Greg Kable got it absolutely spot on when he reviewed the 2020 Audi S8 at its international launch for CarAdvice in late 2019. Here’s what Greg thought:
The engineering brief for the new 2020 Audi S8 is surely one of the most demanding in the automotive business. Here’s a car that, on the one hand, must deliver top-shelf limousine-like qualities, with all the imbibing plushness, soft-riding comfort and soul-soothing refinement discerning customers expect.
But at the same time, the most outwardly sporting variant of Ingolstadt’s flagship four-door sedan is also expected to offer supercar-like performance, while engaging the driver with the sort of dynamic qualities to see off its premium brand rivals – all in a package stretching to over five metres in length and weighing all of 2230kg.
The interesting factor with cars like the S8 in Australia is how we use them. In most other markets, this type of vehicle sees the owner in the second row and a professional driver up front, but not here.
Australia is, and always has been, undoubtedly a driver’s market. It means that the buyer/owner is also someone who wants a certain level of that performance ability Greg referred to – perhaps more so than any other global market.
Nailing that brief with a big, heavy luxury car is no easy task, no matter how astute the engineering team.
You could argue that the S variant of the Audi A8 has led the way for this segment in terms of performance for quite some time – the competition focusing more heavily on luxury than performance prowess. Take a look at the numbers on paper, then, and it would seem that Audi has kept the magnifying glass on performance, too.
The 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine is primarily two things – powerful and effortless. It benefits from Audi’s ‘mild-hybrid’ properties, and sends its drive through an eight-speed torque converter automatic on to a quattro AWD system.
Generating 420kW and 800Nm, it deals with the heft of the S8 in consummate fashion blasting from 0–100km/h in just 3.9 seconds.
In short, the S8 can be driven (and pushed) harder than this segment would ever ask for. The engine’s power and torque delivery punch the S8 from standstill rapidly, but also right up to highway speeds with no drop-off.
The AWD system plays its part especially off the mark, but so too does the sport differential, which can apportion drive to each of the rear wheels as it sees fit. Audi says that 70 per cent of the drive can be sent to the front wheels, with the counter being up to 85 per cent sent rearward if need be.
Despite cylinder-on-demand technology, and the 48-volt belt-driven starter motor that works with a lithium-ion battery, and energy recuperation, the S8 isn’t as efficient as we’d like it to be. The claimed fuel use on the combined cycle is 11.4L/100km, but there’s an important point to note.
On test at launch, with plenty of spirited country-road driving as well as traffic around town, the indicated use was just 11.8L/100km. So, while it would be impressive if it were more efficient, its real-world use is very close to the claim – something not every vehicle can boast.
The Audi S8 starts from $260,000 before on-road costs and standard equipment is extensive, as you would expect. Highlights include: 21-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, predictive active suspension, HD Matrix LED headlights with laser light and OLED tail-lights, panoramic glass sunroof, acoustic glazing and privacy glass.
There's also MMI Navigation plus infotainment, Virtual Cockpit, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless CarPlay and charging, rear-seat remote control, S comfort contour sport front seats, inlays in carbon vector, air quality package including ionisation, a full suite of active safety assistance and Audi Connect Plus.
The optional Sensory Package adds $13,900 and brings a Bang & Olufsen 3D Advanced sound system – 19 speakers with 1820 watts, seat ventilation, massage function, heating for the outer rear seats, and a full leather package extending to the lower dashboard, door trims, backrest covers and head restraint linings.
Despite the obvious appeal of a car like this, that is as powerful and fast as it is, the most impressive engineering feat might be the suspension system. More than once, when I stopped to stretch my legs on the drive program, the auto-lift feature captured people’s eyes and started them asking questions.
The 50mm lift might not seem like a lot, but it does exactly what Audi claims it should – makes it easier to get in and out. Close the door and lock the S8 and it returns back to parked height.
The Predictive Active Suspension is quite brilliant on the road, though. It uses cameras to ‘read and scan’ the road ahead and send commands to electromechanical actuators to constantly vary the ride height to suit the conditions.
There are five different driving modes you can choose from – with Comfort+ delivering a suitably cosseting ride over any surface.
At this end of the market, it’s always difficult to nail down exactly what constitutes ‘premium’ for the intended buyer. Insulation, certainly, comfort and ride quality, sure, but one person’s attraction to tech might outweigh another’s attraction to the materials used or the clarity of the audio system.
That said, the S8’s cabin is as high-end as anything on the market, and it’s built as if carved from stone.
Close the door and you hear precious little from outside until you either lower the window or open the door to get out. Wind noise at highway speed is effectively imperceptible, and the same goes for tyre and road noise.
The back seat is one you could easily nod off to sleep in, of course, but focusing on the driver for this review, it’s suitably luxurious up front.
Swathes of carbon fibre and aluminium match the leather and Alcantara, along with the beautifully presented instrument display. Virtual Cockpit is standard for the driver, while the 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment screen controls everything else.
If you switch over to Sport mode, the brutality of the way the S8 can gain speed – and keep it – is truly impressive. There’s little doubt owners of this car will never hustle it hard enough to even raise an eyebrow, but rest assured it can be pushed very hard. And it can do so safely and assuredly.
The steering, the braking, the chassis balance, and the way the S8 transfers power to the bitumen, are all first class for this segment, and well beyond what a limousine should be capable of. The engine note is meaty (despite being synthesised) at the upper edges of the rev limit, as well.
Quattro is perhaps the most obvious factor in the above equation, but once again, the conventional torque converter automatic is so sharp yet smooth it leaves you questioning the need for a DCT.
It’s beautifully capable at any speed, at any engine load, and with any style of driving. Another big tick for the old methodology.
We didn’t get to do a lot of city driving, but the S8 will ply much of its trade around town, and despite appearances it feels nowhere near as hefty or ungainly as the size might indicate.
The steering is nicely weighted for low-speed ease, and the chassis sharpness and precision that come into their own at speed make way for wafting comfort around town.
Rear-wheel steering makes inroads into the agility around town in tighter confines, and is a feature we’ll be seeing more and more of.
The key takeaway from our launch drive of the new Audi S8 is the way it will appeal to a different type of buyer. Those that want luxury and quality were already attracted by the lure of the Audi offering.
Now, though, those buyers that want to extend the performance capabilities, have a bit of fun, and enjoy their country drive, are catered to in serious fashion. What was always an exceptional car is now even better.
2021 Audi S8 specifications
|Engine configuration||V8 twin-turbocharged petrol|
|Power||420kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||800Nm @ 2000-4500rpm|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||11.4L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||82L|
|Boot volume (min/max)||505L|
|Colour||Navarra Blue metallic|
|Options as tested||$13,900|