June 13, 2001
Does an object create an experience, or is it the context within which that object is experienced that really matters? Was the music during those three days and nights in 1969 really world-class or was it the whole atmosphere at Woodstock that made it memorable? Can 500,000 people gather just anywhere to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Why is Times Square better than, say, Calhoun Square in Minneapolis or Leichester Square in London?
Take a 1,200-kilometer road trip in the S8 and you might find yourself asking similar questions. Put simply, is this car universally spectacular to operate or does full access to its heart and soul require careful placement within the proper context? We’re now fully convinced it’s the latter.
The setting for this road trip was, of course, Germany. Fresh off covering the Geneva International Motor Show we picked up this silver beauty in Ingolstadt and departed the next day for Berlin and Wolfsburg far to the north. Conditions varied from daytime to darkness, Autobahn to city streets and clear sailing to blinding snow. We could not have picked a more perfect time to test the car in every element imaginable.
The first half-hour on the Autobahn was the “adjustment period”. We’re not in North America anymore; the speeds are faster, people actually use their blinkers, lane changes are predictable and efficient and we’re driving a car with an entirely different profile than our S4s back home. Just about the time that we’ve picked up good speed and are feeling relaxed behind the wheel it begins to snow. Light at first, the snow picks up intensity necessitating wipers and a firm hand on the wheel.
But wait a minute. We haven’t slowed down a bit! In fact we are now traveling faster than just 5-minutes earlier despite the weather conditions. And for the first time we realize that we’re getting a glimpse into the car’s remarkable character. It was like getting a sensual first kiss from a new acquaintance and wondering what was next.
The S8 feels as surefooted at 170 km/h (approximately 105 mph) in the snow as it does driving innocently (and slowly) down the street. Driver feedback is more than adequate — you can feel the road and the steering wheel feels neither loose nor hyper-sensitive. The inclement weather is simply mitigated. There or not, it doesn’t really seem to matter.
We should be fair and point out that this particular car sported snow tires, albeit of the 17″, speed-rated variety. The tires undoubtedly helped the cause in the wet and slick conditions. Conversely, what these tires did not seem to do was to hinder the car on dry pavement. It would have been nice to drive an S8 with high performance tires in order to report on handling and performance degradation resulting from the snow tires. Suffice it to say we weren’t complaining.
Leaving the snowstorm behind we next encountered dry, open road. It was time to unwrap this gift just a little further. One of the most impressive things about the S8 is the performance once the car is already moving at a decent clip. Press hard on the accelerator and the specially-tuned 360-horsepower V8 pushes the car forward as if there were two engines under the hood. This, in no small part, is due to the car’s torque curve: 317 ft. lbs. available at just 3400 rpm. Cars move fast on the Autobahn anyway, but for us the run-up from 170 km/h to 240 km/h (105-150 mph) felt both strong and quick.