The Surgical Scalpel Of Super Sports Sedans



This is less a story about a car than the tale of a 520-horsepower Turbocharged Fuel Stratified Injection (TFSI) V8 engine and the vehicle Audi reengineered to surround it. That's not even our idea: Sven Stockmar, Audi's Global Head of Product Marketing, made a point of standing behind a model of the engine – not the S8 – when he began his presentation.

This idea you can call ours: If we found the 2011 A8 "A Plus-Sized S4 with World-Beating Tech," then a single-sentence review of the S8 is [spoiler alert]: "A Plus-Sized S4 with 520 Horsepower and World-Beating Tech." There is no question that the results shine brightly and one Audi exec was right to label the S8 as "a smarter force." We only wish the car were, well, more forceful about it.

This is effectively the fourth S8, a line ushered into existence with the 1988 Audi V8. That book of genesis opened with these verses: 1. 3.6-liter V8, 2. 280 Horsepower, 3. Zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.7 seconds, 4. Thirteen miles per gallon in the city.

The second generation would introduce the S8 appellation in 1996, as well as 80 more horses from its 4.1-liter V8 housed in the inaugural Audi SpaceFrame. That model ceased in 2002 and it wouldn't be until 2006 that the third version arrived, this time with 450 horses from a Lamborghini-derived 5.2-liter V10 and a 5.1-second sprint to 62 miles per hour. By the end of 2009, when it joined the ranks of the extinct, it was also getting, oh, 13 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway.

2012 Audi S8 side view2012 Audi S8 front view2012 Audi S8 rear view

This new car, the 2012 S8, quotes John Smith in saying "I am Number Four," and just like Mr. Smith, it packs powers that could be called super. It has 70 more horses and, with a torque rating of 479 pound-feet, packs 89 more than the previous V10 model. It lops more than a second off the exit car's 0 to 60 time, getting there in just over four ticks, and it compresses the scales with 4,354 pounds – 236 pounds less than the previous model and just 42 pounds heavier than an A8. And its 23 mpg combined beats the former highway mileage, done so with a rating of 19 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway. If those numbers sound familiar, it's because they're identical to the EPA estimates for the Audi A6, but that smaller sedan makes do with a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 belting out "just" 310 horsepower.

Compared to the previous A8, the S cranks out 15 percent more power using 23 percent less fuel. As Stockmar said, it is "now superior to all predecessors in all ways." In fact, the predecessors might not be the only ones bested: The S8 is longer, lighter, more powerful, more frugal and quicker than the BMW 750i, and takes three-out-of-five against the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG (the S8 is three inches shorter and down 19 horsepower to the Merc). U.S. pricing hasn't been announced for the S8, but you're safe betting it will be harder on your offshore account than the $84,300 750i, but less punishing than the $140,000 S63. For an Äpfel mit Äpfeln comparison, the S8 lists at €111,900 in Germany ($151k USD), where the 750i lists at €91,900 ($124k) and the S63 AMG runs €144,466 ($195k), all prices including Value Added Tax.

So far, the TSFIs have it...

2012 Audi S8 engine

Audi said its brief was to cut fuel consumption "substantially" and "make it even more fun to drive." The new lump has not only lost two cylinders, it is 60mm shorter and 44 pounds lighter than the erstwhile V10. Audi placed the 'hot' stuff inside the V to maximize space, so underneath the red-trimmed shroud covering the vee are the exhaust manifolds, two twin-scroll turbochargers, the intercooler and throttle valve. The 'cold' stuff – the fresh-air intake system – is mounted on the outside of the cylinder banks.

This is the same V8 that will be shared with the Bentley Continental GT, a fact that could explain its torque delivery: 40 percent of its twist is on tap from 1,000 rpm and peak torque is available from just 1,700 rpm through to 5,500 rpm.

