Audis, generally speaking, are for people who demand absolutely top-drawer luxury — but who aren't especially interested in showing off.
When a car like the 2001 S8 sedan rolls by, few people realize they've just been in the presence of a $72,500 luxury performance sedan packing a 360-hp V-8 engine and quattro all-wheel-drive. Try keeping a low profile in comparable machines: the Mercedes-Benz S55 or the Jaguar XJR sedan. You'll stand out like Don King's hair; you’ll be impossible to miss.
This is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you're after. There's nothing wrong with flash and image, if that's what you're after. Both the Jag and the big S-Class Mercedes revel in their stage presence. If you don't notice them, it's time to visit the optometrist or check your pulse.
But there's also a case to be made for keeping a somewhat lower profile. You know you are successful; does the whole world need to be informed? If this more demure approach to life describes your philosophy, the Audi S8 may be the best choice for you among its two principal rivals in the high-performance, ultimate sedan niche — and not just on this business of less ostentatious styling and bad-boy "rep."
All three cars are quite similar in their basics. They are large, powerful ultra-sedans that are essentially hopped-up versions of their various manufacturers' top models. The Jaguar XJR shares its body and most other things (interior layout, most suspension pieces, etc.) with its less-powerful XJ8 stablemate. What separates them is the supercharger bolted to the Jag's 4.0-liter V-8, which bumps the output from a middling 290 hp to a much more interesting 370 hp.
Same deal with the Mercedes. The S55 is basically a modified S-Class sedan, equipped with a specially tuned (by AMG, Mercedes' in-house hot rod gurus) 5.4-liter V-8 that delivers 349 hp, about 50 more than the regular S500. Both cars also get suspension, wheel and tires, brake, and trim upgrades, among other things.