2007 Audi S8 First Drive

2007 Audi S8 First Drive

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2007 Audi S8 Sedan

(5.2L V10 AWD 6-speed Automatic)

Audi builds a Lamborghini-inspired GT sedan

Long before Desperate Housewives and Arrested Development there existed a devious-family drama called The Lion in Winter. Early on in the play, the adulterous King Henry of England addresses the object of his infidelity, future daughter-in-law Alais, with the following line while arranging a wisp of her hair: "Let's have one hair askew; nothing in life has any business being perfect."

The same holds true for cars: None has any business being perfect, in spite of what Honda, Lexus and BMW have been scheming at all these years. And we're happy to report that it holds true for the 2007 Audi S8. It ain't perfect, but much of this super-sedan's best qualities do reside in the same ZIP code.

V10 power, courtesy of Italy
Like Mercedes-Benz's AMG and BMW's M, Audi's S division serves as Ingolstadt's in-house tuning firm. Over the past two decades, not the easiest time for Audi in America, the "S" has become a respected badge among enthusiasts, and deservedly so. The 2007 S8, built exclusively from the short-wheelbase (115.9 inches) A8 platform, is intended as the ultra-S in Audi's stable, gunning for both BMW's M5 and 760i models, as well as the brawniest S-Class that AMG can throw down.

Naturally, that gunning starts with an engine that builds torque like high schoolers build hormones. For the S8, Audi jumped the fence into Italy, paying a call to Lamborghini — also owned by the Volkswagen Group — to lift the Gallardo's 40-valve V10 power plant. Audi bored Lambo's 5.0-liter engine out to 5.2 liters and fit its own FSI gasoline direct-injection technology.

Translated into German, the V10 makes 450 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 398 pound-feet of torque at 3,500. That 7,000-rpm mark is just a hair off redline and the engine feels strong and steady from just off idle to the top end of the tach. The V10's got no weak spots, but there's no place in the powerband where it catches a sudden gust of wind either.

The six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and shorter final drive mate well to the engine, although 1st-gear throttle tip-in can be abrupt and disturbing if you don't baby it. The tranny's ratios are superbly matched, shifts are sweet and it matches revs well on kickdowns. The S8's power is best manipulated manually through the steering-wheel shift paddles — that's the way to get Audi's claimed 5 seconds to 60 mph. Even in Sport mode, however, the transmission has to be convinced to kick down for serious passing. That kind of second-guessing from your gearbox is not good for the relationship between you and your car.

A charmed chassis
The S8 rides slightly lower on a sportier variation of the A8's fully independent adaptive air suspension. It still offers four suspension profiles to choose from (via Audi's easy-to-learn Multi Media Interface) — Automatic, Comfort, Dynamic and Lift — but each level rides a bit firmer compared to those on a standard A8 setup. In any mode, the ride is dynamically impressive, especially for a car sporting 20-inch cast-aluminum wheels and 35-series Pirelli P Zero tires.

Audi assures you that hard drivin' is a close kin to carefree driving in the S8 with a new generation of quattro all-wheel drive. The system's default torque split is 40/60 front-to-rear, but as grip conditions change, that power split can be dealt as much as 85 percent to the rear wheels or 65 percent to the fronts. If any single wheel starts to spin, the brake to that wheel is applied until traction is regained.

The upside to all of this platform grooming is a modern marvel in big-sedan handling. Body roll? Zip. And it's easy to feel how Audi's quattro system became a cornerstone of the company's racing successes.

Through every corner — tight, lazy, high-speed, low-speed — the S8's speed-dependent steering is a highlight, and works with inspired unity with the suspension and the car's rigid aluminum frame structure. Responses to steering inputs are ideally easy to anticipate, with a good linear buildup of resistance. And the low-speed feel is excellent and light, never overboosted or brittle.

Right up to the edge, but no edge
So what is this, another perfect German super sedan? Nein, it's not. The S8's brakes give away the luxury leanings of this Audi. The mediocre pedal feel is average luxury car rather than sporty super sedan à la Munich. There's too much initial softness in the execution, like the calipers are taking tentative nibbles out of the 15.2-inch front discs (13.2-inch rears) rather than the immediate positive, healthy bites one expects.

Likewise, the S8's interior is a festival of plush. There is what seems like a cubic forever of room inside. The heated front sport seats are coated in Valcona leather and can electrically adjust to the comfort of virtually any body that nature throws at them. The three-spoke multifunction steering wheel is trimmed in leather, as are most of the interior touch points. Brushed aluminum, carbon-fiber and aluminum-look trim abounds, with plenty of "S" and "S8" insignias to go around. And it's quiet. Too quiet. Too well-insulated to hear that V10 working.

Outside, Audi's not shy about decorating the car with "S8" and "V10" badges either. Even the front brake calipers get the "S8" treatment. Other S8 distinctions include aluminum sideview mirrors, an integrated deck lid spoiler, oval exhaust tips and the most intimidating Gates-of-Hell grille treatment we've ever seen.

Luxury-sport vs. sport-luxury
In creating the 2007 S8, Audi seems to be celebrating VW's proper return of the luxury mantle to Ingolstadt. Maybe a bit too much. At any rate, the North American court of public opinion will have its say when the S8 arrives in U.S. dealerships this October. Pricing has yet to be announced, but Audi insists that a well-equipped S8 can be had without breaking the six-digit dollar figure, which should catch the attention of BMW and Mercedes buyers.

Taken as a whole, the new S8 is a hell of a good luxury sedan, but only a heck of a good sport sedan. But like the king says, nothing in life has any business being perfect.

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