Car reviews - Audi - A8 - S8
Packaging, quality, equipment, steering, rear seat comfort, V10 performance
Room for improvement
Fuel economy – but who cares? overly light steering, price
12 Jan 2007
By LUC BRITTEN
PEOPLE familiar with the daring 1999 Hollywood thriller Ronan will remember that Audi's S8 had a starring minor role.
It single-handedly lifted the appeal of the German brand's performance division by featuring the S8 in a daring cross-country high-speed chase sequence on the southern coast of France. The chase put the S8 up there with that other great car chase scene from Bullitt, when Steve McQueen drove a Ford Mustang through the streets of San Francisco.
But the Ronan S8 was all class, with precision slides and spectacular jumps but none of the visual brutality of the McQueen Mustang. The Audi's V8 even matched the Mustang for sound effects.
Fast forward to today and the latest-generation Audi S8 delivers an awe-inspiring V10, courtesy of Lamborghini. If Audi seeks to repeat the Ronan experience, this is the car to do it in spades.
It's the same engine that's in the smaller S6 but the S8 has an all-alloy space frame body, weighing just 30kg more than the S6, so there is a negligible impact on performance. It will hit 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and has a governed top speed of 250km/h.
The V10 is at the very heart of the S8. Its light weight construction and precision build means it delivers a rorty, almost mechanical, aural note through the quad exhausts. Despite its uber-luxury status, Audi has managed to let some of that evocative exhaust note seep into the cabin.
Audi has tweaked the V10 a little, with a balancing shaft, FSI direct petrol injection. The engine is lighter and has few friction-generating components than an equivalent 12-cylinder.
The V10 delivers 331kW at 7000rpm and 540Nm at 3500rpm, 11kW more power but the same torque as the S6. About 90 per cent of maximum torque in the S8 is available from just 2300rpm, which means low-speed response is a strong point.
Caress the acceleration and the S8 will surge away, not in a neck-snapping way like a sportscar, but in a big, bold and brash kinda' way as expected of a luxury sports sedan.
Both sedans share the same six-speed tiptronic auto and similar torque split of 40/60 front and rear.
The first-ever V10 from Audi is wonderfully harnessed by a chassis combining adaptive air suspension and adaptive damper control with the latest generation quattro permanent four-wheel-drive system, featuring a standard torque split of 40:60 front/rear, which helps to optimise axle load distribution for even greater agility and steering precision.
However, given the air suspension is based on the sports setting offered in the A8 range, the setup is slightly stiffer and lowers the body by 20mm depending on the chosen setting. The car's ride height can be varied between 125mm and 95mm. The speed dependant Servotronic power steering has also been sharpened by 10 per cent through revisions to the steering ratio.
The S8 has four suspension modes – automatic, comfort, dynamic and lift – which can be accessed through the car’s easy-to-use multi-media interface.
Visually, there are the usual "S" cues that differentiate the S8 from more mundane A8 with the polished alloy-look wing mirrors, discreet front and rear spoilers, quad exhausts, 20-inch alloys and massive brakes, including the option of ceramic front and rear stoppers for a cool $20,000. Apart from their higher performance, ceramic brakes last for up to 300,000km and weigh 50 per cent less than steel equivalents.
Audi adopts modest visual tweaks for the S8 with the door sills adorned with "S8" badging, interior inlays of brushed aluminium and carbon fibre.
The multi-function sports steering wheel has paddle shifters while there is an electro-mechanical parking brake.
As befits a range-topper, the S8 has lashings of leather, climate control, cruise control, electric front sports seats, double-glazed windows, rear seat heating, auto dipping rear view mirror and folding exterior mirrors, keyless go, hands free car phone, DVD navigation system and Bang and Olufsen surround sound system with 14 speakers including two tweeters that cheekily pop up near the A-pillars, sunroof, parking sensors and active headlights with LED daytime running lights.
The daytime running lights add just the right amount of purpose to the car’s front end.
Apart from the optional ceramic brakes there is also adaptive cruise control ($6400) and a rear seat entertainment package including DVD ($12,000).
Although our all-too-brief drive of the S8 could not match the abilities of the Ronan experience, there is evidence to suggest the S8 could be pushed to the maximum without too much trouble and without raising a sweat, such is the reassuring handling and precision brakes.
The quattro all-wheel drive aids this feeling of security and precision. The steering is particular sharp and offers commendable feedback and the front seats offer just the right amount of support.
All the ingredients are there for another best supporting role. Clearly, the latest S8 is set to become another star in the Audi performance lineup.
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