Installing the Gallardo's V10 in the A8 limousine sounds like a recipe for luxurious mayhem. But the detuned V10 is rather muted in this application and, although the S8 has great charm, it somewhat falls between two stools

Our Verdict

Audi S8

New Audi S8 is just the car for those who yearn to travel in the most unflappable, high-speed style

  • First Drive

    Audi S8 2002-2015

    Installing the Gallardo's V10 in the A8 limousine sounds like a recipe for luxurious mayhem.
  • First Drive

    Audi S8

    Not as raucous as expected, but still an incredible long-distance luxury saloon
14 August 2006

What’s new?

We like the Audi A8. We really like it. There may be more accomplished limousines on the market, but none of them can match the A8’s style-led gravitas or its deeply imbued sense of quality. If you’re susceptible to its charms, it will glide up your motoring wish list with ease. Which brings us to the even more imposing hulk of Teutonic menace sat before us today, the Audi S8.

Even the on-paper concept has a delicious ring to it. Take the aforementioned glamour-limousine, spice it diligently with all the quality trappings of a go-faster Audi and then drop in a, um, Lamborghini Gallardo engine. Yes, that’s the killer blow. Our favourite limo is available with an entire stable of Italian supercar ponies jostling under its precisely fitting bonnet.What’s it like? Press the go pedal in the S8 and you’ll hear a surprisingly loud growl - no opera, just a deep, monotone rumble that develops into a determined howl. Where has the music gone? 

Well, the S8 has the same basic V10 as the Gallardo, but it’s been considerably reworked for this application. In comes Audi’s direct fuel injection and a bore-out to 5.2 litres and down goes the power in search of greater flexibility.

Instead of the Lamborghini’s 520bhp, you get 444bhp, which is not much more than the RS4’s V8. There is 398lb ft of torque, however - more useful than the Lambo’s 376lb ft at a higher 4250rpm.

That may be a lot of power, but it doesn’t sound like so much now that we’ve all been spoilt by the staggering performance of AMG’s super-saloons. And so it feels on the road. The S8 is fast, but not quite as fast as you might expect.

Hold the throttle on the stop, however, and it accelerates with conviction rather than abject fury. The quoted 0-62mph time of 5.1sec is hardly tardy, so it’s probably more a question of expectation versus reality rather than any actual underperforming. Just don’t expect real fireworks.

To set the S8 for its new role, Audi has taken the Sport suspension option from the standard A8 range and tweaked it further, with extra-firm damping and a 20mm drop in ride height. Gorgeous 20in alloy wheels now fill the arches with lean 35-profile tyres wrapped around them. As you might expect, the ride quality suffers when compared to a sensibly shod A8, but it’s not a major problem and only the larger ridges in the road shake their way through to the cabin, causing it to tremble in an un-limo-like way.

That’s the point when you start to question the thinking behind the S8, though. Despite some tweaks to the steering, the Audi is still a remote device to pilot and you’re always aware of its size and weight when pressing on. It resists roll well and the fine traction will make it a formidable machine in all weathers, but it’s no driver’s car.Should I buy one?

It’s easy to conclude that this is a car that falls between the twin pillars of limo luxury and sports saloon an expensive toy shown up by the real stars of the range: the 3.0-litre and 4.2-litre turbodiesels. But viewed on a more subjective level, it’s hard not to like the S8. It’s fast enough, handles securely and tidily enough,and has all the visual appeal (and more) of the regular A8.

You’ll enjoy the time you spend travelling in the S8, and it’s good to know that you¹re ensconced in one of the few really cool luxury cars and one that’s a little unconventional.

At £70,825, it¹s also a fair bit cheaper than the exceptionally powerful Mercedes opposition. The S8 is not an easy purchase to justify, but at least it’s an understandable one. 

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