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Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity

Published:13 November 2019

Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

► S8 limo has 563bhp twin-turbo V8
► Plus super-clever suspension system
► Available January 2020

Meet Audi’s flagship car: the S8 saloon. It’s the most potent, most lavish and arguably most technologically advanced car Ingolstadt makes. It takes on fellow captains of industry like the Mercedes-AMG S63 and V12-powered BMW M760Li.

The new Audi S8 is as toppy as the brand’s A8 limousine will ever get, but don’t think this is just a slightly pokier version of a CEO’s lift to work every day – there’s a little more to it than that.

How “technologically advanced” are we talking?

Well, there’s a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol underneath the bonnet (unlike the rest of the S car range which has made the switch to derv power), which comes with cylinder shutdown and 48-volt mild hybrid assistance. There’s 563bhp and 590lb ft on tap, which Audi says makes it 50bhp and 110lb ft more powerful than the S8 it replaces.

‘Dynamic all-wheel steering’ is standard on UK-spec S8 models, which shrinks the turning circle of this limo by a metre. As with most other systems, the rear wheels turn the opposite way to the fronts at low speeds and with the fronts at cruising speeds.

Audi S8 front quarter

Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive is standard, too, and mated to the brand’s Sport Differential – something that has, thankfully, injected at least a little bit of fun into S and RS cars of late. Up to 70 per cent of the power can be sent to the fronts or 85 per cent to the rear, with that higher number at the rear being accessed by having the S8 in Dynamic mode.

Inside, it’s pretty much as you’d expect from a big Audi: a twin-screen, haptic feedback-enabled infotainment system, slick Virtual Cockpit instruments and interior quality that’s up there with the best.

So far, so Audi. The trick up the S8’s sleeve is ‘Predictive Active Suspension’.

What on earth is ‘Predictive Active Suspension?’

It’s the S8’s standard air suspension system that works in tandem with cameras embedded in the windscreen. You can control its behaviour via the S8’s Drive Select modes, and it’s capable of some quite supernatural things.

When you open the door, whether you’re getting in or out, the suspension raises the body in the blink of an eye by 50mm for getting in and out easier. Think of it as the opposite to the Ford GT’s instant ‘track’ mode that drops the car to the floor.

In ‘Comfort+’ (which replaces ‘Comfort’ in the Drive Select modes), it’s all about keeping the car level. When you accelerate or brake, the suspension system will counteract the weight shift i.e.: the front springs will firm up to stop the nose dipping under braking.

Audi S8 Comfort+

At motorway speeds, Comfort+ will actually make the S8 tilt into corners by up to three degrees, like one of those Pendolino trains on the West Coast Main Line. The idea is to minimise lateral forces on passengers.

When you’re about town, the cameras in the windscreen scan the road ahead (20 metres is the optimum scan distance) and it can either prepare each wheel for a particularly nasty lump or even raise the ride height to tip-toe over big speed bumps, minimising the jolts usually experienced by occupants.

In Dynamic, it’s all about minimising body roll during hard corners with the aim to keep the car flat. Audi claims that roll is reduced from five degrees with regular suspension to 2.5 degrees in the case of the S8.

Let’s say you are being driven to an important business meeting….

There are few cars that can cruise as well as the S8 can; the ride isn’t soft to the point of wallowing, as the point of the predictive suspension is to keep everything smooth and level rather than yacht-like, but the way the S8 eats miles is remarkable. Even the lumpier and less looked-after roads in towns at our Northern Spain test location didn’t really throw up much of an issue for the S8, despite the 21-inch wheels on the demo cars.

Audi S8 rear seats

What really made the difference, though, is just how quiet the S8 is on the motorway; leave it in Comfort+ and both wind noise and tyre noise are almost non-existent. It’s incredibly relaxing. The MHEV system is imperceptible – start/stop is fast acting, and coasting can turn engine completely off at motorway speeds, too.

Could this be a better cruiser than a Mercedes-AMG S63? Quite possibly, but we’d have to test both back-to-back on UK roads.

What about the suspension tech?

Calling it unnatural might seem harsh, but when the human body is naturally predisposed to G-forces when driving, your brain initially has a hard time computing the lack of movement. Especially when you’re in a hefty executive car.

But it works.

The mere courtesy of the car raising itself to greet you and allow you to exit naturally helps hugely. The tilting, meanwhile, felt abrupt the first couple of times it happened but gradually became second nature.

Audi S8 rear cornerinh

When it comes to driving over big, road-wide speed bumps and those harsh yellow-and-black speed restrictors there was a bit of a caveat: if you’re close behind the car in front, the car is less likely to see the speed bump in time for the system to react.

When it does, though, it dramatically reduces the intrusion of the bump. It must be funny to see the system working from outside, given the car’s cartoon-like tippy-toe behaviour and the little squeak from the air springs.

Pretend you’re in a Ronin remake…

Prod Dynamic mode and the car’s attitude changes. The suspension system in hard cornering really does do its best to crush body roll, which can actually make your head hurt a bit as the car beats the laws of physics to a pulp. Rear-wheel steering helps with the S8’s girth on twisty roads, too, and Audi’s Sport Differential also means the S8 is capable of the odd twerk of opposite lock if you get particularly silly. The way it initiates a slide, even if it’s gentle, is easy to control and more than a little funny.

The petrol V8, while not the full 592bhp seen in the new RS6 and RS7, is still stupendously powerful. It’s addictively quick, with serious thrust that presents itself in a lazy, torquey kind of way. There’s little reward for winding it up all the way to the redline but you revel in the mid-range whump.

Audi S8 front cornering

Regardless of how much you wind on the engine, though, that power is backed up by a properly old-school (and thoroughly welcome) noise from that V8. It’s meaty with a raspy edge at the top end and not digitally enhanced like lesser S cars. The noise also comes out of real exhausts – hurrah!

Audi’s ceramic brakes are optional on the S8, with our test cars having them installed. The brake pedal is progressive – far less binary than some setups. They don’t feel incredibly potent, though; we suspect that’s down to the S8’s heft.

There has to be a downside… 

Well, no matter which way you look at it, the S8 is massive and built for a particular audience. In fact, it’s pretty much entirely reserved for The One Per Cent; predicted UK pricing is hovering around the £100k mark and a petrol V8, even with cylinder deactivation, is far from economical if you want to use some of the S8’s punch.

None of this is shocking news when we’re talking about a high-performance limo, though. And, if that predicted price comes true, that'll make the S8 around £25k or £40k cheaper than its Mercedes and BMW rivals respectively.

Audi S8: verdict

There’s no getting away from the S8’s super-serious outlook on life but it’s supremely well-built, sports car fast, sounds fantastic and handles like a much smaller car due to a suspension system that crushes the laws of physics.

A Mercedes-AMG S63 does glamour better and a BMW M760Li comes with the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ argument so sought after in the luxury car class, but the S8 arguably balances refinement, handling prowess and outright pace better than either.

Check out our Audi reviews

Specs

Price when new: £100,000
On sale in the UK: Now, deliveries January 2020
Engine: 3993cc twin-turbo V8, 563bhp, 590lb ft
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 3.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), TBCmpg, 285g/km
Weight / material: TBC kg/aluminium and steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 5179/1945/1474mm

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  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity
  • Audi S8 (2019) review: defying gravity

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

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