Early-access twist is just one of the engine's tricks. It has stop/start, but we won't get that in America – "the U.S. isn't ready for it" – and it has cylinder deactivation, which we will get. When conditions are met – engine temperature above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, low to moderate engine loads and running between 960 and 3,500 rpm, in third gear or higher and traveling less than 111 mph – the two inner cylinders on bank one and the two outer cylinders of bank two are switched off. Because of direct injection, air is still pumped through the cylinders and worked by the pistons, but there's no spark and no flame. Maintaining the flow of air helps reduce the effort needed to move the pistons, increasing efficiency. The gain is said to be five percent overall on the European cycle, but when cruising on four cylinders at 50 mph the improvement can be up to 10 percent.

2012 Audi S8 engine detail

At a traffic light, the S8 always uses all eight cylinders to pull away with authority, but cylinder deactivation works even in Sport mode or the dynamic driving settings.

Hydraulic fluid-filled, electromagnetic active engine mounts keep four-cylinder unruliness under control by creating counter oscillations to cancel out engine movement. In some cases the active mounts work in eight-cylinder mode, such as at idle to "eliminate engine excitation of the fourth order."

That takes care of harsh vibrations. Harsh sounds – both from the engine and exhaust – are handled inside the cabin with an Active Noise Control system (ANC). Microphones in the headliner gather information on sounds in the cabin and the control unit receives additional data from the crankshaft sensor. Then, working through the rear shelf subwoofer and lower door speakers of either the standard Bose or optional Bang & Olufsen system, ANC emits counter-frequencies to cancel out the unwanted sounds. It operates at all times, even when the stereo is off.

2012 Audi S8 interior
2012 Audi S8 front seats2012 Audi S8 gauges2012 Audi S8 navigation system

There's one trick the engine has that you might not be so keen on, however: The S8 has a governed top speed of 155 mph.

Eventually, one must step away from the engineer's paradise that is the 4.0-liter V8 and focus on enjoying it. In certain ways this is done from inside the cabin, and in another impossible-to-ignore way, which we'll get to in a moment, it isn't. Forgive the rendezvous with cliché-dom, but Audi cabins rock. They didn't even need to improve on the A8 cabin (although we wouldn't mind a redesign of that yacht thrust lever shifter doohickey), which we think is best-in-class, but they did.

Everything from the A8 can be thrown at the S8, on top of which the 22-way sport seats with carbon inlays on the seatbacks are exclusive to this sled. The diamond-stitched inlays surrounded by Valcona leather are S8-only, as is a Lunar Silver interior treatment. Introduced on this car is a 360-degree camera system that provides a top-down view and cornering views, which you can see in operation by watching the Autoblog Short Cut video below. And although it was absent on the model we drove, U.S. cars will get sunroofs with solar modules.


Outside, the tale is the same: The S8 is an A8 and then some. It sits lower by 10 millimeters, and Daytona Gray and the "crystal effect" Prism Silver exterior hues can be found only on the S. Full LED lighting flanks the single-frame grille with its double horizontals – decorated with an S8 badge – and V8 T badging has been appended to the rear valance and the front fenders just ahead of the aluminum mirror housings. In back, a two-layer aluminum-look lip splits a pair of twinned oval pipes.

The sedan sits on standard 20-inch wheels all around, but 21s are an option. Behind them are vented discs sporting six-pot calipers up front and single-piston calipers in the rear. The standard discs sport matte black calipers, while the optional carbon fiber ceramic discs are denoted by anthracite gray grippers.

Everything you've read so far is only the beginning of your Vorsprung and your Technik, but the Aktion is the test. At Audi's invitation, we ran the S8 hard around the Circuito de Navarra, a 2.44-mile track near Pamplona, Spain with a compelling combination of curves and altitude changes. The eight-speed transmission set in Sport is adept at holding gears, but if you want to make sure you'll be in the perfect gear as soon as you get on the gas out of a turn, you'll want to use the paddle shifters.

2012 Audi S8 paddle shifter2012 Audi S8 gear selector

Beyond that, the car behaves terrifically when linking curbs. With all of the individual driver settings turned to Dynamic, the variable rate, sport-tuned adaptive air suspension keeps the body lively, quick jinks at speed never give you the willies, and around the high-speed curves you aren't overcome by the sensation of trying to swing an anvil.

Just as much credit for that goes to the Quattro all-wheel drive, its self-locking center diff and sport rear diff, 40/60 front-to-rear power split and torque vectoring. The Quattro system and brake application will pivot the car around like the ticking of a second-hand on a watch if velocity and understeer are getting the best of you. For those other times, when you're grasping toward an apex in a speeding rage, the carbon brakes are fantastic. And if you're seated in the pits listening to other S8s run hot, the punchy, roaring exhaust note combined with the screeching rubber wouldn't have you believe someone was hot-lapping a sedan around the circuit. This is the car The Transporter should be driving.

Out on the roads, especially the N111 and lonely country roads that hook long straights together with tight turns around towns like Sansol and Bargota and Armañanzas, the S8 is a lot of fun. You still get the cruising manners of the A8, but when you slip into Sport and fill the cabin with engine growl, the sedan proves it isn't masquerading. As with a few other sporty big sedans we've driven, if the turns aren't hairpins and the straights aren't absolute runways, there's enough range and power in third gear to handle everything. Again, the transmission does a good job of holding the right gear for serious intent. You ask more from a car when driving strange roads than you do on a track because your timing is dependent on figuring out what's ahead, then when you do figure it out you want the car to respond immediately for more power or less speed. The S8 is quick to deliver, and the confidence in the suspension won't let you down, allowing you to focus on other inputs.

2012 Audi S8 headlight2012 Audi S8 wheel2012 Audi S8 badge2012 Audi S8 exhaust tips

It's everything you'd want a large, premium sport sedan to be – as long as you have the windows up. There, for us, began the conundrum. The matter with the S8 isn't that it isn't any good – it's very, very good. And it isn't that it doesn't have any heart – it actually has tons, and it beats strongly through an athletic body. It is the Cylon of the segment, a terrifically precise and immaculately finished killer.

We only wish it had more character.

Audi describes the V8 as a "sonorous 4.0 TFSI," but you can't hear it unless you're outside the car, or inside with the double-glazed windows all the way up. Roll the windows down and even with the throttle buried, you'll only hear wind. The dynamic steering never left us questioning where we placed the front wheels, but we never felt any thrill about having placed them. The suspension is practically fire-and-forget – when you want to slice a stretch of road, switch to Dynamic and let the S8's brainiac suspension serve a plate full of tarmac carpaccio.

This is not a new opinion for us to have of an Audi. We came to much the same conclusion about the Audi R8 V10 Spyder: outstanding performance, clinically delivered. But with this car we'll be big enough to make two admissions: one, that this is the enthusiast auto-reviewer talking, the same among that herd that's always asking for practically unsellable diesel wagons, manual transmissions, "More feedback!" and decrying supercars for not being so super anymore because they have working climate control and don't make you think about your next-of-kin when you get out of shape in a corner.

2012 Audi S8 rear 3/4 view

The Audi S8 isn't made for us. As S8 Product Manager Wayne Killen noted when we requested more intensity, "Oh... you're looking for an RS8." Yes. Exactly. Pretty, pretty please. (And Mr. Killen, we hope you've made good progress on it since last we spoke...)

The second admission being: For the buyers who Audi intended, the ones who prefer less agony and ecstasy with their relaxation, Audi has built a brilliant car. It is everything you like about the A8, only better, quicker, stronger – everything, that is, that an S8 is meant to be. You'll have no reason (other than looks) not to love this one when it goes on sale in Fall of 2012.

So while we might long for a little more Herz und Seele, when you want to want to hit the three bulls-eyes for sedan, sumptuous and sporting every single time, as well as take on some deeply entrenched competition, this leather-lined killer with Zen-like ease and focus is just what you need.