2009 Audi S8
Most luxury performance cars elicit more contempt from fellow motorists than they do praise. Over the top in just about every way with V-12 power and mortgage-sized price tags, it’s hard for the common man not to be overcome with jealousy when one such overindulgent culprit rolls by, chugging down high-test octane like free beer at a Guns n’ Roses concert. But there also exist a handful of premium cars like the Audi S8
that manage to get it just right, striking that delicate balance between elegance and excess, forcing onlookers to view it in silent appreciation rather than relentless disdain. Despite its high-output V-10 engine, gaping front grille and massive 20-inch alloy wheels, the S8 manages to maintain the standard A8’s sophisticated charm, blending style and function both inside and out in a way that’s as German as Oktoberfest and speeding on the Autobahn. Yet, when you’re blessed with an open mountain road, the luxurious S8 turns into a snarling 450 horsepower beast, with confidence-inspiring dynamics and tireless composure. Air ride suspension allows for the best of both worlds, minimizing body roll and maximizing ride comfort, so you can enjoy the well-trimmed cabin and near silent cabin at both suburban and freeway speeds. Find a long stretch of road, mash the gas and enjoy bliss.
What's to Like
Peak torque comes on at a low 3,500 rpm, so physics-defying power is always available no matter what gear you’re in. This isn’t a hardcore super sedan with crashy suspension and a deafening exhaust, but rather a fast luxury sedan with a beautifully controlled ride and neutral handling characteristics. It’s a hard combination to nail, but by all accounts Audi has done it.
What's Not to Like
Virtually nothing. The $96,200 price tag can be a turnoff, but for those considering the purchase of an S8 money isn’t likely to be an issue. Consumption of fossil fuels, on the other hand, will alarm even the most affluent simply due to the frequency of fill ups. If that’s the price one must pay for owning a V-10 Audi, then so be it.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
For a car banging on the door of 4,600 lbs, the S8 is surprisingly agile. Steering feel is light at residential speeds but weights up properly as speed increases, and helps communicate the chassis’ brilliantly balanced handling to the driver. You can forget about playing Jason Statham and performing ludicrous power slides around every turn – the big Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system keeps such hooliganism to a minimum, gathering up any loss of grip quickly and without incident. All 398 lb-ft of torque are available at low revs, and above 4,000 rpm the engine really starts to put on speed with delivery that’s neither peaky nor rampant, but rather linear and robust. The brakes are up to the task of hauling the gargantuan sedan down rather abruptly, though pedal feel doesn’t give a sense that you’ve just deployed a couple of anchors. Air ride suspension softens up the ride – even in its harshest setting – yet manages to effectively minimize body roll. Overall, this is a car best enjoyed at high speed for long distances, thanks to a nearly silent cabin and excellent ergonomics.
Engine and Drivetrain
The S8 is characterized by its manic yet refined 5.2-liter direct injection V-10 engine, which puts out a massive 450 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. That power is driven to all four wheels via Audi’s legendary Quattro system and a six-speed automatic transmission. At times, other vehicles on the road seem to be little more than a frustrating barrier to full-on 450 horsepower outbursts of acceleration.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
There aren’t a whole lot of items that don’t come standard on the S8 – a nice touch considering the $96k price tag – but the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system is certainly worth of mention, with 14 speakers banging out 1,100 watts of sound. At $6,300 it’s certainly no inconsequential add-on, but if you love music, think of this as perhaps the classiest way of overdoing it. Audi also offers a technology package that adds blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist and adaptive cruise control.
Key Technology Evaluation
Undoubtedly the centerpiece of the S8’s interior is Audi’s MMI (Multi Media Interface) system, allowing users to control vehicle functions such as stereo, climate control and suspension settings through use of dash-mounted controls. It seems a bit cumbersome at first, but it’s easy enough to learn and not nearly as confusing as some other systems out there.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
When you’ve got a 5.2-liter V-10 under the hood and all-wheel drive, no one’s expecting good news from the EPA. The S8 is no frugal sipper, returning 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. But when you hear that V-10 wailing at 5,000 rpm, you won’t care.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
We’ve come to expect top-notch interior quality from Audi, and the S8 has it in spades, taking luxury cues from the A8 and blending in sporting intention. Leather adorns most every surface, the controls are ergonomically sound with solid tactility and the MMI system helps keep the interior relatively uncluttered and button-free.
With an air of restrained aggression wrapped in an elegant shell, the S8 is a bit like a street thug dressed in a Dolce & Gabbana suit. Muscular 20-inch twin five-spoke alloys fill its arches, the only hint of the atom bomb nestled under the hood coming from discrete “S8” and “V10” badging along with enlarged front-end cooling ducts.
Market Segment and Pricing
With an MSRP of $96,200, the Audi S8 isn’t for the faint of heart. Those looking for a less sporting ride would do well to check out the standard A8
, which starts at $74,050. Outlying competitors are the Jaguar XJ Super V8
($94,075), BMW 750i
($80,300) and Mercedes-Benz S550
($89,350), while true rivals include the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
($131,350) and Maserati Quattroporte
What We Think
If you’re in the market for a premium full-sizer that goes like hell, it doesn’t get much better than this. The S8 successfully blends luxury and performance in a way few others can, liberally infusing sporting dynamics on top of the A8 platform rather than going for a take-no-prisoners high-horsepower approach. Thanks to its subtlety other motorists are likely to look on in admiration as you thunder past them, rather than cut you off.