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First drive: Audi S8. Image by Audi UK.

First drive: Audi S8
Channel all your deepest inner Ronin fantasies with this thing, because the 571hp S8 is bloody magnificent.


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Audi S8

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

One of our favourite models of the previous-generation Audi A8 range was the Audi Sport 'sleeper' in its ranks, namely the S8 plus. Well, good news all round, then, because in the new A8 line-up, we've found the star of the show early doors - the thoroughly terrific Audi S8.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi S8
Pricing: A8 range from 73,330; S8 from 100,030 (or 1,162.10pcm on PCP, with a 9.3 per cent deposit plus limited-time Audi deposit contribution of 16,000 and optional final payment of 26,753.45 across 48 months at 2.9% APR, 10,000 miles per annum), car as tested 101,680
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol with 48-volt mild hybrid electrical (MHEV) system
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive with self-locking centre differential and Sport rear differential, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Body style: four-door supersaloon
CO2 emissions: 261g/km (VED Band Over 255: 2,175 first 12 months, then 475 years two-six of ownership, then 150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 24.6mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Power: 571hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 2,000-4,500rpm
Boot space: 505 litres

What's this?

If you're of a certain age, all you ever think about when you hear the phrase 'Audi S8' is Larry making his preferred getaway car order to Jean Reno's Vincent in 1998 action flick Ronin. Something very fast, he says. Something that can shove a bit. And, by crikey, here we've got an Audi S8 which is very fast and which can most certainly shove. A lot. Based upon the fourth-generation 'D5' A8 luxury limo, it is powered by an ever-so-moderately-detuned version of the 4.0-litre biturbo V8 that you'd find in any number of current Audi RS products, like the RS 6 Avant, the RS Q8 SUV and, on a more thematically similar vein to a hyper-rapid, three-box four-door, the RS 7 Sportback. In all of those wide-arched warriors, the motor develops 600hp and 800Nm. All Audi has done for the S8 is trim the power to 571hp; the peak torque remains exactly the same. No need for nitrous then, eh Larry?

This bomb of an engine is then installed in bodywork which is the absolute definition of covert-operations discretion. You want a Q-car, you're not going to do much better than the S8. It comes in a variety of sedate, mainly monochrome colours for no extra cost, with only some dark blues and a lovely but incredibly deep red called Seville peppering the palette with any tints other than white, black, grey or silver, and as you'd need to spend 3,400 on an Audi Exclusive finish then it's likely that no S8 is going to be shouting for your attention from the kerb. Even the alloys, 20 inches in diameter, don't look that big sitting in the wheel arches. Elsewhere, it sports some mighty discreet silver detailing, the trademark 'S' silver door mirrors and quad exhausts as the only signifiers that it'll run 0-62mph in comfortably less than four seconds. That's right, four; this, despite the S8 weighing a not-inconsequential 2,305kg with just a driver onboard. It's much the same story inside, where the splendid A8 cabin doesn't notably look any different by dint of the fact you've picked a V8 to go up front - in fact, while it is lovely within, the S8's interior doesn't come across as appreciably any more upmarket than the cabin you'd get on an A6. If that bothers you when you've dropped six figures on your lunatic machine dressed in a sober suit, well... it bothers you. For us, we think the S8's passenger compartment is marvellous, particularly the nice, thin-rimmed steering wheel that's perfectly round in circumference.

How does it drive?

Truth be told, all throughout the three generations of the car which have gone before this one, the S8 has always been fast. Whether D2, D3 or D4, it has never had anything less than a V8 petrol installed under its bonnet and, for the second-generation model, it even transformed itself into a naturally aspirated V10. But, like so many rapid Audis of the past, while S8s have always been incredibly quick and remarkably sure-footed, they've rarely been thrilling. The best of the lot was that run-out S8 plus we mentioned earlier, with its 605hp motor and stealth Audi Sport connections, but even that car wasn't the most engaging saloon in the world.

