• Jul 9th 2007 at 1:04PM
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This edition of "In the Autoblog Garage" is brought to you by the letter S and the number 8. Alone, each is just another mundane alphanumeric character. When positioned next to each other on a vehicle bearing Audi's interlocking rings, however, they turn into something very special. The character pair becomes shorthand for 5.2 liters, 10 cylinders, 450 horses, 398 ft.-lbs., 4.9 seconds, 155 miles per hour, and $110,000+ in the case of the Daytona Grey Audi S8 tester that had been deposited in my driveway. Yep, it was going to be a pretty good week.

There are times when more simply means more, and others when more means better. The S8 is is the rolling embodiment of both philosophies, cramming in just about every feature Ingolstadt has to offer, while somehow making it seem entirely rational -- appropriate, even -- at the same time. One of the best things about Audi's über-sedan is that to the untrained observer, it's just a standard-wheelbase A8. Why is this good, you ask? Because the S8 is the ultimate sleeper as a result. Those who recognize it for what it is generally make eye contact and nod approvingly, understanding what it is that's before them. They're the ones who know better. Some stoplight denizens are less respectful, tossing sheepish looks at the "rich dude" lined up next to them. They're the ones who rev their engines aggressively, only to be wearing looks of shame as they stare straight ahead at the next stoplight, having been utterly humiliated by a conservative-looking 4,586-pound sedan. Looks, you see, are very deceiving, and the S8 has the means at its disposal to make examples of those who underestimate it.

The visual differentiators worn by the S8 are subtle but unmistakable. For starters, red-trimmed S8 badges adorn the trunklid and the grille, whose vertical elements are dressed in chrome. The door handles are also accented with the shiny stuff, and the rearview mirrors are given a satiny metallic finish. The car's nose sports a pair of honeycomb-trimmed intakes under the headlamps and an ever-so-slight lip spoiler finishes off the bottom. Small V10 badges sit aft of the front wheel wells and when you head rearward, quad exhaust tips stick out through the rear bumper cutouts. The S8's standard rolling stock consists of 20" seven-twin-spoke wheels wrapped in 265/35R20 rubber, but our tester was still wearing its winter kicks despite spring being in full swing. The wheel design was the same, but they were 19 inches in diameter, instead. A peek through the spokes reveals the S8 logo on the front brake calipers. The rest of the car's outward appearance is pure A8 -- understated elegance infused with athleticism. Think of an NFL linebacker in an expensive tailored suit and that's the profile the S8 cuts as it drives by: classy, but muscular.

Opening the door presents you with a case study in how to design a proper cabin. If you're part of the club that feels Audi has the best interiors going right now, the S8 does absolutely nothing to diminish that belief. To the contrary, it reinforces it. The tester was outfitted with the optional full leather upgrade, meaning just about every conceivable surface was covered in beautifully-stitched hides, including the door panels (which also had Alcantara accents), center console, and the dashboard. Two-tone black-and-silver seating with contrast stitching added some pizazz, and passengers almost unanimously commented favorably on the Alcantara headliner. Speaking of passengers, the S8 is technically a 5-place sedan, but for practical purposes it's a four-seater. The backseat is set up with a pair of buckets separated by a flip-down armrest containing the car's first aid kit and a pair of cupholders. A fifth passenger can take that middle spot when the armrest is stowed (there's a belt, after all), but it probably wouldn't be fun for any extended period of time, especially having to straddle the transmission tunnel.

After settling into the very comfortable driver's seat, gently pull the door shut and the car's power door close assist (part of the tester's Premium Package) does the rest. A meaty 3-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters faces the driver, and beyond that, the S8's instrument cluster stands ready with the basics -- speedo, tach, temp, and fuel gauges. The uninterrupted dash is accented with carbon fiber and aluminum inlays, as is the center console. There's no need to wield the trademark switchblade key, as the Premium Package turns it into a full-fledged keyless fob. Simply hold down the brake, press the engine start button on the center console, and the car comes to life. The gauges light up, and in the middle of the instrument panel, a section of carbon fiber flips open to reveal the S8's LCD screen. A secondary MMI/information display between the two primary gauges also makes its presence known.

