What is it?
Spare a moment to wrap your mind around the facts of the new Audi S8 Plus. This car is more than 5.1 metres long and weighs a moderate grocery shop short of two tonnes. It probably has more leather and electric motors in it than Air Force One, yet it will strop to 62mph in 3.8sec. That’s (officially) the same as a Porsche 911 R. It’s actually within a blink of the Audi R8. It’s 0.5sec faster than the S8’s nemesis, the Mercedes-AMG S 63. That’s mental. Just mental. A decade or so ago, that would have been about as extraordinary as the moon landings.
The magic happens courtesy of the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that you get in the standard S8, but the ‘Plus’ treatment includes new engine mapping with a limiter stretched upwards by another 200rpm, and new geometry for the turbochargers’ innards, among other tweaks. This boosts power and torque to a shocking 597bhp and up to 553lb ft (the latter while on overboost).
What's it like?
Fast luxury limos like this always warp your perspective of speed - an inevitable side effect of being so faultlessly hushed and isolating by nature, yet simultaneously banzai-rapid. The national speed limit suddenly feels like walking pace. With the Audi being the most ludicrous of this breed in terms of performance, that characteristic is only enhanced. Put bluntly, on UK roads the S8 Plus is a licence-loser of the first order, so you spend a lot of time keeping an eye on the speedo.
Regardless of the actual relevance, or even advisability of cars like this, the big Audi is a truly fine example of the breed. That engine is an absolute peach. Yes, it’s monstrously powerful, but more to the point it’s virtually silent when you want it to be and then emits a subtle yet cheekily raucous V8 bellow if you really go for it. The eight-speed automatic gearbox delivers silky changes, and this - mated to the predictable power delivery, smooth step-off and easily modulated brakes – makes the S8 an appropriately easy thing to drive with exacting, lurch-free precision around town.
Ride comfort is also very impressive, even on UK roads. A8s and S8s of old have always been criticised for falling short of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class’s cushioned yet controlled ride and handling balance, but it does seem to have improved with time. Even on the 21in standard alloys of the S8 Plus, the standard air suspension does a good job of ironing out the road’s imperfections. Yes, you’ll still be aware of a thump and dip over bigger potholes, and it isn’t quite as remarkably well judged as the Merc, but it would take a scruffier road than we could find to make the suspension feel jarring.
What’s less ideal is the steering. The S8 Plus comes as standard with a variable-ratio ‘Dynamic’ rack, which is a shame as a normal rack would be preferable. This one feels simultaneously light and inconsistent in its responses, whether you’re in town or on a B-road, lacking initial bite as you turn in and then seeming to suddenly wake up and deliver a heavier weight and sharper response than you probably expected. It’s all quite unnatural, which is a shame in a car that is otherwise quite intuitive and well judged. The only time the steering feels well sorted is on the motorway, where the S8 Plus is, as you’d expect, an impeccable long-distance cruiser.