Audi S8 (2012) review

Published: 12 October 2011

The new 2012 Audi S8
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Ben Pulman

Contributor, former road test ed of this parish, tallboy

By Ben Pulman

Contributor, former road test ed of this parish, tallboy

This is the new Audi S8, a £80k and 513bhp über-limo Ingolstadt believes will take on Jaguar’s XJ Supersport and Mercedes’ S63 AMG.

The new S8 is purposely positioned away from the other circa-500bhp Audi limo, the A8 W12. That other £94.5k Audi limo is powered by a naturally aspirated 6.3-litre W12 engine, produces 493bhp and 460lb ft, and comes just in stretched and comfort-orientated LWB specification. The S8 will only ever be sold in the 'standard' (though a 2994mm wheelbase can never be called short) wheelbase configuration, and it’s got a 513bhp twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8.

This new 2012 Audi S8 is our first taste of Audi's new V8 engine, which also powers the S6 and S7 (in a detuned guise). It’s also set for the next RS6, potentially an RS7, and it’ll definitely be slotted into Bentley’ second-generation Continental GT. Read on for our first drive review of the new Audi S8.

I hear the new 2012 Audi S8 has a pretty clever V8 engine…

It’s a new direct-injection 3993cc V8, with the two twin-scroll turbochargers, and an intercooler, and the exhaust outlets all located within the 90deg vee. Peak power is 513bhp – up from the 444bhp produced by the old S8’s naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 – while fuel consumption has improved from 21.4mpg to 27.7mpg on the combined cycle. And just as impressive is the torque figure: 479lb ft (old S8: 398lb ft) cranked out all the way from 1700 to 5500rpm.

A start/stop system helps cut fuel consumption but the new 4.0-litre V8’s party piece is its cylinder deactivation technology. In the S8 Audi claims the system saves 24g/km on the combined cycle, cuts fuel consumption by 12% at 50mph, 9% at 75mph, and 6% at 87mph. Cylinders two, three, five and eight are deactivated at speeds above 15mph or when you’re in at least third gear and the engine’s revs are between 930 and 3500rpm.

Haven’t other manufacturers launched cylinder deactivation technology before?

They have, but not paired to Audi’s active engine mounts and active noise control systems. The former comprises two engine mounts (and three gearbox mounts) which work with an acceleration sensor and the rpm signal from the engine to cancel out vibrations when the 4.0 V8 is running in V4 mode – they’re also active when the engine is idling in eight-cylinder guise.

The result is you cannot tell when the engine switches from eight- to four-cylinder mode and back again. Okay, you can tell if you’re checking the display on the dash and concentrating really, really hard (there’s the tiniest increase in noise and the slightest vibration through the accelerator pedal) but it’s so negligible it’s all but indistinguishable. On most downhill stretches, if you’ve got a steady right foot or the cruise control on, the S8 will run on four cylinders and you won’t ever know it. Well done, Audi.

Clever. What about the new 2012 S8's noise control tech?

There are four microphones in the car, which together with the rpm signal from the engine, work out and generate noise on the same amplitude but on the opposite phase to cancel out the less refined sounds of the engine in V4 mode. It's like those clever noise-cancelling headphones poncey execs wear on Boeings.

Regardless of whether you’ve got the stereo on, the four speakers in the door and the subwoofer in the rear parcel shelf generate an imperceptible cancellation sound that renders the S8 a quiet and comfortable cruiser. Bar the fact a 3.0 TDI will have a much longer range, the S8’s an excellent consumer of miles, with comfy seats, a decent ride (on the EU-funded Spanish motorways we were on) and very little wind or tyre roar.

All well and good, but this is one of Audi’s S models. What’s the new Audi S8 like to drive?

For some unknown reason (perhaps someone at Audi HQ in Germany got a bumper deal on brake pads and front tyres) the S8 was launched at a race track. Which only served to prove that a 1975kg limo can average 7mpg when thrashed around an empty circuit, that it can make its pads grumble even when the discs are the optional £7300 carbon-ceramics, and that unless you play the waiting game through each tight corner, you’ll soon be washing wide with over-heated front tyres and lots of understeer.

Thankfully we were allowed out onto the local roads too, where the S8 didn’t disgrace itself. There’s no perceptible lag from the engine, just deep-chested linear thrust accompanied but a hushed but cultured V8 rumble. With a nice little boom from the exhausts to accompany each upshift.

Brake from high speeds on a track, turn into a corner, plant the throttle and it’ll still be in fourth gear even if you’re in Sport mode, but on the road the shifts were seamless at low speeds and crisp at the redline. Interestingly, even with the Drive Select System set to Dynamic and the gearbox in manual mode it’ll upshift at the redline – and still switch to four–cylinder mode if conditions allow.

Our departed long-term Jag XJ SS spiked out of every junction thanks to its sensitive throttle, and Merc S63 owners will be as familiar with the flickering ESP light as they are with petrol pumps, but with four-wheel drive the S8 means the driver rarely has to think about throttle applications. For the next six wintery months in the UK one of these would be a pretty supreme means of easy transportation.

What else about the S8?

It’s best to delve into the Drive Select menu to set your own preferences for the Individual mode; if the S8 is in Dynamic I find the steering too artificially heavy, and if you leave it in Auto it suddenly weights up mid-corner. Best to put it in the lighter Comfort setting and adjust engine, exhaust, gearbox, suspension and everything else to suit your taste and your local type of roads. 

There’s Audi’s Sport differential to aid direction changes and reduce understeer, but while the S8 is composed and stable through long sweeping bends, tight corners will see understeer set in early.

The ride on the standard 20in wheels was more than acceptable on our test routes, but at low speeds the optional 21s add a noticeable amount of jiggling, and as ever, we’ll only really know how well the S8 rides when we’ve tested it in the UK.

We can’t deliver a verdict on the standard steel stoppers either as all the launch cars sported the optional ceramics brakes, and as the latter were lacking a little in feel we’d recommend saving your money unless you drive like a mentalist.

Verdict

Bar the R8 and old RS4 there’s always a ‘but’ when talking about fast Audis – and it’s usually to do with their lack of fun factor. It still rings somewhat true with the S8 – I’m not going to make any silly comments about the lack of sideways antics, but cars like the XJ and S63 do engage the driver more, the Jag with its quick steering and ability to flow so lithely down any good road, the mad Merc with its bad boy attitude. Just a brisk drive in the Jag will have you smiling.

 

Specs

Price when new: £80,000
On sale in the UK: Summer 2012
Engine: 3993cc 32v twin-turbo V8, 513bhp @ 6000rpm, 479lb ft @ 1700-5500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Performance: 4.2secs 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 27.7mpg, 237g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1975kg/aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 5136/1949/1458

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • The new range-topping Audi S8
  • What all the fuss is about: the new V8 with cylinder deactivation in the Audi S8
  • Cockpit of the new Audi S8 (2012)
  • That's more like it: back seats of the new Audi S8
  • Start-stop on the new Audi S8
  • Wheels, brakes of new Audi S8
  • Fast, but blunt: the new Audi S8
  • Is it an A4? An A6? Or the new 2012 Audi S8?

By Ben Pulman

Contributor, former road test ed of this parish, tallboy

  • The new 2012 Audi S8
  • The new range-topping Audi S8
  • What all the fuss is about: the new V8 with cylinder deactivation in the Audi S8
  • Cockpit of the new Audi S8 (2012)
  • That's more like it: back seats of the new Audi S8
  • Start-stop on the new Audi S8
  • Wheels, brakes of new Audi S8
  • Fast, but blunt: the new Audi S8
  • Is it an A4? An A6? Or the new 2012 Audi S8?