, the Audi S8 provides generously for four people and has a boot that might not be class-leading but is spacious nevertheless.
There is no other car in the full size luxury category that leaves the rear passenger feeling so much in control, save the Lexus LS. The rear central armrest of the Audi S8 has buttons for everything including the seating, the air conditioning and the whole entertainment system. The Bang and Olufsen, 17 speaker audiophile system is nothing short of amazing, but TV is generally useless in this region as most of what you get to see is a blur. More importantly, rear passenger seats inclines can be individually controlled just as the front passenger seat can be pushed for additional legroom in the rear.
‘The car that has everything’ doesn’t come with an ottoman for tired feet in the rear (like the 7-series has) but the seats are extremely comfortable and as for front riders, the options available read like a spa menu. Every part of the seat is individually catered for, be it a full-back massage, lumberjack support or extended knee support.
The essential Audi S8
The Audi S8 could be the favourite negotiation cabin of a company president, his golf-weekend limo or his airport dash for a very late check-in. It is the most powerful of luxury sedans in the market, challenged only by the BMW 760 Li W12. But then, the last I heard, that one was around 676,000 dirhams. That is when the Audi S8’s half a million price tag sounds like value.
The luxury inside the Audi S8 could overwhelm you. Features like the night vision could leave you amazed for a few moments till it becomes part of the routine drive; but its absolute power will continues to surprise at every takeoff just as the tremors of excitement refuse to leave you at stop.
Drive Courtesy: Audi Volkswagen Middle East
Pictures: Sudeep Koshy