The first generation Audi S8 was produced from 1996 to 2003, back when I knew almost nothing about cars. I was aware of the Audi S8’s existence however, thanks to the late John Frankenheimer’s action thriller masterpiece, Ronin.
Being young and thoroughly enthralled by the film and those spectacular chase sequences, I had to find out about the cars involved and turned to the internet. Eventually, I found out that the car driven by Skipp Sudduth’s character Larry was an Audi, more precisely an Audi S8 D2 (first generation). The car has been on my radar ever since.
Since the S8’s release all those years ago, Audi has kept refining the car’s formula. The fourth generation vehicle premiered in 2019 and, from a design standpoint, it’s a handsome yet modest looking full-size luxury sedan.
My test car was equipped with what I like to call ‘anonymous spec’ because it had a glacier white metallic exterior with the de-badging option applied. The latter takes away the model, engine power and technology nameplate, which made this S8 a stealthy car that blended in, whether in traffic or in an office tower parking lot. Even with the badges on, I reckon it’s a still a car that won’t draw much attention to itself or its owner – the same can’t be said for its immediate competitors also hailing from Germany.
Eyeballing my tester, I noticed just one S8 badge on its front grille and the only telltale signs that this Audi means business are the quad tailpipes and gigantic steel disc brakes with large red calipers. Compared to the A8, the S8’s body isn’t massively different; there are mildly reworked bumpers and side sills but nothing ostentatious or shouty. The first time I saw it, I immediately thought to myself ‘Q-Car’.
Oodles of Refinement
With a number of choice options including a handy cool box, radar cruise control and ventilated and massage seats, my S8 tester was priced at a little over $170,000. That’s a serious amount of money but it doesn’t take long to see what you get in return for that significant outlay.
Opening the door of the S8, the predictive active suspension system almost instantly raised the body of the car. ‘That’s freaking cool!’ I said to myself. Audi says the car can raise itself by as much as 50mm to make getting in easier. My daily driver is a SUV, so when I have to get into cars, which sit lower to the ground, I always find myself struggling to avoid plopping myself ungracefully into a seat with an accompanying ‘ugh’. With the S8, I just had to step in and then found myself wondering why other cars don’t also do this.
If the entrance experience doesn’t sell you on the S8’s suspension system, its on-road capabilities certainly will. Working in-tandem with a front-mounted camera, the suspension adjusts itself so ride quality over broken road surfaces and speed breakers is velvety smooth. Approaching a raised pedestrian crossing on the way out of Dubai Studio City, I felt the S8 suspension raise the body and cushion the impact of the crossing, while driving over it at about 20km/h. It’s an odd feeling at first but one that I quickly got used to and completely forgot about as I went through the day.
Audi says the predictive active suspension works best on straight roads, whereas curved roads or T-junctions where speed breakers are at a right angle to the car are beyond the system at the moment. Even so, the suspension still does a fantastic job of maintaining ride quality in those scenarios. There’s a bit of unavoidable broken road on a roundabout near our office, and while driving over it sends shockwaves through to passengers in almost every other car/SUV I’ve driven, the S8 dealt with it like a champ, whether I had it in Dynamic or Comfort+ mode. The latter is the mode you want to be in, if you want a seriously comfortable ride.
Suspension aside, the S8’s cabin quietness is worth mentioning because it is eerily quiet in there. It isn’t by accident of course, Audi has incorporated active noise cancelling technology, which compliments the car’s swathes of acoustic glass. On top of that, Audi says there’s sound reducing foam inside the vehicle’s tires. It’s so quiet in the cabin that even when other drivers inevitably honk at you for not flying off the line the millisecond the signal goes green, you barely notice it.
From a visual and tactile standpoint, the cabin is a treat whether you’re driving or sitting in one of the passenger seats. There’s tons of head and leg room in the back as you’d expect, the seats all around are plush and comfortable and almost everything you can touch feels high quality. There’s fantastic ambient lighting that can be configured along with tons of other technology that you can spend hours playing with. The great news is you don’t have to; the technology is unobtrusive and just lets you get on with the business of driving.
The S8 can be configured to your heart’s content but I was more than happy with the car’s driving characteristics by simply engaging ‘Dynamic’ mode. The transformation isn’t quite Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde however, as the S8 is still quite comfortable when you’re hammering along. You won’t find something as garish as a ‘Sport’ or ‘S’ button anywhere in this car, at least not that I saw.
During spirited driving, thanks to rear wheel steering and the predictive active suspension, the sedan turned in precisely, while body movements are very controlled with minimal roll and even pitch. The S8 isn’t an all-out sports car of course but the only way you’d know and feel its limits would be to take it to an actual race track. On everyday roads, it’s offers more performance and grip than you’ll ever realistically need or be able to use unless you’re being incredibly silly.
Audi claims the car will do the 0-100km/h dash in a supercar challenging 3.8 seconds and although you don’t quite get shoved violently into the seat because of that trick suspension, the car felt even faster than that. The Biturbo V8 serves up a potent 571hp and 590lb-ft of torque; the engine working with a quick, yet smooth eight speed gearbox and rear biased Quattro system make mincemeat of overtaking maneuvers and offer cornering grip, and exit speeds, that’ll make you do a double take.
Audi’s managed to create something very special with the fourth generation S8. I was a fan of the third generation S8, which I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time with through friends, but it’s clear that Audi has raised the bar with this new model. It’s a car that seamlessly offers an intoxicating blend of comfort and sportiness in a package that’s handsome and slips neatly under the radar. Needless to say, I know which dealership I’m going to, if I ever win the local lottery.