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First drive: Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi S8 plus
The Audi S8 plus might just be the ultimate Q car...


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Audi S8 plus

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As the Audi A8 prepares to sign off in its current incarnation, Audi Sport gets to grips with the range-topping S8 and comes up with a remarkable 605hp, 190mph missile - which seems to have passed everyone by. Therefore, we love the resulting car even more, because absolute power does not come any better camouflaged than this Audi S8 plus.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi S8 plus
Pricing: S8 from 82,075; S8 plus from 96,825; car as tested 111,800
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 231g/km (VED Band L, 885 first 12 months, 500 annually thereafter, if registered before April 1, 2017; 2,010 first 12 months, 450 per annum next four years, then 140 per annum thereafter, if registered after April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 28.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited, 189mph limiter optional)
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Power: 605hp at 6,100- to 6,800rpm
Torque: 700Nm at 1,750- to 6,000rpm; 750Nm on overboost at 2,500- to 5,500rpm

What's this?

In November 2016, without much in the way of fanfare, Audi made the announcement that its performance division, heretofore known as quattro GmbH, would be changing its name to Audi Sport GmbH. This was presumably to distinguish more clearly the difference between the department responsible for the company's mental-case RS motors and the four-wheel drive system with which Audi has become synonymous, that it fits to cars right throughout its fleet.

We mention this little bit of internal re-branding because, at the bottom of the release announcing the switch, the shiny new Audi Sport team talked about the cars it was responsible for. This was interesting because quattro GmbH was always known as the RS department, as it developed the most unhinged performance cars from Audi stretching back to the seminal RS 2 Avant; the not-quite-as-hot-but-still-fast S-model Audis were simply deemed to be range-toppers for the regular car line-ups and so weren't built by quattro GmbH at its Neckarsulm plant.

But, beneath Audi Sport's list of the usual suspects in the current fleet - namely, the forthcoming RS 3 Saloon; the RS Q3, RS 6 Avant and RS 7 Sportback cars, and their even more potent 'performance' versions; both the Coupe and Roadster TT RS twins; and, of course, all variants of the non-RS-badged R8 supercar - there was an unusual addition. It was the Audi S8 plus.

This seems to suggest that the transition from regular, 520hp/700Nm S8 to barn-storming 605hp/750Nm S8 plus was not just Audi tweaking the ECU map on the existing car, but instead handing it over to Audi Sport to make it more of a driver-focused executive express. That makes it rather cool, in our eyes.

And it's even cooler when you see how understated the S8 plus is in the metal. Finished in a hue like Daytona Grey, upon first appraisal it might as well be a four-door A6 TDI. Even 21-inch titanium-finish alloy wheels hardly make it scream 'I can do more than 200mph unlimited, you know!' and it's not markedly different looking from your common or garden S8. You need to look for all the gloss- and matt-black detailing that clothes things like the radiator grille, front splitter, door mirrors, window surrounds and that super-discreet boot lip spoiler, if you're to have any hope of clocking the plus. Fit an optional Sport exhaust and the S8 plus comes with two whopping oval exit pipes, rather like those on RS Audis, but our car didn't have that, instead toting smaller quad exhausts spaced in pairs either side of the rear valance. So the plus is an extremely understated creation, all told.

Red stitching and carbon fibre trim are said to be S8 plus hallmarks, but again, the big Audi's fine interior is not really any different to a standard S8's. You do get soft-close doors, four-zone climate control, a Bose surround sound system (our car had been uprated with a - gulp! - 5,565 Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System, though, for which little mushroom tweeters rose up out of the dash-top on start-up) and MMI navigation plus with MMI touch as part of the standard equipment, as well as Matrix LED headlights outside. So, for 85hp and 50Nm, plus these additional toys and its rarity factor, Audi thinks the plus is worth a substantial 14,750 over and above a normal S8.

Of course, the car we drove wasn't 96,825; it had been specced up to a giddy 111,800 with some choice additions. And as this generation A8 is due to be replaced in 2017, meaning the grand but slightly dated interior design of the plus will be superseded by something with a Virtual Cockpit, gesture control and probably a fancy new touchscreen in the dash, then that's an awful lot of money to have to drop on an ageing 'sleeper' like this.

How does it drive?