A number of buttons populate the center console area, and though they all look similar, the arrangement's logical and they're well-labeled. The linchpin to everything is Audi's MMI, which is given the prime real estate in the middle. Superior to BMW's iDrive, the controller's made up of a dial surrounded by four buttons, each of which corresponds to menu selections shown in the corners of the primary LCD display. It's easy to get the hang of, and menu navigation quickly becomes second nature. There are nice touches, too, as some features like the radio tuner get popped onto the LCD inside the gauge cluster was well, allowing you to change channels or songs without having to look over at the middle of the IP. The model is repeated on the climate controls. Driver and passenger each get their own thermostat dials, which actually have MMI-type functionality. For example, twisting the dial will change the selected temp by default, but pressing the button with the fan icon changes the dial's focus, and spinning it increases or decreases the fan speed (the LCD screen automatically reflects what your doing, too, making your actions crystal clear). The MMI system is used to control and adjust everything from audio and phone configuration to navigation and suspension settings. While some of you surely have an aversion to these comprehensive in-car GUIs, Audi's is the class of the bunch.

As entertaining as the in-car theatrics at startup are (the B & O tweeters rising from the dash never failed to elicit oohs and ahhs), they're just a sideshow to the main event as the 5.2L V10 growls to life, emitting a techno-metal soundtrack that you never want to turn off. When you succumb to the urge to goose the throttle, baffles in the mufflers snap open, making the the exhaust music even more sonically exciting. For extra fun, pull into the nearest parking garage and do this indoors. You'll give yourself goosebumps. By now, the car has already adjusted its active suspension in accordance with whatever setting's been chosen. If it's nighttime and you parked facing a wall, the headlights let you see this movement firsthand.

After popping the car in reverse to back out and then slipping the Tiptronic's shifter into drive, the S8 shows that it does the luxury car thing exceedingly well, cruising silently along at neighborhood speeds. The cabin, with all the windows shut and sunroof closed, is as serene as a library staffed by pistol-packing librarians. Breaking the silence is easy thanks to the optional (and expensive) Bang & Olufsen audio system. The 1000-watt fourteen-speaker rig is better-sounding than most home systems, and when combined with the Audi Music Interface, which provides true iPod integration via the MMI, it offers one of the most complete musical experiences of any car on the market.

Sliding the shifter down one more notch into Sport mode sets the stage for music of a different sort. Left alone there, the transmission will hold gears longer, waiting to shift until the redline approaches. You can also pick your own shift points with the paddles. The sound coming from the engine compartment as this goes on is worth turning off the stereo and opening the windows. Turn onto a long highway on-ramp, and the direct-injected, Lamborghini-sourced 5.2L V10 gets going with a snarl that builds into a guttural bellow as mechanical magic happens all they way up to 7,000 rpm. Stay on the throttle and the landscape bordering the roadway becomes a blur, zipping by at a pace as frenetic as the goings-on underhood. Any doubt that the car is capable of reaching its electronically-governed top speed is vaporized as you watch the speedometer needle move clockwise at an unexpectedly rapid and steady clip. The S8 hurtles forward like a bullet train, totally composed, never wanting for power. Traction is not a problem thanks to the quattro AWD, and the car feels very balanced. In the end, the rational part of you simply takes over and you heel the beast under your right foot. Enlisting the car's massive brakes (15.2" discs in front, 13.2" in back) halts the S8's forward motion quickly and without drama.

Big cars like this are supposed to spoil you with comfort, but we never expected it to be so much fun to drive. The torquey, responsive V10 is always ready to play, and the car's gee-whiz air suspension keeps it composed at all times without ever resorting to harshness, even in the dynamic mode. The S8's a snap to drive, and its features are easy to use thanks to the sensible MMI that ties so many of them together. Other nice touches abound, too, like ambient lighting in the cabin, approach lighting in the door handles and a power rear sunshade. The trunk is just huge, and for all the performance the car dishes out, it still got a completely reasonable 15 mpg over the week it spent with us. The Audi S8 is the whole enchilada: awesome performance, bona-fide luxury, and understated class. At $110,920 as tested, it's worth every single penny.

