As I listen for the ticking hum of the 2015 Audi S8's engine, I imagine a struggle at the Ingolstadt factory where the car was born, the team responsible for delivering a sedate, quiet ride toe-to-toe and screwdriver-to-pneumatic-drill with the engineers who developed the engine and tuned the car for performance. One side demands that this big sedan shows off Audi's best luxury efforts, while the tuners point out the "S" in the model designation, indicating that this is the sport version of.
Compromise must have won the day, however, as that exhaust note is there, but merely turning up the stereo drowns it out. The engine makes a beautifully refined sound, warming the cockles of my gearhead heart, but it only becomes apparent when the tach needle is on the upswing.
Audi's engineers showed off the S8's prowess in other ways, using its air suspension, all-wheel drive and torque-vectoring rear differential to give this beautiful beast very nimble handling. Being an Audi, the S8 also shows off plenty of tech expertise, with seriously connected cabin electronics. Surprisingly, considering all of Audi's research into autonomous vehicles, the S8's driver assistance features fall behind those of competitors.
Based on Audi's flagship A8, the S8 is a big sedan, over 16.5 feet long and weighing in at 4,685 pounds. That means a very roomy cabin and plenty of rear-seat room, making it appropriate as a chauffeur-driven car. But with the performance and front-seat niceties, I prefer the driver seat.
Although coming due for a generational update, the 2015 S8 carries a large tech payload putting many newly developed cars to shame.
In the US, an S8 comes at a base price of $115,825 delivered. The example I drove, loaded with a number of packages including Bang & Olufsen audio and driver assist systems, came in at a total of $132,225. The UK and Australian versions boast the same performance output and handling technologies, with a base price of £80,735 across the pond and AU$288,150 down under.
Dynamic equals sport
The whole point of the S8 is sport performance, a leap ahead of the more sedate A8, and Audi offers a raft of customizable settings in its Drive Select system. Audi terms its sport settings Dynamic, and choosing that setting affects throttle, suspension, torque vectoring, steering feel, exhaust note and even adaptive cruise control performance. And conveniently, choosing Dynamic mode puts the eight-speed automatic transmission in its Sport mode, which I can control separately with the shifter.
In Dynamic, the S8 becomes high-tempered, responding instantly to minute pressure changes on the accelerator. Wheel angle responds more quickly to steering input and I found the automatic transmission used my braking and accelerator input to downshift, anticipating my power needs for turns and straights.
Powering around a twisty mountain road, the S8's systems work seamlessly. When I switched to manual gear selection, the 520 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque from the twin-turbo 4-liter V-8 let me keep it in third for all but the tightest hairpins and longer straights. Turbo lag isn't an issue with this high-powered engine as the direct-injection V-8 generates enough torque at low rpms to make the boost transition unnoticeable.
The true test comes in the turns, and here the S8 does not disappoint. Its adaptive air suspension helps this long, heavy sedan remain relatively flat as inertia exerts its pull. The front end turns in easily and true, the front wheels empowered by Quattro all-wheel drive to do their part. The rest of the car would be a problem at speed, but from the seat of my pants I can feel the torque vectoring, putting extra twist to the outside rear wheel, help the S8's back end come around.
Like its Quattro heritage in rally races, the S8's handling shows the quality of Audi technology and engineering.
Similarly, Audi has shown off amazing connected cabin electronics in its cars. The S8 may fall behind more recent models, such as the, but still holds its own compared with the market as a whole. An 8-inch LCD slides out and up from the dashboard when you turn on the car, with onscreen content controlled by an array of buttons, dial and touchpad where console meets dashboard.
Having used this interface in a number of Audi models, I have the button positions stored as muscle memory, so I can get to the phone system or navigation without looking. The main elliptical menu is easy to understand, as well, although icons labeled Audi Connect and Info are a little mysterious.
An icon on the LCD shows a 3G data connection, and that enables Google Earth satellite imagery for navigation overlaid with street names and live traffic information. If you don't like that, or are out of data cell tower range, you can choose to view the S8's stored maps, which look more like those in typical navigation systems. Entering destinations proves easy with voice command, while the touchpad enhances manual input by letting you trace letters and numbers instead of the more tedious process of using a rotary interface. And beyond the usual address and points-of-interest options, the S8 also has online destination search, returning a list of Google-sourced results for any keyword I enter. This level of data connection is slowly finding its way to competitive vehicles.