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

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The Audi S8 is, curiously, sometimes our favourite Audi A8. I blame Ronin. The S8 is - or rather, in its earliest generations, was - a sports saloon in a package (a big old luxury one) that shouldn’t really have spawned a sports saloon in the first place.

That it has always had an aluminium body means that, when it’s good, the S8 has an agility that belies its size.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re tempted and can afford the bills that come with a car whose list price of £77,900 can easily be lifted to the £107,075, then why the hell not?

This generation of S8, landed in the UK at the same time as the Audi S6 and Audi S7, with which it shares the same base engine: a twin-turbocharged, 4.0-litre V8. Only, in the full-size S8 it gets rather more power than in its lesser siblings. Quite a lot, actually. It makes 513bhp and, just as significantly, 479lb ft all the way from 1700 to 5500rpm. Amusingly, a new generation S8 made its appearance in 2015, before the S6 and S7 were given their meagre facelifts.

Audi A8s aren’t as light as they used to be because, well, most cars just aren’t. But even at 2050kg, the S8 is powerful enough to reach 62mph in 4.2sec. And, as well as being 5136mm long, the S8 does have the excuse of being four wheel drive, with a self-locking centre differential, limited-slip rear differential with torque vectoring to account for its girth. Plus the fact that it’s fitted with an interior that’s as lavish as they come for the money.

Its steering is sticky, its air-springs and damping are multi-adjustable by the driver (as are the engine/gearbox, steering and differential responses, all independently), but it’s hard to find a compromise that suits all occasions. There are better big driver’s cars out there, and more comfortable fast saloons.

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But the S8 retains rather a lot of charm. I think it’s the lunacy of contrasting the size with the raciness. You could mock a two-tonne car with this much carbon fibre on its interior, but I struggle to do so here. The diddy, racy, red-rimmed start button is sweet. The steering wheel is a lovely size. You can even specify carbon-ceramic brakes, for heaven’s sake.

And, on top of that, it is good – very good – at a few things. Wind the S8 up on a motorway and the stickiness in its steering translates to unflappable stability. Wind noise is supremely low and, while you might expect road noise from  optional 21in alloys, the S8 gets noise cancellation. On part engine loads, four of the cylinders shut down and the noise cancellation begins to push anti-noise through to the cabin. So if you’re not hearing the engine (which you don’t unless you’re on a flat throttle), you’re not hearing a lot, except a low, distant, muted thrum. And, probably, the outstanding stereo.

The cylinder shut-down, meanwhile, means the S8 is less profligate than you might think, at 27.7mpg on the combined cycle and 235g/km. I saw about 25mpg, which given the S8 has a 90-litre tank, gives a range of about 500 miles.

Well, I suppose it’s probably not for everyone, but if you’re tempted and can afford the bills that come with a car whose list price of £77,900 can easily be lifted to the £107,075 of our test car, then, sure, why the hell not? 

And if you commute from, oh, I dunno, Hannover to Berlin on smooth autobahn a few times a week and yearn to travel in the most unflappable high-speed style with Wagner belting out at full chat through the Bang & Olufsen hi-fi, then there’s little better.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Audi S8 2012-2015 First drives