All Photos ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      Call me weird but I would rather read reviews of vehicles I may have a opportunity to own one day. Reviews of cars milled from solid unobtanium like this do not interest me.
        • 7 Months Ago

        Thought it would be interesting to reply to this as I was researching press reports of my "new" 2007 S8.  It isn't unobtanium if you buy it used-I just got mine with 55K miles for $32K :)  7 years later yes, but worth the wait?  Absolutely.

        • 8 Years Ago
        Sounds like someone's regressing instead of expanding to possibilities. ;)
        • 8 Years Ago
        Don't worry, Chris. Plenty of stuff made from 100% pure Obtanium is in the pipeline.
      • 8 Years Ago
      great review. the part where you wrote about S8 being the sleeper sedan is spot-on. Audi has come a long way and i'm looking forward to seeing the latest and greatest that they put out next.

      any chance of getting an RS4 in the autublog garage anytime soon? ;)
        • 8 Years Ago
        2nded this is by far the biggest sleeper around. Most people are not aware of the car at all, and it does not stand out as much as the 7 and S class. Which in my mind is a good thing. But I think as it is not as bling bling as it's competitors the sales are lower.

        Plus isn't this the only way to get a short wheelbase A8 in the US?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Wow. :-0
      • 8 Years Ago
      I don't see how that grand marquis/Continental dash is the best in the business

      and what's with all the buttons around the shifter.
      you put your cup down and chances are you'll hit a few of them, that's not what I can ergonomic or a nice design - that's cluster and chaos

      thy have gone overboard with the button placements - Audi needs to re-think it (think M35/M45).

      Other than that, what a nice car i like to have in 20+ year as i go past 55yrs old.

      I'd rather settle my $100k for something else.
        • 8 Years Ago
        Umm, some affluent individuals buy nice cars for the driving enjoyment rather than impressing others. Some of these people even drive less impressive cars to the office, etc., as they fear that smaller minded individuals will assume they are showing off.
        • 8 Years Ago

        This car is wonderfully designed. Your comments more clearly reflect your personal feelings and the obviousness that this car is not for you...no S8 owner would be using the cup holder.

        You'd be better suited in a Lincoln or Caddy maybe?
        • 8 Years Ago
        You shouldn't be drinking while driving. Driving should require full concentration. This is much why autobahn cars of yesteryear never included cupholders. They take driving seriously.
        Alas, the Infiniti M's dash looks like an ATM console.
      • 8 Years Ago
      You guys (Autoblog) are making me sooo jealous. How did a Blog become so influential to test drive such cars? Sheesh!

      Pure jealously, congrats :)
        • 8 Years Ago
        Well, for one, the writing on Autoblog, and especially in their reviews is top notch. And if you look at their SiteMeter (bottom right corner), it shows that there are a lot of us who love the place and come back day after day to read them. Great review, Alex.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Wow. What would I give to have your job and have the opportunity to drive such an automobile. What a hell of a car.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Where's the audio/video clip of this car screaming up the on-ramp that you mention in the article?

      "The sound coming from the engine compartment as this goes on is worth turning off the stereo and opening the windows. Turn onto a long highway on-ramp..."
      • 8 Years Ago
      Great article! Great car. If there are 5 cars on my 'Which Car I'm Buying Next', 3 of those are Audis.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Nice photography. Reviewing Jags and Audis? You guys have it good.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Holy c..p, look at the number os red/blue/white lights in the interior, that's like a christmas tree, ehehehehehh.

      Christmas tree or not, the car is awesome anyway.
      • 8 Years Ago
      OK, might be full of great features, fine engineering, built to last and goes like hot s**t off a shovel.

      But it's looks aren't set to thrill really. Mind you. not as bad as the German Rollers nowadays.

      • 8 Years Ago
      I'm glad to see St. Marys by the sea, and Captains Cove are places you frequent.
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