Mountain Wheels: Utter domination in the obscenely fast Audi S8
August 10, 2013
If you're like me, you've now seen "The Transporter 2" on FX maybe 9 million times, you had a photo of super-hottie/baddie Kate Nauta on your phone and you know that the Audi A8 can jump between buildings, spin circles in the air (or even operate underwater, as we saw in the third sequel).
How glorious it was, then, to be Jason Statham for a few days with the rather remarkable new Audi S8, the massive, disgustingly fast and incredibly ominous special edition of that already imposing A8 executive cruiser.
While Frank the driver had to contend with the W12 engine (two V6s welded together, Bentley-style), the new S8 is powered by a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. That may seem austere on the surface, but the engine — also shared in the new Bentley Continental GT — puts out a face-flapping 520 horsepower and 479 foot-pounds of torque. In a car with a 4,685-pound curb weight. Physics be damned.
The immediate upshot is that the S8 accelerates like a car half its size, spooling up its power and then exploding into three-digit range. It is, simply, rather unbelievable: 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, even with F-150-worthy tonnage. More ridiculously, the standard 21-inch tires and full-time Quattro AWD allow the S8 to stick to corners like a TT with elephantitis.
I didn't believe that would be possible, given my early, pedestrian outings with the admittedly big S8 — you never stop feeling the car's 202-inch-long grandeur, especially when stomping on the 15.7-inch brakes after a high-speed burst — but the truth is that the automobile behaves in a fiendishly athletic manner on winding country roads.
Put it in dynamic mode and it's just as described, though the steering becomes jarringly heavy, especially with all of that mass transformed into race mode (the flat-sided steering wheel is absolutely the most rigid in the business). You can go totally manual with the eight-speed transmission, should you want to, as well.
A longish ride reveals the S8 to be a cruiser's dream, however. You can absolutely imagine this car averaging 150 mph for an hour on the Autobahn, the leathery back seat filled with high-level functionaries enjoying an honest-to-goodness full carbon fiber armrest and control panel between the seats.
S8 is smooth — maybe with four o's — and the relatively subdued report of the V8 is indeed a bit of a disappointment, but the forward thrust is not.
I tantalized some friends a few months back with the standard, long-wheelbase A8, and it's still quite the car, but the S8 takes all of that luxury and technology and cranks it up to 11. And a half.
The aforementioned carbon fiber trim is everywhere, and my test vehicle had an additional $5,500 in hand-stitched leather to further swaddle its occupants. Instrument displays are half electronic, like the A8 — a multi-modal display needs to be set for digital speedometer, in the interest of avoiding incarceration.
And a pop-up, almost iPad-sized information and navigation screen is so cutting edge that you can get live news and entertainment stories from the Web (when parked), or wonder whose judgment suggested that the Aurora theater shooting site would qualify as a tourist attraction. I am not kidding about that. Oh, the Germans.
The 22-way adjustable seats, including a full massage function, did not fatigue or disappoint, and the optional 19-speaker, 1,400-watt $6,300 Bang & Olufsen sound system was, maybe, better than going to Red Rocks.
Best of all, S8's banzai battleship experience can also go totally unnoticed by the general motoring public. My model was in standard, near-invisible Daytona Gray, and other than a few badges, a significantly more imposing nose and those gigantic, propeller-shaped 21-inch wheels, I'm sure most folks thought I was just rocking a somewhat beefy A6. Ha ha.
As a small concession to civility, the V8 will deactivate half of its cylinders under lighter acceleration load, pushing the car to a 26 mpg number on the highway that … well, I never quite got there, but there was a lot of transporting to do.
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