REVIEW | Audi S8 merges stealthy looks with explosive performance
When an Audi S8 was used in a memorable car chase in the 1998 action movie Ronin, it helped put the German luxury car on the map as a serious performance sedan.
The first-generation S8 was a sleeper car that had serious fireworks beneath an unassuming exterior: it paired a 270kW 4.2l V8 engine with quattro all-wheel drive and an innovative lightweight aluminium spaceframe and body which was key to its sporting prowess.
Roll forward to 2024 and the fourth-generation S8 quattro still has a mostly aluminium body (mixed with steel, magnesium and CFRP) and wields a much more powerful 420kW turbocharged V8.
It remains an understated car with none of the visual theatrics of an Audi R8 or RS6 Avant, though the fire within is alluded to by large 21-inch wheels and a dual pair of wide-bore exhausts. The exhausts awaken with a sporty baritone when you thumb the start button, further emphasising this is a luxury sedan with sporting ambitions.
The 4.0l engine is a thirsty but silky powerhouse that thrusts the big car forward at a graceful gallop through an eight-speed Tiptronic that shifts gears with well-oiled slickness. It is a refined car that feels almost relaxed when you plant the throttle to test its mettle. Strong g-forces press you into your seat but the S8 sweeps forward with a vibration-free finesse out of sync with its sportscar-like 0-100km/h time, claimed at 3.8 seconds.
The deep-toned engine prevents the experience from becoming too sanitised, especially with Dynamic mode selected. In addition to a more pronounced exhaust sound, Dynamic sharpens throttle and steering responses and firms up the adaptive air suspension.
The predictive active suspension reads the road ahead using sensors and cameras, then adjusts the car’s dampers, ride height and 48V active roll system to best suit whatever is coming. When set to Dynamic mode the system focuses on maximising handling. The S8 sweeps through curves with an athletic poise that belies its 2.2 tonnes, aided by rear-wheel steering which improves high-speed stability and low-speed manoeuvrability.
All-wheel drive calmly lays down the power without wheelspinning histrionics, and the variable Quattro drive can send up to 85% of torque to the rear wheels, making for a more playful and understeer-resistant cornering experience. A self-locking sport differential improves traction in all conditions.
In Comfort Plus mode the large sedan glides with impressive comfort, though care must be taken to keep the low-profile 265/35 21-inch tyres out of large potholes.
Legroom in the rear seat is generous if not as limousine-like as one might expect in such a large car. At 5,190mm in length there is less stretch-out room in the S8 than in the 5,391mm BMW 7-Series and 5,289mm Mercedes S-class.
The boot offers a huge 505l but is not expandable as the rear seats don’t fold down.
Valcona leather upholstery with diamond stitching creates a premium setting in the smart, hi-tech cabin, which is tastefully embellished with sporty carbon fibre. Heated and ventilated front seats with a massage function are part of the deal in the S8 as are soft-close doors, electric sun blinds and a Bang & Olufsen Premium sound system. Several extra-cost options can be ordered including a R45,000 night vision assistant and a R60,000 rear-seat package that allows the two back passengers to electrically recline their seats.
The S8 was recently updated with Audi’s latest infotainment system which has large screens and is generally easy to use, though finding new radio stations was the devil’s own job and the voice assistant was sporadic in understanding instructions.
At R2.8m the Audi represents decent bang for buck as it is priced lower than similarly powered cars such as the BMW M760e x Drive — its most direct rival — and the far more expensive Maserati Quattroporte Trofeo. To get a more muscular ride in the large sports sedan niche you need to spend just over R4m on the 500kW Porsche Panamera Turbo e-hybrid.
With its sporting driving focus and relatively mediocre rear legroom, the S8 is unlikely to be chosen by the chauffeur-driven contingent. The owner profile is more of a performance enthusiast who will want to spend time behind the wheel exploring the S8’s dynamic edge in a swift, refined and comfortable setting.
The large Audi earns its stripes with a more playful nature than the average luxury vehicle.
Type: Eight-cylinder petrol turbo
Type: Eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Type: Quattro all-wheel drive
Top speed: 250km/h
0-100km/h: 3.8 seconds
Fuel consumption: 10.8l/100km (claimed); 14.4l/100km (as tested)
Automatic lights, automatic wipers, ABS brakes, tyre pressure monitor, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, head-up display, adaptive air suspension, stability control, electric front seats, heated and cooled front seats, electrically adjustable steering column, navigation, adaptive cruise control, touchscreen infotainment system, keyless access and start, soft-close doors, panoramic sunroof, adaptive headlights, surround view parking camera, park assist, electric boot lid
Cost of ownership
Warranty: One year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km
Lease: R62,952 a month
*at 11.75% interest over 60 months, no deposit
Audi S8 quattro
We like: Performance, refinement, styling
We dislike: Fuel consumption
Verdict: A sleeper car with stealthy power
Motor News star rating
Value For Money ****
* Porsche Panamera 4, 260kW/500Nm — R2,192,000
* BMW 740i M Sport, 280kW/520Nm — R2,357,751
* Mercedes-Benz S500 4Matic, 336kW/520Nm — R2,970,679
* BMW M760e xDrive, 420kW/800Nm — R3,090,000
* Mercedes-Maybach S580, 385kW/370Nm — R3,953,895
* Porsche Panamera Turbo e-hybrid, 500kW/930Nm — R4,027,000
* Maserati Quattroporte Trofeo, 427kW/730Nm — R4,800,000
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