Audi’s phenomenal S8 is pure modern engineering, but owes its pursuit of perfection to older ideals says William Spurdens
Accolades are nothing new to Audi – it’s been accumulating them voraciously over the years for technological advancements and race success, usually hand in hand: its Quattro four-wheel-drive systems garnered World Rally silverware and helped usher 4WD to the road, and its diesel technology has been snagging Le Mans and sportscar racing titles while showing diesels can be thrilling as well as sensible.
A thirst for a highly-publicisable (i.e. race-winning) technological edge over competitors has always been a cornerstone of Audi’s philosophy since my childhood, in a way that gives it special significance to me.
KC and the Sunshine band played on the radio as father drove us drove down the Kings Road in London, a hub of supercar exotica as the Yuppie generation discovered BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini in the heyday of 80s excess. But it was an Audi that grabbed all the attention as it shot past at pace.
With flared-arches, a whistling turbo, and the distinctive and loud off-beat five-cylinder engine note, the seminal Audi Quattro brought a dash of gritty race realism to the roads, sealed by success in the toughest of championships – World Rally. It made an inimitable impression on teenage me, such that if you say the word ‘Quattro’ in any other language apart from Italian I and many others think of the televised race success which gave instant street cred to a marque that, prior, I knew little about.
It helped Audi change the way people made decisions about their next car – engineering advancement was sexy, “Vorsprung durch Technik” and all that – and built a brand that stood for what so many wanted in a car: reliability, power, luxury, and Germanic build quality.
Each of those values has gained strength over the years, as the S8 shows. Audi was the first manufacturer to build a mass-market car with an aluminium chassis, in the S8 as the Audi Space Frame which cuts weight but gives great rigidity. There’s a ton of tech going on under the sculptured aluminium skin too, unobtrusive but effective auto-pilot tech like torque vectoring, brake assist, lane management, adaptive cruise, self-drying brakes, and a long list more which make it – touch wood – fool proof.
The engine is pretty special too and if you need a limo that hustles but doesn’t send the green lobby to its guilt calculators then this is definitely the car. Power is abundant for a car of any size, with over 510hp and 479lb-ft of torque, allied to 4WD it translates to instant go whenever asked – but, not at a cost.
Economy is as important as power here and the 4.0 V8 twin turbo shuts down four cylinders at anything between 1000 and 4000rpm, which yields close to 27mpg. We got 30mpg on cruise, but at haste on a windy road this figure can turn ugly as you’d expect. But since the S8 is likely to spend most time in cruise, I like it – no need for margarine when we can have butter and still feel good.
Harking back to KC and his band, it’s the best car I’ve yet driven for listening to music in: the Bang and Olufsen system is ear-poppingly clear and drowns what little engine note there is at even max throttle – you could be sat in a lounge as double glazing and sound proofing (including active engine mounts and using the B&O system itself) complement cosseting seats.
It truly deserves its back seats as it’s roomy and will carry guests faultlessly, but like any base for a limo – its A8L big brother was recently voted best chauffeur’s car – it would be a loss to be restricted to the rear.
Though I can think of few better places to watch the world go by, the lure of the front seat is just too much. Perhaps it’s the childhood allure, perhaps its 520hp and being in charge of the sound system: the S8 is a magnificent statement of automotive achievement.
Top speed 155mph
Engine 3993cc V8
Max power 520hp @ 5800rpm
Max torque 650Nm from 1700rpm
Fuel Consumption 29.4mpg
Price £85,870 (as tested)