The Car Connection Audi S8 Overview
The Audi S8 is a high-performance luxury full-size sedan that's as thrilling as it is luxurious.
The S8 joined the A8 family in the late 1990s. Today's model is the third generation of the nameplate, though some years have been skipped along the way.
The Audi S8 is essentially carried over for the 2017 model year, although its A8 sibling is no longer offered with a shorter wheelbase. Even less changed for 2018—it's the same car again.
MORE: Read our 2018 Audi S8 review
The first Audi S8 was introduced in Europe in 1997, but took until the 2001 model year to arrive in U.S. showrooms. Priced from $72,500, this S8 set the pattern for all future performance derivatives spun off from Audi's unique, aluminum space-frame sedan. The first edition packed a 360-horsepower V-8 engine and standard all-wheel drive; American-market cars were only offered with an automatic transmission. The higher-output model was distinguished by "S" badging, added aluminum trim, and more standard luxury features, as well as 18-inch wheels. The first S8 had a short run in the U.S., since that generation of A8 sedan went out of production in fall 2002.
The A8 was redesigned in that year, but it wouldn't be until 2007 that Audi would bring its second S8 to American drivers. The wait was worth it: instead of a V-8 engine underhood, the S8 bore a mighty, Lamborghini-derived V-10 engine. At 5.2 liters of displacement, the engine generated an awe-inspiring 450 hp at 7,000 rpm in the S8 and 398 pound-feet of torque, only slightly down from Lambo spec, all shuffled to the tires via a Tiptronic 6-speed automatic. Quattro all-wheel drive had variable torque distribution, with a rolling 40/60 split, with the ability to move up to 85 percent of the torque to the rear, or as much as 65 percent to the front.
The S8’s transmission, steering, chassis, adaptive air suspension, and brakes were upgraded compared to the rest of the A8 line, and it rolled on beefy 20-inch alloy wheels wearing 265/35 R20 high-performance (three-season) tires. Audi offered a carbon-fiber-trimmed interior, while its Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system came standard.
After ending that S8 model run in the 2009 model year, Audi once again put the uber-sedan on hold, this time until the 2013 model year. The latest Audi S8 has reverted back to V-8 form, but it hasn't lost any performance—it's more powerful, in fact, thanks to a 4.0-liter V-8 with twin turbocharging and 520 hp, as well as 481 lb-ft of torque. Via standard all-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic, the S8 can drop 0-60 mph times of 3.9 seconds while delivering 19 miles per gallon on the EPA's combined cycle.
This third-generation S8 features Audi's Drive Select control system, which allows the driver to choose one of two preset profiles—Comfort or Dynamic—an Auto mode, or the Individual setup that allows the driver to select different parameters separately. Drive Select controls myriad settings including suspension tuning, steering weight, throttle response, transmission shift points, the torque vectoring Sport Differential, and even the level of exhaust sound.
Audi's S8 returned for the 2014 model year with few changes, and carried over into 2015 largely intact. The car connected to the web through Audi Connect, see beautiful Google Earth maps on the navigation system, and bathe in stunning Bang & Olufsen audio.
For 2016, Audi significantly changed the S8's demeanor and performance. Audi made available a "tweener" between the A8 and newly minted S8 plus. The A8 Sport is largely the S8 from 2014 and 2015, albeit in long-wheelbase form. With 450 hp and 444 lb-ft of twist coming from the turbocharged V-8, the A8 Sport satisfies the itch for full-size sport sedan buyers. The new S8 plus tunes the 4.0-liter V-8 up to 605 hp and 517 lb-ft (553 lb-ft during overboost) and makes the 0-60 run in a hair-raising 3.7 seconds.
The 2017 Audi S8 is largely unchanged from the 2016 version as this model prepares for a full-scale redesign. The new 2019 Audi A8 will go on sale in the U.S. late in 2018; the S8 derivative is expected soon after that.