This time around, Audi has given the S8 as much chassis hardware as it feasibly can squeeze into the car's luxurious shell to make it supremely comfortable and A8-esque when you're just cruising with it, and (hopefully) able to stand comparison to some of those RS models with the same 4.0-litre engine when you're driving the S8 that bit more vigorously. So as well as the quattro system's self-locking centre diff which splits the available torque between the axles, the S8 has a Sport diff at the rear which can vector torque across the two back wheels. It's also blessed with four-wheel steering, giving it a nimbleness and manoeuvrability at low speeds that belies the fact this is a 5,179mm-long behemoth, as well as increased high-speed stability when changing lanes on the motorway or altering the Audi's angle of attack through this-way-that-way corner combinations. And there's also full air suspension which is adaptive; the company calls this Predictive Active Suspension, a system which uses a front-facing camera to identify uneven road surfaces long before the S8's tyres encounter them, and then it sets the suspension up accordingly to smooth out these imperfections to the ultimate degree. This set-up should also help the S8 with body control during faster cornering, too.

The net result of all the above - the RS-sourced engine, the clever underpinnings, the sophisticated and underplayed appearance - is that we reckon the new S8 is possibly our favourite S-model of Audi of all time, moreso even than the when the German firm transformed the S6 into a TDI. OK, we have to mark the S8 down a touch overall because, as good as its handling is, it hasn't got much of a repertoire when it starts to run out of grip. There are some supersaloons, most notably the Porsche Panamera Turbo S, which are more engaging and rewarding at the limit than the Audi.

However, that said, the latest S8 is far more involving than it ever has been before, with pleasant steering one of its main kinematic plus points. It does occasionally exhibit some oddness off the dead-centre in Dynamic, a foible which affects far too many current Audis up and down the company's entire portfolio (sometimes, Audi's Dynamic setting is very good and other times it's just plain horrid), but the S8's set-up is generally beautifully weighted and reasonably feelsome, as executive barges' steering goes. Traction is, as you would expect of a quattro, mega no matter what the conditions and even the proper torque-converter Tiptronic gearbox seems to have lost the occasionally hesitant behaviour that some Volkswagen Group transmissions possess. So whether the car is in its most aggressive settings or not, if you want some pace from that 4.0-litre engine then you can have it in an instant. Not only that, but the powertrain makes a wonderful, natural-sounding V8 rumbling when it's going through the motions, so while the S8 never has the loud nor histrionic exhaust pops of an RS model, it still sounds fabulous nonetheless.

That the dynamic side of its character has been sharpened has you worried that the S8 might not succeed at being a comfortable chariot for the 99 per cent of the time you're not driving it like an overgrown S3 Saloon. But that soon proves to be an unfounded concern. Active noise cancellation drowns out the vast majority of the wind and tyre noise that might otherwise permeate the Audi's passenger cabin, although we're willing to bet that sound-deadening several feet thick does a good enough job of keep such intrusions at bay anyway. That thunderous drivetrain can transform into a total pussy cat when you want it to, slushing gearchanges without so much as a ripple of sensation disturbing the millpond calm of the interior, while the engine is torque-rich and muscular enough that it's quite happy to operate entirely below the 3,000rpm threshold without any issues whatsoever. Layer on top of this ride quality that's utterly sumptuous - seriously, the S8 glided across the worst the frost-ravaged roads of the Cotswolds could chuck at it - and what you have here is an executive saloon with a stupendous powertrain, graceful manners and a deeply talented chassis. Save for likely savage depreciation, we're not sure what there is about the S8 that you could possibly dislike.


Despite the ever-growing move to hybrid and electric cars, and the UK's impending ban on ICEs by 2030, there are still plenty of options available to you if what you want is a massive saloon car powered by an equally massive engine. But you'd be mad to have something like a BMW M760Li, its V12 neutered by particulate filters and its face besmirched by revoltingly massive kidney grilles during its midlife facelift, or the charismatic but seriously flawed Maserati Quattroporte instead of this beguiling and brilliant Audi S8. It might look sombre on the outside but that's a gigantic part of its immense all-round appeal. So no longer do you have to defend the purchase of Audi's flagship four-door with some tenuous link back to a 23-year-old John Frankenheimer movie, searching for credibility in a silver-screen cool factor; instead, you can pick the latest S8 because it's very fast. It's very, er... shove-y. And it's very, very magnificent, too. Larry would most wholeheartedly approve.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 20 Dec 2020    - Audi road tests
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2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.

2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi S8 UK. Image by Audi UK.


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