The Australian car market is a strange one when it comes to big, full-size luxury sedans. While in many other wealthy countries, these are the sorts of cars one is driven in, nine out of every ten Australian buyers of such cars are the ones actually sat behind the wheel themselves.
That’s why Audi saw fit to relaunch the monstrous S8 super-sedan alongside the regular A8 L first launched here in 2018, and although the S8 is a car that might not make sense to some, in a market like ours, it’s exactly the right version of Audi’s biggest sedan for this market climate.
There’s a lot of reasons it might not make sense to some – it’s around the same cost as a house and land package in a small outer suburb, it’s the length of an ocean liner, and weighs as much as a female African forest elephant, yet it’s being bandied around as a performance car with an S badge on the back.
A fitting halo for the Audi S line of cars, it is, though, as it’s the most powerful S model currently available. Featuring a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 backed up by a 48V mild hybrid system, it puts out supercar levels of power – 420kW at 6000rpm and 800Nm between 2000-4500rpm.
Backed by an eight-speed torque converter auto and the full-fat ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive system with a self-locking centre differential, it’s dispatched from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds – a time that’ll see it humble many a sports car, and leave owners of lesser sports sedans blushing.
And just consider that pace for a second, because this is a 2.3-tonne car at the end of the day. Sure, it’s not as fast as the old S8 Plus – this new model makes less power, but produces more torque more quickly – but it’s damn quick, and especially so for a car of its size and weight.
As it emits a deep, muscular, classically V8 growl, it really does pin you against the back of your seat as it digs into the road to put down all the torque it has on offer, and although it mightn’t be as fast on paper as it was before, in the real world it delivers more than enough in the way of pace.
So it’s fast in a straight line, but I’m sure some may be wondering whether this heffalump can handle a corner or whether it’s merely a straight-line muscle car for businesspeople. Audi’s engineers clearly left none of the S8’s potential on the table, though, as the level of composure it holds itself with is truly staggering for a car of its heft.
Pitch it into a corner and the air suspension always seems to know exactly how to handle it. It neither dives nor rolls too much – it just feels balanced and predictable. Of course, part of why it does know exactly how to handle it is because it’s actually a predictive system that scans the road ahead – equally useful for balance in a sharp left-hander in Dynamic mode or when sending it over a speed bump at the posted speed limit and feeling barely anything in Comfort+.
Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of four-wheel steering systems – they add too much weight, and have no benefit in shorter wheelbase cars like the Renault Megane R.S. 280 – but in something stout and incredibly long like this, the system manages to make its 2998mm wheelbase feel more like that of an A4. As you turn in and it clings to the corner like a cat on curtains, it’s as if the car just shrinks around you. If this car isn’t a sign that Audi and its engineers are on top of their game right now, I don’t know what is.
Don’t think that by sportifying this limousine that it has lost any of its luxury charm, though, as the reality is quite the opposite, in fact. Sure, there’s more exhaust noise than you’d hear in a typical luxury limo – there’s some pumped-in sound as well, which is totally unnecessary given the brawny exhaust note to begin with – but it still feels every bit as plush and proper as the normal A8.
Kitted up with the $13,900 Sensory Package – the only option other than minor cosmetics on top of its hefty $260,000 list price – you get just about everything you could ever ask for. Although heated and ventilated massage seats come as standard up front, this package adds them in the rear as well where the seats also have an additional reclined position. You also get a 23-speaker 1820W Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system (which has absolutely incredible clarity) and an extended leather package as well to help justify that extra spend which, when you consider this car would already be around $300,000 on the road in Australia, is a drop in the ocean at that point and a must-have as a result.
But even then, the S8 already boasted plenty of impressive kit. Up front you get the full dual-screen MMI infotainment system with Google Earth overlay for the navigation system and wireless Apple CarPlay; the excellent Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster; a 360-degree camera system with an augmented reality 3D view of the car, which is like viewing the car in a third-person video game; a head-up display; carbon fibre trim inlays on the door cards, dashboard, and gearshift; and power-operated sunshades for all rear windows to block out lesser beings in the outside world.
With excess being the name of the game here, there are plenty of little touches to make you go ‘oooh’. A pair of speakers rise out of the dashboard as you fire up the stereo, for instance, and the dashboard air vents are hidden behind carbon fibre trim before finally being revealed as you turn up the fan speed. There’s even a removable tablet in the rear which controls the MMI system up front along with rear convenience features like the seating, climate control, and sunshades. Oh, and yet another air suspension trick – as you open the door, it will automatically raise to a height that makes it easier to get in and out.
With that said, I am surprised there’s no fridge in here given the new Land Rover Defender I recently tested featured one, as did the dated but strong-value Nissan Patrol. First-world problems, though, I know.
Throwing it into Comfort+ mode, as touched on before, gives it a suitably plush ride for a luxury limo as well. You’d never know you were rolling on 21-inch rims wrapped in skinny Pirelli P Zeros with the way the suspension absorbs imperfections in the road and allows it to tackle speed bumps with aplomb.
From behind the wheel, it feels substantial even at its waftiest, and with the steering feeling its lightest. Sure, there’s not much feedback through the tiller, but there doesn’t need to be in something like this even when you’re fully sending it – which you will most certainly want to do on a regular basis to exploit that V8’s muscles.
Is it worth roughly $315,000 on the road as tested? I know that sounds like an unthinkable amount to us mere mortals, but it is an important question to pose given it’s up against some stiff competition the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, both of which outsell it around sevenfold in Australia.
On price, the S8 manages to just undercut the V8-powered options from both brands, the 750Li and S560 on list price while offering performance more in-line with that of the V12-powered M760Li and boosted-V8 S63L, with it only a mere 0.2 and 0.3 seconds off their respective 0-100km/h claims despite costing more than $100,000 less. I know it’s hard to talk about value for money when it comes to cars worth this much, but it’s certainly a strong value.
The rather lovely new Lexus LS is a rival worth mentioning as well, with the twin-turbo V6 LS 500 being a very good thing to drive with plenty in the way of performance and similar luxuries (in Sport Luxury specification) for around the $200,000 mark. Lovely though it is, it does lack the panache the European offerings have, and the performance really isn’t on the same level as this given it lacks that V8 charm. I wouldn’t discount it from consideration as that’s the real value buy in this segment, but I don’t doubt the sorts buying this would rather pull up to the country club in an Audi than a Lexus.
Although it’s always been a slow seller compared to its rivals, I can only see this new S8 helping the A8’s case in Australia in particular. A driver’s car market, this thing just makes far more sense than a sensible diesel or dull hybrid in this neck of the woods and at this price point. In one word, this thing is proper. In three? Proper bloody brilliant.
2021 Audi S8 TFSI List Price: $260,000 | As Tested: $273,900
- Performance - 9/109/10
- Ride & Handling - 9/109/10
- Tech & Features - 9/109/10
- Practicality - 8.5/108.5/10
- Value for Money - 8/108/10
Pros: Beefy V8 that delivers supercar power levels, surprisingly adept chassis, includes almost every comfort feature you could ask for, far better value than you get from its other German rivals
Cons: Unquestionably expensive once on-roads are factored in, less powerful than its predecessor, no fridge
In a nutshell: The current A8 hasn’t exactly been a strong seller in Australia up until this point, but I don’t doubt this new S8 will only help it be an even more enticing proposition. With the price tag it has, it’ll never be mainstream, but I think this driver-focused version will find popularity in a V8-loving driver’s car market like Australia.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Audi Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel expenses were covered by the author.
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