The Audi S8 is the sport-tuned version of the German automaker's biggest, most expensive sedan. While other versions of the A8 carry a lower-output turbo V-8, or even 12-cylinder engines, the S8 keeps the performance torch aloft with a high-output, twin-turbocharged V-8 and standard all-wheel drive.
For the 2016 model year, the $115,795 S8 is the only member of the Audi A8 family to retain the short-wheelbase body style. All other powertrains have deleted it, in favor of the long-wheelbase sedan body.
The S8 is a more direct rival for the more intensely flavored versions of these cars, from Jaguar's XJR to Mercedes' S63 AMG, to BMW's Alpina-tuned 7-Series.
Like other versions of the A8 family, the latest S8 has moved Audi's flagship ever closer to the lofty excellence regularly delivered by the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series—and now also enjoyed by the Jaguar XJ, we'd add. It's perhaps possessed of the most anodyne shape of all, but the abundance of technology applied to its driving dynamics and its luxury features makes it a real player in the segment.
From the outside, the S8 wears its performance labels discreetly. The big sedan is less occupied with grabbing attention than with telegraphing its place in society with a handful of cues—LED lighting, sleek darkened trim, stylish 21-inch wheels, very small S8 badges, and quad oval tailpipes. It's in the cockpit where the S8 showcases Audi's quietly breathtaking design skills: it's a lavish place, with low-gloss trim like this year's new carbon-copper twill, and sumptuous leather with gorgeous shades of black, grey, even brown.
The real jewelry is tucked away beneath the S8's panels, atop its aluminum space-frame body. Under the hood is the Audi's twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V-8. It shares bore centers and stroke with the lower-output version—but higher boost pressures help it deliver 520 horsepower, far and above the lesser version's 435 hp. Torque differences are less, at 481 pound-feet versus 444 lb-ft.
In the S8, Audi says the combination of the turbo V-8 and a brilliantly responsive 8-speed, paddle-shifted automatic, will deliver 0-60 mph times of 3.9 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 mph. Those figures are nearly a half-second and 20 mph better than the non-S V-8.
All-wheel drive is standard equipment on every S8, giving it the surefooted feel that's been the A8 family hallmark over its lifespan. It's set up for a torque bias to the rear in the S8, and in concert with a stiffer sport-suspension setup with adaptive dampers and air springs, the S8 feels like what we want every $115,000 sedan to feel like—quick to respond to steering inputs (though the standard variable-ratio electric power steering has heft, it's still light on feedback), with adept ride control that's on the right side of firm despite the S8's big 21-inch wheels and standard summer tires, excellent stopping power from big ventilated disc brakes.
Like other Audis, the S8 allows the driver to select from five different driving modes—Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual and Efficiency. Switching through them in the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) changes all kinds of vehicle functions, from steering and throttle response, to suspension damping, to shift speed, even to the way the sport differential doles out torque between the rear wheels. Trust us: Dynamic is the mode to choose, as much for the swift powertrain response as for the settled ride.
As the only short-wheelbase big Audi, the S8 predictably suffers a bit in comparison, in rear-seat leg room. It's hard to find much fault elsewhere in the cabin: there's abundant front-seat space even under the mandatory sunroof, the seats power-adjust in almost two dozen directions, and the trunk's big enough to move house. The rear seats have their own climate-control system, infotainment system, and power adjustments, as well as a panoramic roof panel.
The Audi S8 comes with the latest version of Audi's MMI system, which is built around a rotating controller that scrolls through menus on the non-touchscreen that rises from the center of the dash. The roller knob now accepts touch and writing inputs on its surface via MMI Touch. Steering-wheel controls also let you see an abbreviated list of options, and a Google Maps–based navigation system uses its own data connection to get live-updated mapping and routing information. That system and an integrated wireless hotspot have been made standard, though the data is on subscription from T-Mobile.
Special trim and fittings are available, but the one option we wouldn't miss is the S8's optional Bang & Olufsen Advanced sound system, which has 19 speakers, including small tweeters at the front of the cabin that emerge at startup, along with more than 1,400 watts of power.
Fuel economy isn't particularly impressive in the S8, although that's expected from such a performance-oriented sedan. The EPA rates the S8 at 16 mpg city, 25 highway, 19 combined.
- 2016 Mercedes-Benz S Class
- 2016 BMW 7-Series
- 2016 Jaguar XJ
- 2016 Lexus LS
The Audi A8 family has grown to be a real contender in the world of highly-desirable full-size luxury sedans, and the S8 is its tenacious hammer. In terms of all-out luxury, the Mercedes-Benz S-CLass is the overall winner in the category, especially when you consider the new Mercedes-Maybach trim level that turns up the opulence; Mercedes is also adding a plug-in hybrid version next year for those who want fuel economy without any real sacrifices. The Jaguar XJ is one of the most handsome in the bunch, and its interior is a step above most vehicles in the class. We're fond of the available supercharged V-8, too, and Jag recently added all-wheel drive to stay somewhat competitive with the Germans. Within this class, the Lexus LS is the least engaging in standard form. However, it's exceptionally comfortable, comes with built-in reliability as a consideration, and offers short- and long-wheelbases, as well as a variety of drivetrains and a more dynamic F Sport variant. BMW's stalwart 7-Series is getting a refresh for 2016, with an all-new, lighter body and another rethink to its iDrive central nervous system; it will also offer trick self-parking with the driver outside the vehicle.