January 22, 2006

2007 Audi S8 First Drive
By: Neil McGarry

Dusseldorf, Germany - Audi's performance initiative continues with the S8 coming state side in October of 2006. Very well equipped for under $100,000, you really should consider buying two if able!

Setting itself apart from the already impressive A8, the new Audi S8 sports a 5.2-liter FSI direct injection V10 engine with 450 hp @ 7000 rpm along with 398 lbs/ft. @ ~ 3500 rpm. As with all S models, quattro all-wheel drive is standard, now with the 60/40 asymmetric torque distribution.

In terms of exterior modifications the S8 utilizes an understated front spoiler lip, trunk lid with spoiler, distinct grill, V10 badges, LED daytime running lights in the fog position, aluminum mirrors, a dual tuned quad-tipped exhaust and special S wheels. The interior, meanwhile, gets sport seats covered in Valcona leather and aluminum shift paddles. The car features a tighter ratio servotronic steering than the run of the mill A8.

For the first time in an Audi, a FSI V10 is mated to a 6 speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Steering wheel mounted aluminum paddles are available allowing the driver to make quick, manual gear changes if desired. The engine is - like all of the high end Audis - whisper quiet under a light foot, but the massive 5.2-liter powerplant makes itself known when the car is under hard acceleration.

Rolling on 265/35 performance tires over 20x9 inch wheels, the adaptive air suspension with 20mm lower S-specific settings rides with a firm but not harsh ride even with the 35 series low profile tires. The suspension is the same as the European offering (yeah!), with no typical softening for the US market.

Audi's finest Valcona leather will be offered for the interior, including all black or silver along with black/silver, black/brown, and silver/gray combinations. We thought the all black interior was simply stunning. Alcantara will be on the S8 door panels, headliner and rear shelf and the accent trim will be a gray birch wood, while a carbon fiber and other trims will be optional.

Exterior options include several unique S8 colors: Phantom Black Pearl Effect, Night Blue Pearl Effect, Silver Green Metallic, Ibis White, Light Silver Metallic, Quartz Gray Metallic and Daytona Gray Pearl Effect. The standard A8 palette will also be available.

Stand-alone options for the S8 will include an adaptive cruise control, 4-zone climate control and the new Bang & Olufsen audio system. A Premium Package will also be offered that includes: heated rear seats, a ski sack, power trunk open and close, manual side and electric rear sunshades, parktronic with rearview camera, power door close assist, satellite radio (XM or Sirius) and Advanced Key with keyless unlock and start.

Audi will also offer several "Sold Order Only" options. Customers may choose these features (which won't be found on cars from normal dealer allotments) when ordering an S8. Sold Order Only options include: rear seat electric lumbar adjustment, dual pane security glass, solar sunroof, carbon fiber trim, walnut/birch/sycamore wood trim, segmented wood steering wheel/shifter and a full leather package.

When reverse is selected the rearview camera's image is displayed on the MMI screen. Three levels of red marking show fixed distances from the car and two yellow lines show the intended trajectory of the car and change as the steering wheel is turned.

The optional $7,800.00 Bang & Olufsen advanced audio system includes 14 speakers driven by 1000 watts. The Eagles Life in the Fast Lane had been setup in the test vehicles and was very appropriate for the autobahn section of the test drive. We still don't know if we can give the green light to a nearly eight thousand dollar sound upgrade option, but the visual impact of the system is undeniable!

Driving Impressions

We drove the new S8 in varying environments, including a closed course slalom, through city / country situations and, of course, on the autobahn.

The sports inspired air suspension is controlled through the MMI interface and selects Automatic, Comfort, Dynamic and Lift modes. Shock absorbers and spring rates of the air suspension have both been firmed up for better handling, and we found no reason to complain throughout the driving.

As with all modern Audis understeer is the norm, but by turning the ESP off and mashing the throttle (along with big steering input) the rear end can be brought around. The shorter ratio and progressive servotronic steering rack is a welcome addition.

The S8 is a large car, no doubt, but does not drive like one. Thanks in part to ASF (Audi Space Frame), lightweight running gear, massive performance tires and finely tuned suspension, the car remains flat when pushed through the corners at speed.

Flying down the autobahn at the speed limited 250 kph, the massive dual piston ceramic brakes have no problem slowing the two ton beast down to sane speeds. The silicon carbide infused carbon fiber rotors might not make it to the US at launch, but should be available later in 2007.

Ultimately any story about the S8 must conclude with the powertrain being the true hero. The aforementioned powertrain is beautifully tuned for torque and with a power to weight ratio of 4.3 kilograms for every 1 hp, this car moves. Audi claims 0-62 mph in 5.1 seconds and we felt this may have been modest. For more everyday driving it's nice to know that 90% of the torque is available at a mere 2000 rpm, meaning that this car can be piloted quickly without being in the high revs. It makes for the near perfect executive sports sedan and long distance driver.

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