It’s been more than two and half decades since the original S8 debuted, yet the mission of Audi’s flagship sedan hasn’t changed. This is a machine that consistently plays the roles of both understated luxury cruiser and a hair-raising sports sedan. Ostensibly a hot version of the A8, the S8 is now only sold in long-wheelbase form in the US, but it would be a mistake to assume that the experience is focused solely on its rear seat occupants.
While Mercedes-Benz has stopped offering an AMG-badged version of the S-Class sedan for the time being, and BMW has never given its 7-Series the full M treatment, the S8 still faces formidable competition from its German rivals thanks to an all-new version of the former, which made its debut last year, and the next iteration of the latter that’s set to hit showrooms before 2023.
Keen to keep its full-sized luxury sports sedan fresh, Audi has revamped the A8 and S8 for the 2022 model year (and slashed the price of the latter). The changes are generally subtle this time around, and some of the most hotly-anticipated features remain off in the nebulous future, yet the latest still manages to make a lasting impression. Whether we were wafting along in the beach city traffic near Oceanside, California, or hustling it through the canyons west of Temecula, the S8 dispatches all manner of tarmac with the reassuring effortlessness of a luxury sports sedan that’s swinging for the fences.
|Quick Stats||2022 Audi S8|
|Engine:||Twin-Turbocharged 4.0-liter V8|
|Output:||563 Horsepower / 590 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||3.8 Seconds|
|Top Speed:||155 MPH|
Gallery: 2022 Audi S8: First Drive
Evolution, Not Revolution
Comfort and performance often occupy opposite ends of the tuning spectrum, but the S8 embraces both thanks to a wealth of technology. Under the hood is the Porsche-developed EA825 4.0-liter V8, which carries over unchanged from last year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Set the drive mode to Dynamic and the twin-turbocharged mill emits a sinister growl through its active exhaust system, and thanks to the 563 horsepower and 590 pound-feet that it sends to all four wheels, the big four-door will dash to 60 mph in a decidedly brief 3.8 seconds on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Rear-wheel steering is also now standard for the S8. This system allows the rear wheels to turn up to five degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels at up 37 miles per hour, a feature that reduces the S8’s turning radius by 3.6 feet and nets a circle similar to the A4’s. At higher speeds, the system can also turn the rear wheels in the same direction as the front wheels to improve stability and response, but when it comes to clever chassis tech, Audi is quick to note that the S8’s predictive active suspension is the headline act.
Working in conjunction with the sport-tuned air suspension, the optional electromechanical system uses forward-facing cameras to scan the road surface ahead and either increase or decrease the load on the control arms that are connected to each wheel, improving ride quality or agility depending on the drive mode selected. The predictive system also works in conjunction with Audi’s active safety systems: If it detects that a side impact is imminent, it can raise the vehicle’s body up to three inches in roughly half a second, allowing the most reinforced structural elements of the car to take the brunt of the collision.
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The S8’s dynamic chops are complemented by standard creature comforts like the 22-way adjustable heated, ventilated, and massaging front seats, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Plus customizable digital gauge cluster, and dual touchscreen MMI infotainment. The system consists of a 10.1-inch upper display that controls functions like navigation and the Bang and Olufsen audio system, while the 8.6-inch lower display handles HVAC tasks. Audi’s latest MIB 3 software is on board as well, offering enhanced voice integration with “Hey, Audi” and Amazon Alexa support to go along with the suite of connected services that are available through Audi Connect.
The system looks sharp and is generally quick to respond to touch inputs, but we did notice that the built-in navigation software had a tendency to be slow on the draw when it came time to issue voice prompts. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also supported, of course, and a wireless charging pad – more of a charging cradle, really – is integrated into the center console storage. The implementation prevents quick access to your phone when you need it, though, and feels like an afterthought.
The aesthetics don’t stray far from the formula of the outgoing car, but there are a few obvious tweaks here and there. Up front there’s a wider one-piece grille that helps to ramp up the visual aggression, while redesigned LED headlights and air intakes offer some additional flair. Out back the new OLED taillights feature design signatures which change based on the drive mode selected, and the chrome quad exhaust pipes provide one of the S8’s few concessions to flash.
Behind The Wheel
After settling in at the helm, it doesn’t take long to realize that the S8 remains a luxury sedan above all else. The diamond cross-stitched seats are bolstered aggressively enough for some spirited driving but are ultimately aimed at keeping you comfortable for long hauls, and thanks to the extended wheelbase, there are acres of legroom for both front and rear-seat passengers. Audi’s signature lack of interior clutter and the high-quality materials found throughout make the cabin a very pleasing place to be, though we noticed that the aluminum trim on the center console can cause some pretty intense glare in the midday sun.
We set off from the coast in the Comfort Plus drive mode. As the name implies, this setting calibrates the predictive active suspension to provide its cushiest ride, and despite the 21-inch wheels and performance-focused summer tires outfitted on our tester, it miraculously smoothed out expansion joints, potholes, railroad tracks, and just about anything else we come across. Paired with vault-like road noise isolation, the S8 is able to effectively hide nearly all of its performance intent when you want to keep things low-key.
Switching over to the Dynamic drive mode changes the story significantly, though. With the exhaust valves opened up, the suspension stiffened, and the transmission recalibrated for better response, the S8 feels lively but not overly harsh or nervous. For times when we wanted to keep the boosted V8 on boil as we made our way through the hills, bumping the shifter over to the right allowed us to lock the transmission in manual mode and dictate the shifts with the steering wheel-mounted paddles to keep the engine humming along in the meaty parts of the powerband.
The S8 is surprisingly nimble for its size, no doubt aided by the four-wheel steering system’s ability to shrink the perceived length of the car, while the standard sport rear differential helps tuck it into corners and the active suspension system keeps body motions contained. Tipping the scales at over 5,100 pounds, physics will eventually have its say when the pace exceeds the available grip, but the result is predictable and easily correctable push long before the chassis loses any composure.
In a performance context, the S8 is generally at its best when driven like a muscle car: lots of throttle followed by lots of braking, rinse, repeat. The big stoppers offer a soft initial bite that’s best suited for everyday driving, but the response ramps up quickly as you dip further into the pedal travel.
There’s certainly some entertaining driving to be had here, but the S8 is really more about high-paced comfort than hunting down apexes, and options like massaging rear seats and fold-out wing tables reinforce that notion. Although this mid-cycle facelift lacks any truly standout features, it highlights the fact that there weren’t a lot of major faults that needed to be addressed going in. This understated autobahn bruiser occupies a specialized niche within the luxury segment that isn’t really being contested here in the US, and the latest S8 isn’t trying to make waves. And as with its predecessors, that’s precisely the point.
2022 Audi S8