First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2013 Audi S8

S8 is Audi’s bad boy, hot-rod performance limousine

2013 Audi S8 - side view motion
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$130,000 base. $151,090 as tested.
POWERTRAIN
twin-turbo 4.0-litre DOHC V8 with direct injection, 520-horsepower, 481 lb.ft. of torque, eight-spee
Power is a good thing, and more power is even better. Ask any dictator, long haul trucker or driving enthusiast.

When it comes to motor vehicles power is usually defined, in this part of the world, by acceleration times, how long it takes a vehicle to reach 100 km/h from rest or cover the quarter mile.

With respect to 0-100, anything over nine or ten seconds is slow, seven to nine seconds is good and five to seven seconds generally considered fast.

Sub five-second 0-100 and quarter mile times of less than 13 seconds are few and far between and generally the arena of hyper cars, uber-expensive two-seat exotics and muscle cars with monster engines jammed under the hood. 

But what if you could have such performance in an ultra-luxurious big sedan, a four-door luxury boat with all the creature comforts and technical marvels expected of such carriages? How about a 0-100 time of less than four seconds and the quarter mile in 11.8? 

Such a Jekyl and Hyde personality exists in the form of the Audi S8 – a $150,000 luxury sedan bristling with every conceivable feature. More importantly, it has a twin-turbo V8 and the ability to get all that power to the ground thanks to a high-tech all-wheel-drive system. 

In a two-wheel-drive vehicle with this amount of power, each tire would have to cope with 260 horsepower, resulting in excessive wheel spin or traction control intervening to reduce power to manageable levels.

AWD solves wheelspin dilemma

2013 Audi S8 - steering wheel and instrument panel.jpg
With all-wheel-drive, each tire has to deal with 130 horsepower allowing more of that power to get to the ground. Those are theoretical numbers. High-tech systems like Audi’s Quattro, distribute power variably as grip and conditions warrant. But you get the idea. In a vehicle where there is gobs of power, more tires gripping means more go.

So in the S8 we have a great big hot rod, a four-door muscle car with torque delivery that makes your tummy feel as though you’ve driven off a cliff.  

Much more than power to recommend it

2013 Audi S8 - rear seat.jpg
But there is so much more to this beautifully crafted, leather-lined big sedan. It is replete with a level of materials, fit, finish, class and design worthy of the most demanding luxury car buyer.

Driven conservatively there is little evidence of the threat lying beneath that long hood other than a deep exhaust note. 

But that can quickly turn into a most glorious sound. Bury the right-foot pedal for more than a second and the quartet of exhaust outlets provide a deep, glorious bass accompanied by a sharp bark between shifts as the system matches revs. Hold that position for more than 4.1 seconds and you have broken every legal speed limit in the country.

Need to pass on a two-lane road? A slight twitch of your right ankle and it is done. The S8 pretty much defines “adequate reserves of power.”

Pumped-up performance

2013 Audi S8 - engine.JPG
The S8 is an A8 on steroids. For 2013 Audi has ditched the 450-horsepower, 5.2-litre V10 engine used in the S8 previously, in favor of a high output version of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 used in the A8 and A8L. It carries the E82 designation and is rated at 520-horsepower and 481 lb/ft of torque. Independent dynamometer testing, and the above-mentioned acceleration times indicate the factory ratings are conservative, by about 50 horsepower. 

All that powered is transferred through an eight-speed automatic transmission via Quattro to the 21-inch wheels, each wrapped in gummy high-performance summer rubber.

Nearly everything else on or in the car that moves or has a hand in driving dynamics has been tweaked for the sole purpose of raising that experience to a new level. The suspension and steering are tighter, massive brakes are fitted, capable of hauling this big brute down from 250 km/h Autobahn runs repeatedly, generating enough heat to keep a house warm all winter in the process.

Luxury abounds

But this is also is the definition of a luxury car with a back seat worthy of a London gentleman’s club. The test vehicle had a $3,300 entertainment system, power-assisted rear door closing, heated Valcona leather seats, side and frontal impact airbags and power-operated shades for the side and rear windows to keep the sun and prying eyes out. This ain’t too shabby a place to hang out!

It also comes with a grab handle above each rear door; very useful should the driver start to sample the considerable power and handling available.

Belies its size

Whether outrunning an attempted kidnapping or just enjoying a few minutes of twisty back road driving, the S8 behaves like a much smaller vehicle. Much of the credit goes to its relatively light weight, thanks to the extensive use of aluminum in its construction. But a well-sorted suspension and special version of Audi’s Quattro system also contribute.

The system is rear-biased under normal conditions and employs a unique “sport” differential. The S8 rides 10 millimetres lower than the A8 on an adaptive air suspension that keeps the big sedan level regardless of load. Not only has it been tuned for the S application, it can be further adapted to specific driver wishes through Audi’s Drive Select system for Comfort or Dynamic damping. 

The driver can hang onto a thick-rim steering wheel with a small button to adjust its height and reach, a 22-way power-adjustable seat and a well-placed foot rest on the left to brace against.

A unique concept in Canada

This is a luxury car that’s meant to be driven, as well as driven in. It is also a pretty exclusive conveyance. BMW, Lexus and Mercedes do not offer a hot version of their biggest luxury sedans in Canada.

The test vehicle also had a $7,000, 19-speaker, 1,400-Watt Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System. Pity. I tried it out briefly in my driveway and it is as pure, clean and powerful a sound as any system I have ever heard in a motor vehicle.

It remained shut off for the rest of the week, however, in order to enjoy the another genre, the symphony coming from those big chromed exhaust outlets.

There are numerous interior touches, subtle and understated, that tell you this is a special car, including backlit door sills with the S8 logo and carbon-fibre-like trim on the console and shift lever.

The S8 stands apart thanks to its dual personality, striking performance and all-condition grip.

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