For a man who is supposed to operate under a cloak of secrecy, James Bond’s preference for flashy Aston Martins is a major drawback. In that regard Jason Statham’s roundhouse-kicking character in the Transporter movie series is far more intelligent as has typically opted for Audi’s stealthy A8, and most recently the performance-oriented S8.
Finished in black, featuring double-glazed windows and riding on 20-inch alloy wheels fronting black brake calipers, the all-aluminium bodied S8 looks suitably menacing, yet could also lurk, unnoticed, in the shadows. There are, of course, a few flashes of shiny aluminium, and those startling LED headlights are particularly noticeable, but overall I can think of few cars that would actually suit the world’s most popular spy better than this high-tech machine.
A few years ago this car’s cabin would have been described as pure science fiction. Prod the start/stop button and a high-resolution infotainment screen glides out of the facia. There are a number of control “clusters” positioned at the upper end of the centre console, and these require some familiarity before they fall to hand easily, but then again they’re evidence of a car packed with technology. Standard on this model is Audi Connect, enabled through the MMI Navigation Plus system. This system effectively turns the vehicle into a WLAN hotspot. The S8 also gets superb model-specific electrically adjustable seats. The rear seats, by the way, are some of the most comfortable I’ve sat in for a while. The only real negative? Well, tried as I did, I could not find a USB port in the car – there were, however, two SD card slots.
The S8 is powered by Audi’s twin-turbocharged 4,0-litre V8 engine that delivers a whopping 382 kW and 650 N.m of torque. It is mated with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, unlike other S models that get the seven-speed dual-clutch S Tronic gearbox. Drive goes to all four wheels via Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system. The S8 features the company’s sport differential, which actively distributes power between the rear wheels, as standard. Adjustable air-suspension is fitted all-round, tuneable through the Drive Select system that offers a number of settings.
The driving experience the S8 serves up perfectly matches its “under cover” visual character. For all its furious power, it doesn’t roar all that loudly, yet it’ll get you from 0-100 km/h in 4,2 seconds. The engine features a cylinder deactivation system, which kicks in when possible to save fuel. So, when wafting along on the highway, for example, four cylinders are shut down. Audi claims a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 10,2 litres/100 km, which is very optimistic, but if achieved, highly impressive.
Despite using aluminium construction, the S8 is a heavy car that tips the scales at around two tonnes. And despite all its clever suspension-tuning gadgetry, you’re never going to escape the simple fact that this is a heavy, all-wheel drive car. As a result the steering feels fairly heavy (this does translate into a feeling of great highway stability), and it takes a while to find a good compromise among the various suspension settings. Understeer remains the name of the game when pressing on, as is to be expected. Nevertheless, as a high-speed, continent crusher, the S8 is mighty impressive.
At just over R1,2 million, the S8 is certainly not cheap, but neither Mercedes-Benz nor BMW offer similarly sporty versions of their luxury saloons. You’d therefore have to look at the likes of the Maserati Quattroporte or Porsche Panamera if you want a large luxury saloon with a strong performance character (in terms of the visual package as well as actual performance on offer). The Quattroporte will be replaced next year, and the Panamera doesn’t offer the A8’s space. The S8, then, is quite a unique offering. It offers a number of very appealing attributes, and admittedly a few flaws in terms of the dynamic package, yet somehow comes across as being more than the sum of its parts.
Model: Audi S8
Engine: 4,0-litre, V8, twin-turbo
Power: 382 kW/6 000 r/min
Torque: 650 N.m/1 700-5 500 r/min
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 10,2 L/100 km (combined cycle, Euro)
CO2: 237 g/km
Top speed: 250 km/h
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 4,2 sec
Price: R1 219 500
All claimed figures