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First Drive: Audi S8 car review


IT WOULD be unreasonable for those sitting at the top of the executive tree to get anything approaching sympathy in these current times, but spare a thought for those lucky few who have some difficult decisions to make: how many country homes do you need? Which private school should I send the kids to? And obviously, what car should I buy?

Spending the think end of £80,000 on a new car can never be the work of a moment, especially as having such a large budget doesn't mean a lack of choice: any premium manufacturer that has serious designs on the well-heeled needs a six-figure flagship, and now Audi has a new one to break up the party.

The A8 we're already familiar with, as the third generation super saloon appeared almost two years ago and seduced with the combination of peerless design and build quality, a sumptuous cabin and the kind of comfort that would put some luxury hotels to shame. But the previous generation A8s were crowned by a hot S8 version, and so now Audi has applied the tasty S badge to tempt sharp suits who want a little more go.

Not that this means that the discretion for which the A8 is well known has been abandoned. Spotting an S8 might take more than a second glance, despite the number of changes. Up front there is a new one-piece grille, a reshaped front bumper with a discreet front spoiler. There are 19 and 20-inch wheels unique to the S8, and the bumper also gets a low-key makeover. Quad exhaust pipes, 'S8' and 'V8T' badges are the most obvious clue that this isn't an ordinary A8. Arguably this level of subtlety will be too much for the average punter to spot one, but you can understand why an Audi customer would prefer to remain just under the radar.

In truth what makes a performance car is the hardware rather than the window dressing, and on this front the S8 is well and truly prepared. The old S8 was a fine machine, not least because it had the incredible naturally-aspirated V10 that also appears in the R8 supercar. Quite understandably, the need for better economy and emissions means this wonderful engine has been eschewed in favour of something more efficient.

So the new S8 gets a brand-new engine: a twin-turbocharged V8 that will also appear in hot versions of the A7 Sportback and A6, although the S8 gets the most powerful version. And powerful it most certainly is: 513bhp is yours to play with, alongside a mighty 479lb.ft of torque to back it up. Naturally this is fed to the road through the quattro four-wheel drive system, with the super-slick S tronic gearbox providing the choice of modes.

Waving goodbye to the sonorous V10 might seem like a shame, but it's hard to argue with the numbers. The new V8 gives 15% more power than the old V10 yet emissions and fuel consumption are down by a remarkable 23%. And the performance is even better: it blitzes the 0-62mph sprint in an outrageous 4.2 seconds – a full second quicker than the old car – and although it is limited to 155mph like most, it gets there a whole lot faster. The twin-turbochargers ensure torque right through the rev range and regardless of the current speed, the S8 surges forward in a relentless fashion.

But the S8 is still a luxury saloon, all be it one with spectacular acceleration. Audi has fitted it with an impressive noise cancellation system, so that the cabin is even more hushed than the standard car. At cruising speeds it is remarkably silent, and the easy-going nature of the driving experience makes it easy to see how vast distances could be covered with complete ease. Add to that the cabin, which is superbly spacious, tastefully finished and packed with equipment, and the S8 really does have the complete package.

It also has more tricks up its sleeve. The new turbo V8 has a cylinder deactivation system that automatically shuts down four of the eight cylinders when not required. Cruise along at a steady speed and a little green symbol pops up in the instrument panel to indicate it is running on only four cylinders. And that small change saves a claimed 24g/km.

When driven normally the S8 is barely any less comfortable than the standard saloon, and yet when fully exercised it is extremely capable and entertaining. A total petrolhead might want an R8 instead, but for a blend of speed and comfort as you see fit, the S8 provides the ideal combination.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Audi S8, £80,000 (est) Engine: 4.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 513bhp and 479lb.ft of torque Transmission: Seven-speed automatic driving all four wheels Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds Economy: 27.7mpg combined Emissions: 237g/km CO2

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power5 (high performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy2 (worse than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups1 (very high costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5 value verdict:    stars

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