An RS8 in all but name: Audi S8 Plus, first drive, CAR+ January 2016

Published: 14 December 2015

► We drive the all-new Audi S8 Plus
► Monstrous performance from twin-turbo V8
► Casting department for the next Ronin film, take note

We do love a fast saloon. We love a fast estate even more, but since, in Audi’s case, that particular avenue of pleasure tails off with the number 6 on the rump, we’ll have to settle for this; an RS8 in everything but name, because the company wanted to ‘keep the luxury and top it up with the sportiness of RS genes.’

With 18 months to run until we see an A8 replacement, you might expect said ‘top up’ to constitute little more than extra toys and modest tinkering. Not so; the wick of the 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 has been turned up to the tune of some 84bhp, the unit now delivering 597bhp. Torque also rises to 516lb ft, lunging to 553lb ft in overboost mode.

All of which equates to the reduction in 0-62 acceleration time to just 3.8 seconds. As payback for all that extra energy, a 0.3 second gain over the standard S8 seems less than excessive. But this is a two-tonne machine, and owners may draw consolation from that fact that they’re piloting the fastest-acceleration luxury saloon out there.

As with the standard S8, all that power is honked at all four wheels via an eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox boasting changes as seamlessly unintrusive as a stream of bubbles. This sports variant of Audi’s adaptive air suspension boasts Plus-specific tuning, as does the Dynamic variable-ratio steering which, sadly, will be standard fit on cars destined for the UK.

Smashing cabin, but we’re cross about the Dynamic steering which, infuriatingly, we’re stuck with

It would seem worth investing in the optional Dynamic pack, which boasts 19in carbon-ceramic brake discs lurking behind standard 21in alloys on which the mask appears to have slipped in the spray booth, and a shift in limiter from the 155mph mark to 189mph.

Modest aero work and matt paint give the Plus a quietly stealthy road presence; entirely appropriate. Happily, the cockpit has not benefitted from the unfortunate, BMW-envy interior styling – complete with freshly counter-intuitive MMI operation – visited upon the likes of the new A4. Which means it’s a fabulous place to spend time, allegedly made all the more sublime by a Bose cabin noise-cancelling system which cannot be deactivated in the interests of demonstrating how well it is working…

Unfortunately, the time I spent involved either spanking the autobahn pink or idling in traffic. So, whereas I can report that – to a glorious, basso profondo soundtrack and still pulling like a bastard at over 130mph – the Plus will simply obliterate straight lines, there’s little I can tell you of any increase in cornering proficiency over the already wieldy, traction-engorged S8.

What I can tell you is that the relentless ratio juggling of Dynamic steering does the car no favours whatsoever, even with the artificial addition of weight, courtesy of engaging Dynamic mode. Harsh, perhaps, to strip a car of a star purely because it’s fitted with a non-delete option in UK market guise. But Audi really shouldn’t ask an extra £16,315 for the massive grin the Plus elicits, and then deny the buyer the right to fit the better steering system.

The specs: Audi S8 Plus

Price: £97,700
Engine: 3993cc 32v twin-turbo V8, 597bhp @ 6100-6800rpm, 553lb ft @ 2500-5500 rpm (on overboost)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Performance: 3.8sec 0-62mph, 189mph (derestricted), 28.2mpg, 231g/km CO2
Weight: 2065kg
On Sale: Now

Love – Pretty much the whole boiling, except… 
Hate – …the Dynamic steering system 
Verdict – Monstrous and almost marvellous
Rating – ****

Not far off 600bhp and all the torque you can eat. Outta the way, you proles!

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche