The night before I was supposed to drive the 2015 Audi S8 over the sky-scraping heights of Independence Pass, I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if it was Aspen Colorado’s high altitude, the long day of traveling, or just plain excitement. But whatever the case, I decided to watch Ronin to pass the time.
Ronin, if you weren’t aware, features a death-defying car chase between a first-gen Audi S8 and a Citroen. Since my first viewing, I have loved the S8. Watching it for the eleventh time in my hotel room that night, though, made me think that not even the 2015 S8 could live up to Hollywood’s. I was wrong. Even this chase epic’s effect on my febrile mind couldn’t prepare me for the reality of the new Audi S8.
I took the controls of Audi’s $120,000 masterpiece at 12,000 feet, at the top of the Rocky Mountains. I had been waiting all day for this moment.
So when the time came, my rapid heart rate and sweaty palms had little to do with oxygen deprivation. Placing the car in dynamic mode and taking manual control of the eight-speed transmission I set out.
The first thing I noticed about the S8 was the sport exhaust, even though the same basic engine produces a civil, even composed, noise in A8 4.0 guise. The S8, though, sounds like it is trying to wake the gods of Olympus, which I think were a little downhill from Independence Pass. The S8’s guttural roar, turns into a howl of fury above 4500 rpm; it’s truly the sound of Zeus’s lightning bolts.
As I hammered down the twists, hairpins, and blind turns with no guardrails, I realized that I should have been petrified. The S8 is a big car. It weighs 4,685 pounds and it is nearly 17 feet long. But I was far from being terrified; I was thrilled.
The S8 is positively nimble, much closer to a two-seater sports car than a muscle-bound land-yacht.
Dodging on-coming drivers drifting into my lane, as they gaped at the scenery, was my only reminder of the S8’s broad stature. The road was so narrow, I had to hug the cliff and hope the gorgeous, brushed aluminum mirrors didn’t get clipped by the gawking passersby.
The speed of the S8, too, feels unreal. Shortly into my downhill run, I was caught behind a slow moving Subaru Forester. The road frequently narrowed down to one lane for both directions of traffic. Considering the margin for error was literally a rock wall or a 2,000-foot plunge, passing would be a challenge.
As it turns out, though, all I needed was the briefest break in the double line. As soon as this gift from the gods and the Colorado Department of Transportation appeared, I stepped the car out and around. The S8 accelerated around the Forester like a supercar. The digits on the heads up display speedo blurred, and I realized that I badly needed to slow down before the next corner.
Thankfully the combination of massive brakes and quattro all-wheel drive saw me through the descent, and my own personal Hollywood-caliber car chase. In fact, I was having so much fun, I turned to my driving partner and said, “to hell with this, I am heading back up!” Only the commanding tones of the scandalized German navigation convinced me to turn around and head back to Aspen.
Careening the S8 through the Rockies was the second once-in-a-lifetime driving experience I’ve had behind the wheel of an Audi. Driving the 2015 S3 on the Autobahn was the first. And echoing Continental Divide with the S8’s defiant V8 roar is the second.
But was all this just my overblown imagination or is the Audi S8 really that good?
Just the facts
My experience with the S8 was no accident; this car is an absolute engineering tour de force. Let’s start with the engine.
Like the regular A8, the S8 receives Audi’s amazing TFSI 4.0-liter V8. The S8, however, gets upgraded turbos, different programming, and an uprated sport exhaust. The result is a mountain-shattering 520 horsepower and 481 god-angering torques.
The S8 accelerated around the Forester like a supercar.
Officially, this will launch the Brobdingnagian Audi from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds. The Audi team told us, though, in unofficial tests, the S8 has mastered 60 in 3.4 seconds. To put that in perspective, that’s virtually just as fast as the Ferrari 458.
As for handling, the S8 features a truly brilliant all-wheel drive system, including an active sport differential. On a standard A8, the car can split torque between the front and rear axles at will with its center differential.
Thanks to the sports differential on the S8, that same process happens side to side as well. This not only improves grip, but also can actively help cornering. While I effortlessly hammered it into hairpins on the mountainside, the differential was helping by sending power to the outside wheels, literally fighting physics and pushing the car through the corners. I have said it before, and I will say it again: German witchcraft is the best witchcraft.
Class for days
Don’t think for a moment that the S8 is only fun when you have access to a world-class mountainside. For the price, drivers deserve a lot more. Delightfully, they get it.
For starters, the S8 looks fantastic. It is not an ostentatious car. For 2015, Audi has refined its looks to the point where it is positively sinister. The lengthened grille and new hood lines make it look wider and more planted. And thanks to new LED, lights the S8’s eyes have an angry cast. These looks are complemented on the S8 with custom matte-gray wheels, which accent the S8’s sports car stance. The excellence continues on the inside.
The drive from Independence Pass to Aspen featured long stretches of 25 mph speed limits and extremely slow Harley riders. This gave me the chance to appreciate just how lovely and comfortable the S8’s interior is.
No facet of the interior looks anything but great. The S8 I drove featured a gray suede headliner, beautiful brick-red leather, and carbon-fiber trim impregnated with copper wire. The effect is as modern as it is stunning.
No carmaker manages to achieve the same sensation of luxury as Audi, without straying into pretentious bling. Even the details feel thought out. As I rested my arm on the yacht-style shifter, I could reach the infotainment and climate controls with ease.
Technically there are cars with more techie features than the S8, though it is no slouch – a brief examination of the spec sheet shows lane keeping assistance, night vision, Google Earth navigation, a Bang & Olufsen sound system complete with tweeters that raise out of the dash, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.
Even if there are cars that boast more tech, I am not sure I could say that even the king of cars, the Mercedes S-Class, has the same level of refinement or style.
I have had nothing but good things to say about the S8 so far. And while that in essence remains true, it is time to bring a little reality into the discussion. The S8 may be an inherently great, almost perfect car … but it starts at $114,900.
Compare it to its competitors like the Panamera Turbo, which starts at $141,300 and does 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds, and the S8 is a relative steal.
Ultimately, the 2015 Audi S8 manages to be a luxury sedan, a testament to the buyer’s style, and a supercar all wrapped in a gorgeous but understated package. The S8 is a luxury super sedan that you won’t want to just live with every day, but one that you will want to live in everyday.
- Accelerates faster than a Porsche 911
- Handles like a two-seater sports car
- World-topping interior quality
- Masterclass of design
- $120,000 price tag for optioned car
- I can’t afford it