The high-end luxury car market may represent but a minute portion of total car sales around the world (save for Dubai, perhaps) but their importance is on a scale inversely proportional to their take rate.
Why such importance? Because of what they represent: success, happiness (for some), riches. They’re aspirational cars.
What with image being the most vital aspect of our lives and credit being readily available, looking like a baller is as important as eating and sleeping. Despite borrowing being as easy as 1-2-3, not all of us will qualify for a $100k loan, however, many will manage $40k. And that $40k had better look like $100k when all is said and done.
I recently tested and reviewed Audi’s latest A3 and it’s all about appearing and feeling like a far more expensive car. And what car would that be? The A8, Audi’s flagship super-saloon.
A step up
Audi’s A8 has long since been a favourite of mine in this segment, however; Mercedes’ latest S-Class has hoisted itself to the top of the heap. At least, that was true until I got reacquainted with the S8.
The S8 is (and has always been) at the peak of the A8’s range. As with all Audi “S” cars, they are all about performance and handling without ever compromising comfort and luxury. At $126,900, the S8 is not within reach of most car buyers but then, that’s why Audi has the S4 on offer. I’ll have more on the latter later.
To be an “S”
Ah yes, to be an Audi “S” car requires some special gifts and assets. The principal talent lies beneath the bonnet, and for the S8 it’s quite the kicker.
It sports a twin-turbocharged 4.0L V8 that belches out 520 horsepower and 481 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, this 2,125kg (4,675lb) uber sedan launches to 100 km/h in 4 seconds on its way to a limited top speed of 250 km/h.
As with all of the Volkswagen Auto Group’s direct injected and boosted engines, it’s how the power is delivered that makes a world of a difference. As of 1,700 rpm, all torques conquer inertia and as it begins to drop off from 5,500 rpm, max hp swings in at 5,800 rpm and holds strong all the way to 6,400.
The swell of power is violently gentle as its initial push throws you back in your seat, but as the wave never drops off, I was cosily shoved into the seatback. The autobox slides in and out of gears without a hint of hesitation.
The S8 covers ground at an alarming rate of speed, but does so with such serenity that the entire experience is deceivingly unimpressive. Other than the pushback into the seats, the cabin remains quiet and the ride is unperturbed by the road’s surface.
The flagship S8 features Audi’s adaptive sport air suspension that does an impressive job at keeping all the ugly at bay. With Audi Drive Select, the driver can select (novel, n’est-ce pas?) a number of chassis settings including a customizable setting called “individual.” Depending on the elected mode, throttle, suspension, and steering are sharpened or “loosened.”
For such a large car, the 2015 Audi S8 drives much smaller than its dimensions lead to believe. Its level of manoeuvrability is uncanny, but can be explained by the trick AWD system. The S8 gets the ultimate iteration of Audi’s deliciously efficient Quattro as it includes a self-locking centre differential and sport rear differential that varies between the rear wheels. This characteristic, along with dynamic steering, renders the S8 incredibly alert and responsive.
Money gets you amenities
Audi’s 2015 S8 is loaded to the gills with every feature under the sun. The quality and craftsmanship are what make a huge difference. The way the various materials come together justify the S8’s cover charge.
The 18-way front power-adjustable seats are nothing short of perfect, providing support, and comfort regardless of the driving situation. Should you be returning home from a hard day’s work then the massaging function will brighten your mood.
And dashing good looks
Audi’s A8 basic design dates from 2010, however, you’d be hard pressed to call it old.
The S8 garners sporty bits such as specific front and rear bumpers, 20” wheels (optional sexy 21” on my tester) and LED lighting all around.
The elegant and powerful subtleness of the S8’s presence is what makes it not stand out of the crowd but by same token, makes it look special and distinguished.
For the money
The only other cars I’d consider in this price range are the Tesla Model S and the Mercedes-AMG S 63. I’ve not driven the Merc, but that Tesla’s a spectacular car and now one can order an AWD P85D. Boom.
The S8 is equally spectacular, but that Tesla… Mo’ money, mo’ problems…