Very hot on the heels of Robb Report’s Audi RS 3 first drive is our first time behind the wheel of the 2022 Audi S8, a big luxury sedan that delivers an extra dose of sport. More antipodal bookends expressing the pinnacle of Audi performance would be hard to imagine.
As a Los Angeles denizen, I’ve long been a believer that if travel is within California, Nevada or Arizona, driving is the “only way to fly” (unless a friend is proffering private aviation). Crunch the numbers, and the timing is the same, except that instead of being manhandled by TSA and wedged into a monkey-coffin-sized straight-back airline seat, one can luxuriate in the comfort of one’s own automobile. And in the case of the Audi S8, that’s not just any automobile, or any seat, but a legitimate limo that hauls from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and keeps one’s own seat cool all the way to the California-Nevada border.
I’ve never owned a real grown-up luxury car, despite being well past the median age of the modern Rolls-Royce or Bentley customer. Instead, like Peter Pan, I’ve tenaciously clung to my small-car fantasy, whether it’s a Porsche 911 or a Morgan Plus 8. In that context, the Audi S8 was a revelation, and yes, I should have known better. It’s just that now, I’m actually converted.
Driving 285 miles nonstop makes one thankful to have the S8, the biggest and sportiest Audi, as one’s road-going companion. About 200 miles out of LA, the freeway grind suddenly becomes a tranquil desert highway, with seemingly limitless straights and sweeping curves through a landscape of gently undulating elevation changes. It’s the perfect testing ground on which to explore the car’s handling ability and the steam locomotive–like pull of the 563 hp, 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine.
The car’s character goes from sporty Dynamic mode to cushy Comfort mode with the simple swipe of a finger on the center-stack 10.1-inch touchscreen. The Dynamic setting exploits Audi’s Predictive Active Suspension, a US$6,000 option that employs a camera to scan the road, modulating each corner to iron out road irregularities in concert with the standard sport air suspension. Dynamic all-wheel steering and optional 21-inch, 10-spoke wheels with summer rubber optimize handling. Churning with 590 ft lbs of torque, the model delivers power easily, managed by Quattro all-wheel drive—with sport differential—and the butter-smooth eight-speed Tiptronic transmission.
Back home, parking my beloved Fiat 500 hot rod parallel to the S8 obscured only the front half of the Audi, exposing almost an entire Fiat’s worth of Audi behind. Which is to say, the S8 is an impressively long sedan, with a rear-passenger compartment as capacious as that found in most any car. If one gets the impression that its backseat is the place to be, that’s only partially true, for the S8 is a rewarding vehicle to drive at speed, even on less than perfect roads. It gobbles up freeways and straightaways, and does it so comfortably and quietly that its pilot arrives quite refreshed, especially after a day in the diamond-stitched, umpteen-way adjustable, cold-air blowing and massaging front seat.
We’ve always called out Audi for having the most tasteful interiors in the business. In the case of the S8, it’s a combination of Valcona leather, carbon fiber and discrete aluminum trim. Infotainment, connectivity and driver-assistance systems are comprehensive and—importantly—comprehensible.
Understatement carries to the exterior of the S8, too, with lines that are sharper and, dare we say, sportier than the outgoing model. The Singleframe front grille is wider, with digital matrix-design LED headlamps. At the rear, OLED taillights and four stout tailpipes distinguish the S8 from the A8. Yet this car, starting at US$116,900, will never attract undue attention. In soft Daytona Gray Pearl Effect paint, with the optional US$2,100 Black Optic Package, the S8 becomes the quintessential stealth sedan, one with the performance and luxury to go the distance in comfort and style.