Like the fastest trains of yore, this big sedan is designed to cross continents.
Editor’s Note: While Motor1.com’s U.S. edition waits to test the new Audi S8, our friends at Motor1.com Germany have already sampled the new super-sedan in Barcelona, Spain. Check out the full first drive. And note, as Audi USA has already published pricing for the S8, we’ve attached our prices rather than simply converting the German prices.
The model designation sounds like it belongs on a subway line, but the 2019 Audi S8 is significantly faster on the move. According to its creators, it’s “two cars in one” – a luxury saloon and a sports car – packed full of technology. Can the S8 keep this promise?
What is it?
The S8 is the top model in the A8 series as long as Audi's product strategists don't tinker with a W12 (not excluded) or RS 8 (practically impossible). Even a glance at the engine makes it clear the S8 means business. Its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 packs 563 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. This is, unsurprisingly, the same engine found in the new RS6 Avant and RS7, only with a smidge less power to maintain the gap between the mightiest S model and the angrier RS line.
The S8 also has a 48-volt main electrical system with an additional lithium-ion battery and belt-starter generator as the basis for its mild-hybrid system, and for things like the forward-looking active suspension (more on this later). But this setup also improves fuel economy. The mild hybrid system saves two-tenths of a gallon every day by “sailing” with the engine deactivated. The new S8 is designed to save fuel in daily driving circumstances, although admittedly, that sounds like ordering a Coke Zero for to go with a triple cheeseburger. The S8, with its 5,081 pounds of weight (despite 58 percent aluminum content), is truly not a lightweight.
How does it drive?
Is the new Audi S8 a car for drivers or are you better off hanging in the cushy back seats? Audi helped us answer that question by offering a prominent chauffeur on the test track: Loic Duval, Le Mans winner in 2013. We’re laughing way in the back and enjoying pure luxury. No wonder, as the normal S8 is already 17 feet long, 6.4 feet wide and has a wheelbase of exactly 9.8 feet In important markets like China, North America, and South Korea, Audi offers the S8 exclusively as a long-wheelbase model, with an additional 5.1 inches between the axles.
Monsieur Duval switches to Comfort Plus mode and the ride becomes quite relaxed. We look around inside: Fine materials, everything is beautifully finished. But we’re a little surprised by the low seating position in the rear. And the how easily the S8 can mutate into a flying carpet.
Thank the aforementioned active suspension, a standard feature on German-market S8s. This system, which works in conjunction with the air suspension, and can pull each wheel up or down separately using electromechanical actuators. Or at least that's the theory. In practice, a camera detects larger irregularities such as speed bumps, which we hardly notice at all. Only very narrow imperfections are missed. And another feature of the Comfort Plus mode – in curves, the body tilts inwards by up to three degrees, thereby reducing lateral roll.
No matter where you sit in the Audi S8, Comfort Plus mode turns the big sedan into a first-class Trans-Europe Express. Even Audi itself uses the phrase “as if on rails,” conjuring images of the old Trans-Europe Express (TEE). Fifty years ago, getting from Munich to Milan on the TEE's Mediolanum took six hours and 40 minutes. The S8 should easily beat that time, especially since it accelerates much faster than an electric locomotive: 3.8 seconds to 62 mph. A current Porsche 911 Carrera S needs 3.7 seconds.
So far, so good. But what about the S8’s sporty touches? After all, you don't necessarily need 563 hp just to drive straight and fast. The second part of our drive takes us and the S8 out into the mountains around Barcelona. In Comfort Plus mode, the heavy sedan pushes out into fast corners. The Dynamic mode is quite different: here the S8 rushes through the corner with much more stability. The dynamic all-wheel steering system, in which the steering angles on the front and rear axles are individually adjusted, helps here. The suspension also acts differently in Dynamic mode, limiting the maximum roll angle to 2.5 degrees. If you want to, you can persuade the S8 to oversteer in a controlled manner. The sport differential helps, it shifts the drive torques between the rear wheels.
The twin-turbo V8's powerful pitch underscores the speed, but you shouldn't expect a roaring fighting machine.
And what does the fun cost?
Audi is calling for exactly 140,000 euros on the German market for the S8 (U.S. customers are on the hook for at least $129,500), a good 45,000 euros (about $44,300) more than the A8 55 TFSI with 340 hp. The price only goes up from there, though. Carbon ceramic brakes? 8,500 euros ($9,900). Laser light? 3,100 euros ($2,300). Full leather package? 6,520 Euro ($5,500). And if you go the “Audi Exclusive” route, you can easily sink a small car’s worth of options into the S8.
Yes, the new Audi S8 is expensive. But the company isn’t wrong to argue it’s “two cars in one”. In fact, the S8’s spread between comfort and sport is impressive. But in view of the size and weight of the sedan, it remains to be said: The S8 is incredibly fast. But it's not incredibly sporty.