It was a pleasant surprise to check my email and find an invite to drive Audi’s latest iteration of their flagship S8 sedan in my inbox. I’d long respected Audi for its engineering prowess – the Audi Quattro S1 Group-B rally car and all-conquering modern LMP1 LeMans racers come to mind – but as a BMW driver with a distinct distain for front-heavy, understeering cars, I flew to Dusseldorf for the S8 launch with guarded excitement.
Audi has, after all, had a longstanding marriage with understeer. Just how does Audi’s flagship compare to the best from BMW and Alpina? A long, unrestricted stretch of Autobahn linked up with a treacherously curvy B-road served as judge and jury. I took notes.
Audi’s excellent interior build quality is striking and beautiful – horsepower and top-speed concerns fall into the shadows of the S8’s leather, carbon-fibre and metal-covered dash while running your hands across the curvaceous cabin. The seats are firm and supportive, holding you in sport-ready luxury. Okay – they’re not Recaros, but this is no Ferrari. It’s an Audi S8 – interestingly enough, the first car ever built upon an all-aluminum space frame, right in front of the world’s second aluminum-framed car, the Ferrari 360 Modena.
Quattro-Daily readers are not Sunday drivers – most of us, at least – so I’ll spare you the interior and rear boot storage volume measurements and cut to the chase: the Autobahn on-ramp is where the story picks up.
Blessed with an open stretch of unrestricted asphalt, I laid waste to traffic arriving at my six and unleashed every last German purebred horsepower onboard. There are 520 in total, pulling at all four wheels in unison – as Audi has long intended. A tire-ripping 481 lb-ft of torque stands ready to pull the sedan toward the horizon with unrelenting fervor; it’s an experience you truly must experience first-person to fully appreciate. And yes… it’s worth the cost of admission.
I saw 265 km/h on the HUD speedometer before jumping on the large and powerful performance brakes fixed at every wheel. The S8 had more in it, but I was quickly coming up on less ballistic traffic, not far out from a speed-restricted zone. Pushing 165 mph should feel uber-quick in any car – but Audi’s engineers have honed the S8 such that three times the North American speed limit feels calm, stable and collected. There’s no drama at these speeds, just quiet velocity beset by the throaty roar of a forced-induction 4.0 litre German V8.
Impressive as the S8’s high-speed cruising proved to be, it was the sedan’s performance in the twisty bits that impressed me the most.
Hunting apexes in Audi’s S8 proved a worthy pastime, and there were plenty of apexes to be had on the sprawling backroads of Dusseldorf’s rural countryside. Audi’s elimination of weight by way of Aluminum construction technology gives the S8 a dual personality. On one hand the machine proves itself a stately executive sedan; on the other hand, it proves itself a plus-size sports car.
Throwing the nose into corners is best accomplished with trail-braking, firmly planting the front tires into the road surface with ample grip for turn-in. The chassis follows nicely, always stable and predictable, maintaining a hint of understeer throughout. Only when pressing on near 10/10ths pace will the S8 reveal some oversteer, requiring quick flicks of opposite lock steering. The rear-bias torque distribution helps the S8 assume a more rear-drive dynamic character, but it’s ultimately an easy to use supercar for four. It will make any driver appear talented as it seamlessly puts all 520 horses to the ground sans-drama. Exiting corners in haste is typically a point and shoot exercise – no fancy car control skills or Piloti shoes required.
How the S8 stacks up against its most aggressive German competition is easy to discern after having vetted all parties. Where the Alpina B7 hangs its tail out for a lurid, smoky slide, the S8 finds grip and powers through the corner. True, you can find grip in the Alpina, but you’ve got to manage it; it requires finesse behind the wheel to drive the Alpina quickly whereas the S8 just sticks – no dancing with the petals required. Where the 760iL requires a timid right foot, the S8 beckons full power, and neatly lays it on the road surface.
The S8 is a refined sports sedan, one that doesn’t wish to make a big display of its performance. Nor does the S8 wish to challenge its driver, demanding car control skills from behind the wheel. It just welcomes more power and translates it to hunkered-down speed, reliably, and without a fuss.
The feeling you get from behind the wheel bears the rigid frame beneath, there is a certain solidity to the S8 that even the BMWs don’t quite match. The engine torque tugging on the front wheels distorts slightly what would otherwise be a vivid tactile picture of the contact patch; when it comes to steering feel the 7-series has a slight advantage.
Which car you ought to have in your driveway really depends on your driving style, local climate and highways. If you live on an alpine mountain pass with steep inclines to your front door – the S8 wins hands down. But if you’re idea of a rewarding commute to work involves drifting through second-gear corners, the BMW is your weapon.
Of course, an aggressive left-right flick into the right corner can get the S8 to rotate nicely, evoking memories of the Audi Quattro rally car dominating the segment. In this top-shelf segment of German super-sedans, you really can’t lose.
For a full review – including every-day drivability of the S8, hit the jump to read my full review published at Autonet.ca.
[Photo credit: Shawn Molnar | Sun Media | Autonet.ca]