What is it?
As Audi’s flagship saloon, the A8 is designed to be spacious inside with bundles of technology, coupled with lots of luxury and a comfortable ride – it’s essentially a limousine, after all. However, when converting it to an ‘S’ model, all manner of performance connotations that must be lived up to come to the fore.
The Audi S8 then, is a car with one of the toughest briefs in the automotive industry. It’s essentially trying to combine sports car performance with limo-like luxury, and its key rival is the utterly brilliant Mercedes AMG S 63.
Unlike much of Audi’s S range, the S8 has a petrol, rather than diesel engine. However, this V8 powertrain also benefits from electrification in the form of mild hybrid electrification.
To cover both sporty and comfortable ride qualities, the S8 also gets air suspension with ‘predictive active’ qualities, so it can lift or push down each wheel to keep the car level. There’s also all-wheel steering and updated styling touches for the exterior.
What’s under the bonnet?
While the punchy diesel engines across the S range suit their respective cars’ characteristics – and would likely fit well in this large limo – we’re pleased the latest S8 sticks with petrol power for a bit longer. The 4.0-litre V8 makes 563bhp and 800Nm of torque, with performance aided by a sliver of electrification in this mild hybrid setup.
You could be forgiven for wondering if all of that performance is muted when placed inside such a big car, but the S8 feels fast. Acceleration feels as quick as the sub-four-second 0-60mph time indicates – and arguably appears even faster as your brain can’t quite compute a car of this size responding with such urgency.
What’s it like to drive?
There are truly two characters to the Audi S8. The first is that which you’d expect from a limousine. When cruising in a relaxed manner, it settles to become one of the most comfortable cars on the road, soaking up road imperfections and isolating noise so it’s whisper quiet inside. A car of this size should be intimidating, but as it’s so relaxing behind the wheel it easily settles into daily duties.
However, find a back road and it comes alive. That active suspension works wonders, and the V8 jumps out of its sedate manner to provide an enticing soundtrack to accompany the performance on tap. It feels utterly planted in corners and hides its weight well, feeling agile and sharp on turn-in.
Sports car handling and a carpet-smooth ride should be mutually exclusive… But here they are not.
How does it look?
As with all high-end Audis, the S8 has an imposing appearance – with its wide body and large grille, it’s the kind of car that screams ‘get out of my way’ to anyone who spots it in their rear-view mirror.
While Mercedes somehow managed to give the S-Class sleek styling that hides its proportions, Audi has gone in the opposite direction. It’s almost like it has admitted that hiding the S8’s heft would be impossible so has owned it instead.
It has a blocky design, with a high waist line and full-width rear light that only emphasises the car’s size. It’s handsome, but the sporty accents are subtle.
What’s it like inside?
Audi’s latest generation of interiors are fantastic and the S8 is no different. From the moment you climb aboard the driver’s armchair it feels incredibly spacious and luxurious, with nothing but quality materials on show.
The twin screens in the centre of the dashboard work well and bring an elevated level of modernity without losing the luxury ambience.
The rear seats are arguably the place to be for comfort, though, with tonnes of legroom and space between the seats, making for plenty of room to do business on the move.
What’s the spec like?
Prices for the S8 start at £100,910, and the specification is as impressive as you’d expect from a six-figure car. The highlights include 20-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, predictive active suspension, and a Bang and Olufsen premium sound system.
Step up to the Black Edition, priced from £103,410 and upgraded equipment includes 21-inch alloy wheels, black exterior styling, glossy black wing mirror housings and black Alcantara headlining.
Meanwhile, the top-spec Vorsprung version starts at £117,310 and gets Audi’s laser headlight technology and OLED rear lights, a panoramic sunroof and heated front and rear seats.
At the start of this review we talked about the Audi S8 having an almost impossible brief. Turns out the impossible is possible, because this car delivers on all fronts. It’s perfect for those who need luxury transport, where style, comfort and technology are key, but can also loosen its tie and have a good time when required.
It’s perhaps not quite as exhilarating at speed as the AMG S63, but it’s far more accomplished at the comfort side of things. It really is the best of both worlds.
Model as tested: Audi S8
Engine: 4.0-litre petrol V8
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 3.6 seconds
Emissions: 258/260g/km CO2