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2015 Audi S8 review: Due for an update, the 2015 Audi S8 still shows handling chops

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Newer Audi models get a 4G connection, though, which means faster loading for Google Earth imagery.

As for audio sources, you can listen to HD Radio or satellite radio, music from the S8's own hard drive, an iPhone over Bluetooth streaming, or an iPhone plugged directly into the car's proprietary audio port using an adapter cable. Unfortunately, I found that plugging in my Bluetooth-connected phone resulted in a warning message that I should shut off the Bluetooth audio capability. That's annoying, as I don't want to dig through settings on the car's screen every time I plug in my phone.

I prefered the cabled connection because I could access my phone's music library using the S8's onscreen controls, and the fidelity was better than over Bluetooth. That source quality was especially important here, as our test car had the Bang & Olufsen audio option, with 19 speakers and 1,400 watts. This is a strong audiophile system, delivering extremely fine resolution for music along with deep bass and detailed treble. At $6,300 it is a very expensive option, but that price would only get you a single component of a home audiophile system.

2015 Audi S8
Audi's proprietary audio port includes an iOS device adapter cable, but a simple USB port would be better. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

As if the audio system and the sport performance weren't enough to make me want to spend all day in the S8, it also comes standard with massage seats. The controls, down on the sides of the front seats, took a little figuring out, but soon I was enjoying a minor pummeling up and down my back, soothing stressed muscles. Every time I found myself yelling at other drivers, I turned on the massage and changed my perspective.

Up and down

Massage seats highlight the S8's luxury origins, as does its size. Turning the Drive Select feature to Comfort, I was able to enjoy more relaxed driving as throttle and steering become looser, a little less responsive. That's fine for freeway cruising, but here I found the S8 lacking. While easy to drive, the looser setting of the air suspension causes porpoising, letting the car's body rise up and down on undulating sections of road and getting me a little seasick. I also noticed excessive tire noise on some surfaces.

2015 Audi S8
The S8's air suspension feels better tuned for fast cornering than highway cruising. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Easing the long freeway miles is the S8's adaptive cruise control, using a radar to monitor traffic ahead and automatically braking in response to slower cars. The system works well, but not so the lane departure prevention feature. This system "nudges," in Audi's terminology, the steering to keep the car within its lane lines. Unlike the smoothly operating lane departure prevention system in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class , Audi's acts inconsistently and too abruptly.

A surround-view camera system makes for quick and easy parking in the S8, keeping me from curbing the 21-inch Titanium-finish wheels, but why no automated parallel parking? Audi makes a big deal of its autonomous car research, but this relatively simple feature isn't available in the S8.

The sport option

The 2015 Audi S8 adds an impressive sport option on top of the A8 flagship, capitalizing on performance technologies for which Audi is well known. In fact, I would argue that the S8 is more representative of Audi than the A8. It is truly phenomenal how well the suspension and Quattro help the car in the turns. The 4-liter V-8 offers plenty of power while remaining relatively efficient, turning in average fuel economy around 20 mpg.

Audi's connected cabin electronics are a big draw for me, such that I tend to miss them when driving most other cars. Google Earth imagery in the navigation system may not be all that necessary, but it is some nice icing on the cake. The well-integrated online destination search is a feature every other automaker should emulate.

The driver assistance features feel a little behind competitors, however, which seems strange given Audi's leadership on self-driving research.

My biggest caveat about the 2015 S8 is that this model will likely receive a major generational update soon, from which I expect many improvements. On cabin tech alone, Audi has shown off its Virtual Cockpit in other models, and even given its A6 a midcycle update that included a 4G data connection and USB ports for audio devices.

Still, it's hard to argue with the S8's nimble handling and powerful engine.

2015 Audi S8
The Audi S8 shows impressive performance and cabin tech, but a new generation is on the horizon. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Tech specs

Model 2015 Audi S8
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 4-liter V-8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.9 mpg
Navigation Standard with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, HD Radio, satellite radio
Audio system Bang & Olufsen 1,400-watt 19-speaker system
Driver assistance Night vision, surround-view camera, adaptive cruise control, lane depature warning, blind-spot monitor
Base price $115,825
Price as tested $132,225

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