The Audi S8 has arrived at the same time as the tiny Audi S1 – with these two models bookending a whole range of fast, four-wheel-drive cars.
Despite being the flagship of the range, the S8 shares many mechanical traits with the new hot hatch, with a turbocharged (if much larger) engine powering all four wheels for maximum traction and a luxurious interior stuffed full of the latest technology.
Like the rest of the A8 range it has been gently updated for 2014 – with new LED matrix headlights, some tidying up of the looks and wider choice of trims for the plush cabin. The 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 remains unchanged though.
What is the 2014 Audi S8 like to drive?
Absurdly fast. For a car of this size and weight to go from 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds is frankly extraordinary. One firm push of the throttle is enough to catapult you forward with no uneven boost in power, as all 513bhp is sent via the eight-speed auto gearbox to all four of the standard 20-inch wheels.
This engine has a few other tricks going for it, too. It can deactivate four of its eight cylinders when you’re driving slowly, helping to save fuel around town. That switch between the two driving modes is managed seamlessly, with just a small message on the dash alerting you to the change. Still don’t expect to return more than mid-20s mpg in everyday driving.
Apart from the thunderous straight-line speed though, there is not a great deal to set the driving experience of the S8 apart from the rest of the range. The adaptive air suspension can be adjusted depending which driving mode is chosen from the Drive Select system, and it does make the S8 ride fairly smoothly in Comfort mode.
Select Dynamic and it feels too firm and bouncy for a luxury car, though, and other equally exotic counterparts such as the new Mercedes S-Class AMG prove that it's possible to make fast limos that also keep passengers appropriately relaxed and unflustered.
The S8's automatic transmission is another sticking point. Leave it to its own devices and occasionally there will be a long pause as it gets caught between ratios. Push the accelerator too far and it suddenly kicks down, sending you lurching forward.
Another slight disappointment is the steering. Rivals such as the Jaguar XJR provide a more direct-feeling connection between the driver and the road, but the variable steering in the S8 feels lifeless and overly light, rarely giving you any sense of real feedback.
Refinement is certainly no issue though – the S8 comes with an acoustic noise cancelling system that shuts out any unwanted sounds. That leaves those inside cocooned in hushed near-silence – and you’ll only hear the engine’s muted roar if you start driving it with real intent.
What is the 2014 Audi S8 like inside?
Virtually unchanged from the previous model. There is a wider range of options for the dash materials than before so the standard carbonfibre effect trim can be replaced with various polished woods, metals or as in our test car, piano black.
The S8 has a sportier three-spoke steering wheel, quilted leather seats that offer heating, and 22-way electric adjustment. That makes it simple to find the right driving position – although the bulkhead does intrude into the driver’s foot well.
Interior quality is top notch (as you might expect from a car in this price range) and the S8 comes with all the equipment any high-powered exec could ask for. That list includes a 360º parking camera that gives you a bird’s-eye view, a wifi hotspot, an impressive Google Earth sat-nav and Audi’s MMI multimedia system that allows you to connect an iPod or MP3 player.
The centre console is clustered with an awful lot of buttons and the MMI system and screen are not quite as intuitive or graphically slick as the latest iDrive and COMAND units from BMW and Mercedes.
In fact it only comes up short when it comes to rear space. The S8 comes with a shorter wheelbase than the Jaguar XJR or Mercedes S63 so while tall passengers will have enough room to stretch their legs, their heads will be brushing the roof.
Should I buy one?
We can definitely see why you would. The S8 blends a top-quality cabin with electrifying pace and reassuring grip in every sort of weather.
The ride (and the amount of rear space) is not quite up to the high standards set by the Mercedes S63 but then the S8 costs a whopping £40,000 less than its rival.
Apart from our gripes with the gearbox and steering, the S8 is a very effective, if not necessarily exciting car to drive. However the 4.2-litre V8 diesel A8 is nearly as refined, even cheaper, just as potent in-gear and also a lot more economical.
What Car? says…
Engine size 4.0 V8 twin-turbo
Price from £79,915
Torque 479lb ft
0-62mph 4.1 seconds
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 29.4mpg