The Audi S8 is this German automaker's flagship performance sedan, but it has only been sold sporadically. Debuting at the start of the new millennium, it was the third vehicle for the North American market to bear an "S" badge. Used to showcase Audi's performance engineering, S- and RS-badged vehicles compete directly against other automakers' performance models from divisions like BMW's M and Mercedes-Benz's AMG. As a high-luxury, high-performance and high-tech platform, the S8 is the standard-bearer in Audi's arsenal.
There are two generations of the S8 and each has been based on the A8 luxury sedan from the same time period. Building on the A8's lightweight aluminum-frame chassis, the S8 adds a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, more powerful brakes and a slightly more aggressive look. Despite being Audi's largest sedan, its combination of a relatively light curb weight, muscular power and the tenacious grip of the car's standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system makes it surprisingly quick and agile. Audi's Quattro system is a key advantage over the S8's competitors as it provides more traction, especially in inclement weather conditions.
Audi made sure that luxury amenities were not sacrificed for the sake of outright speed. A premium leather-trimmed interior, real wood accents and exemplary fit and finish complement both S8 models, as do a full bevy of safety features. If there is a fault to the S8, it's probably that it doesn't quite match the performance potential of some competing sedans. Our editors described it as an impressive luxury sedan first and a performance sedan second. But for those needing AWD security or simply desiring a fast, stealthy and relatively rare luxury sedan, either S8 generation will do nicely.
Most Recent Audi S8
Produced from 2007-'09 after a three-year hiatus, the most recent Audi S8 was based on the second-gen A8. Its most talked-about feature was its engine. Audi's engineers took advantage of parent company Volkswagen's ownership of Lamborghini and snagged the Lamborghini Gallardo's 40-valve V10 engine. Audi increased displacement to 5.2 liters and added FSI gasoline-direct injection to optimize power delivery. The result was an operatic 450 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. All that sonorous power was pushed through a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, so you could happily keep your fingers tapping on the steering wheel paddle shifters. The sound of the engine wailing through the quad exhaust pipes was so sweet, you could ask the premium audio system to take five.
This S8 delivered the performance goods while rewarding the driver with an opulent experience filled with techno-gadgetry. It had an easy-to-learn Multi Media Interface with Bluetooth-enabled navigation, a 350-watt, 12-speaker Bose audio system with a glovebox CD changer and power-retractable side mirrors with tilt-in-reverse, and all of it was wrapped in sumptuous leather and wood trim. A stiffer version of the standard A8's fully independent adaptive air suspension worked in unity with 20-inch wheels, performance tires and speed-dependent steering to deliver exceptional handling in both high- and low-speed maneuvers.
Overall, the combination of luxury, performance and technology added up to an impressive package. At the same time, Audi kept the styling upgrades tasteful so the S8 didn't immediately scream "performance model" like some competitors do. Only in terms of maximum performance potential is Audi's finest a bit of a letdown.
Used Audi S8 Models
When it debuted for the 2001 model year, the first S8 came with a 4.2-liter V8 making 360 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. The aluminum frame body and lowered, stiffer suspension performed well on its 18-inch wheels. The fit and finish bested anything else in its class. It even garnered a starring role in a memorable car chase in the film Ronin directed by John Frankenheimer. Yet the S8 never seemed to have the name cachet of its impressive rivals.
Audi continued to improve the car by small increments until it was discontinued for 2004. It offered new features like a tire-pressure monitoring system, front and rear parking assist and a navigation system. To increase the feeling of exclusivity, Audi released limited-edition color combinations like a silver exterior with a burgundy interior, a Ming Blue exterior with a platinum interior and a black exterior with a caramel interior. As a used model, the original S8 still provides serious performance dynamics that can be enjoyed from the most splendid of environments.
Read the most recent 2013 Audi S8 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Audi S8 page.