The involvement of Audi Sport hasn't had a transformative effect on the S8's chassis, judging by the last time we drove a 520hp model. The problem is the S8 plus is still an executive car at heart and so it has very light, artificial-feeling steering and a standard exhaust system that plays down the noises the V8 engine makes. That doesn't encourage much hooliganism in the first few miles, as it feels imprecise through the steering wheel and not much different to a regular A8 with a big engine when you squeeze open the throttle through its first few centimetres of travel. It also feels quite soft across the ground, the S8 plus moving about more on its air suspension than you expect of something with a stonking 605hp mill.

But persevere, because the rewards are there. It actually grips and turns in very, very well for a long saloon car like this, while the body is kept stringently in check once you do start throwing it about. The aluminium structure doesn't exactly make the S8 plus super-light - it's actually in excess of two tonnes with a driver on board - but it does at least keep the centre-of-gravity low, which aids cornering prowess. Once you've worked through the fuzzy steering, you realise there's a chassis of real talent underneath the plus.

Which allows you to exploit that monumental V8. Wow, what a stellar motor this thing is. It's the same engine as found in the Audi RS 6 performance, uprated to 605hp and a goliath 750Nm on a time-limited overboost function. With the 4.0-litre unit mated up to a slick-shifting eight-speed Tiptronic auto, performance is eye-widening and frantic. Even better, if you plant the throttle coming out of junctions, the back end of the S8 plus wiggles under the sheer power being thumped backwards, so it feels more like a rear-driven car than a quattro. And while it might not be as vocal as that aforementioned RS 6, it still makes a great, thunderous cacophony under hard acceleration - if anything, its brutal level of performance comes as more of a shock to your system, which is still trying to compute how a vehicle that's so plain outside can roar about the place at speeds akin to a genuine supercar. You'll be grinning a lot driving the S8 plus, that's for sure.

Of course, it still functions as an A8, so it's comfortable, hushed and easy-going if you're not driving it like a wally, and there's enough room on board for four adults to lounge about in utter comfort, so it's a magnificent large saloon car. Just don't expect much in the way of economy, as our 242 miles in the Audi flagship were conducted at a meagre 17.8mpg average overall. Still, if you want frugality, you'll be wanting an A8 TDI, not this ferociously rabid wolf in Shaun the Sheep's clothing.


A little tale to tell you: in the space of little more than a month, we happened to road-test three disparate Audis - an RS 6 Avant performance in bright blue, this grey S8 plus and a bright red Q2 with a 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine. During our time with each car, we were inundated with comments about the RS 6 from friends and acquaintances, while it drew slack-mouthed stares from pedestrians and other road-users; even the 28,000 Q2 was said to look 'very expensive', according to one observer, and fellow drivers glanced at it sidelong as it trundled up and down motorways utilising its clever two-cylinder mode.

The S8 plus, though? It didn't garner a single shred of attention. No one praised it for its looks. Nobody driving past it gave it a second glance, nor did folk on pavements offer it any interest as it rumbled by. Not one person realised that, out of the three Audis tested, it was the most exclusive and expensive of all at almost 112,000. OK, maybe dark grey paint didn't help its cause (a Floret Silver matt effect finish is exclusive to the plus, if you want to try and boost its profile), but stealthy? The thing was practically invisible to all and sundry.

And that's why we absolutely adore it. It's the secret Audi Sport model. It's a car that looks totally bland and sedate, meaning you can park it up wherever you like and not worry about it getting keyed by mindless, jealous types. It lulls any other car that's even remotely pacey into an incredibly false sense of security and then completely obliterates them with what must be one of the greatest, most megalomaniacal V8 biturbos on the planet. Sure, it doesn't have the best steering, and without the upgraded exhaust it's fairly quiet within, but blimey, it moves pretty damned well for an executive saloon and it's bound to be as rare in the UK as those hen's teeth we're always hearing about. It's also, surely, the absolute epitome of a Q car - something that doesn't look that special, but is raving bonkers under the surface. So while objectively our professional head gives it a four-star rating, there's something deeply alluring about the truly schizophrenic Audi S8 plus that makes our heart certain it's a five-star machine.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 20 Dec 2016    - Audi road tests
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2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.2015 Audi S8 plus. Image by Audi.


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