Audi’s S8 is a limousine for leadfoots.
Powered by a monster twin-turbo V8 that will have you at highway speed limits in just 3.8 seconds, it’s the ultimate executive express.
The big sedan is aimed at a niche within a niche — chief executives and well heeled retirees who prefer to sit up front and steer rather than hand the keys to the chauffeur.
As such, it’s likely to find only a dozen buyers in Australia each year, not surprising given its eye-watering $260,000 (plus on-roads) price tag.
But the S8 remains relevant because the cutting edge technology beneath its sleek lines will inevitably trickle down to the hatchbacks and SUVs us mere mortals will buy.
Audi Australia managing director Paul Sansom calls the S8 the brand’s “technological flagship” and “the epitome of our Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology) philosophy”.
The centrepiece of that technology is what Audi calls “predictive active suspension”. The big sedan uses sensors and cameras to read the road ahead and adjust its dampers to brace for bumps, speed humps and potholes.
When it approaches a corner, the car leans into it like a motorcyclist would, reducing the amount of sideways motion felt by passengers.
That allows it to deliver a comfortable ride without the pitching and rolling usually associated with soft suspension.
In a concession to SUVs and their appeal to older folks with dodgy hips, the A8 will also raise itself by 50mm as the driver approaches.
If it senses an imminent T-bone accident, the suspension will again lift itself up, ensuring that the other vehicle hits the sturdiest part of the S8’s safety cell.
While all that tech working quietly behind the scenes is impressive, it’s the engine and the cabin that exude the real charm.
The 420kW twin-turbo V8, armed with a truck-like 800Nm of torque, is an iron fist in a velvet glove. Quiet and refined on the highway, it will shut down four cylinders until they’re required, saving fuel. A 48-volt mild hybrid system can recover power while coasting, saving up to 0.8 litres of fuel per 100km.
Ask it to provide thrust in a hurry, though, and it will pin your ears back and let out a beautiful V8 snarl. Acceleration off the mark is brutal, aided by all-wheel-drive traction and slick, rapid-fire shifts from the eight-speed auto.
In normal driving, torque is split 40-60 front to back, but up to 85 per cent can be directed to the rear wheels for sportier driving.
Four-wheel steering helps to keep it stable in high-speed corners, while reducing its turning circle for easier parking in shopping malls.
On a twisty road, the S8 is surprisingly agile. There’s no escaping its size and weight, but it has phenomenal grip and impressive poise through corners.
SUVs may be all the rage these days, but the S8 has a presence they can’t match. Massive 21-inch wheels, enormous red brake calipers and quad tailpipes are the biggest visual cues that you’re in a flagship sports sedan, and they’re complemented by head and tail-lights that scroll from side to side as you approach and leave the car.
Inside, the cabin is an intoxicating mix of Valcona leather, brushed aluminium highlights and hi-tech digital displays. There are two screens in the centre, while in front of the driver there’s a digital cockpit that can be configured to display a vast array of information.
Unfortunately, the lower of the two centre touch screens is placed well below eye level and is tricky and distracting to operate on the fly.
Audi used to have a dial in the centre console for navigating menus, but sadly that’s disappeared. Touchscreens are fine for phones, but they don’t work as well in a vehicle travelling over bumps and potholes.
Thankfully, the big Audi has an arsenal of active and passive safety tech that’s hard to beat, including a centre airbag to stop the driver and front passenger from clashing heads in a side impact.
The S8 has a rare ability to pamper passengers and reward drivers at the same time.
AUDI S8 VITALS
Price: $260,000 plus on-roads
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol, 420kW/800Nm
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/u’ltd km, $3990 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 9 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic assist, active cruise control
Boot: 505 litres