Strengths and weaknesses:
- Fuel consumption
Dusseldorf, Germany - When Audi launched the A8 with an all-aluminum space frame back in 1993, it became the world's first automaker to include such construction technology in a mass-production car. Ferrari followed Audi's lead and built the 360 Modena upon an all-aluminum chassis, becoming the second automaker to craft its cars from aluminum. Audi, then, was in good company.
Fast forward to 2013 and there are many examples of cars constructed from aluminum – but they’re all sports cars with serious performance credentials; take the new C7 Corvette for example – a car constructed of aluminum, with fiberglass and carbon-fibre skin. The 2015 Audi A8 and its athletic-brother S8 receives a thorough revamp with added technologies and more sculpted sheet metal, but the key to its performance and personality remains intact: an exotic all-aluminum space frame underpinning the handsome bits that meet your eyes.
Arriving at the airport in Dusseldorf, Germany, I had my choice of several engine options to motivate my four-wheeled, four-ringed aluminum friend. As if metal to a magnet, I was immediately drawn to a Teutonic beast calling me from afar with its aggressive sheet metal, large 20" wheels and quad exhaust. The new 2015 Audi S8 sat fully fuelled, ready to paw at the pavement.
The drive, as ever, is exhilarating; when piloting an Audi S8 you're ever cognizant of the vehicle's rigid, lightweight structure. It just feels "right" – as if hewn from a solid slab of granite, though clearly hollow and nowhere near primitive. This solidity translates into the driving experience, allowing the suspension to absorb bumps on the road surface with remarkable poise.
When pressing on, the S8 loves to play sports car, diving into corners and rocketing out of them with all four-wheels searching for grip. The tail will kick out when driving at the limit, demonstrating the car's excellent balance and near-neutral handling. Audi has tuned the S8's all-wheel drive system to deliver 60 per cent of the available torque to the rear wheels, thus improving dynamics and giving the car a touch of rear-wheel drive feel. Torque is also vectored side to side between the rear wheels, enabling ballistic corner exits. Does it feel anything like the R8 from behind the wheel? Absolutely not – but it shrinks around you and feels like a sports car nonetheless.
Exactly 520 German-bred horses are available to your right foot, with 481 ft-lb of torque ready to stress the drive shaft. Thanks to the prodigious power of its forced-induction 4.0 litre V8, the S8 can leap from a standstill to 100 km/h in a scant 4.1 seconds. Braking distances are also impressive; the S8 hunkers down and feels very stable under braking, with good pedal feel and response.
While the S8's dynamics are most impressive to this humble scribe, its new technologies should not be overlooked. Audi has launched a new illumination technology, electro-mechanical steering and drivetrain developments that enhance efficiency on the 2015 A8 and S8.
Piercing through the darkness is Audi's new LED headlamp tech, which enhances visibility and thus safety for both the Audi driver and fellow motorists. Coined the "Matrix LED" lighting system, Audi has designed a high-beam that is broken into 25 separate lighting segments. Using a forward facing camera to measure the intensity and exact location of oncoming light, Matrix LED will paint a shadow over the oncoming car, while leaving full high-beam illumination of the roadway surrounding the on oncoming car. It's quite the system – though disappointingly, it's unavailable for sale in North America while awaiting safety approval (somewhat ironically) from the powers that be.
A gamut of driver aids including adaptive cruise control with stop-start assist, lane guidance, and pedestrian and animal alert and collision avoidance also enhance safety and take the stress out of long drives, particularly in inclement weather.
The S8’s taut, chiselled bodywork is handsome from every angle – but like most Audis, the real visual treat remains inside the car. Audi have a penchant for designing lush, luxurious interiors, and the perch of the S8 is no exception.
Your hind-side is treated to Audi’s proprietary Unicum leather, which uses natural sources of die to tint the leather to its rich colour palate. Boldly contoured stretches of aluminum and carbon-fibre trim remind you of the car’s sporting intentions, while maintaining an air of opulence.
A high-fidelity sound system by Bang & Olufsen cranks 1,400 watts through 19 speakers via 19 channels. This sound stage is one of the best you'll find in any car at any price point.
The 2014 S8 is priced at $131,400 CAD and the revised 2015 S8 will hang close to this figure.
If you're in the market for a large, luxurious sedan with sports car moves and tenacious all-wheel drive grip, look no further than the 2015 Audi S8.
2015 Audi S8
Trim level: S8
Options on test vehicle: Technology package, Unicum leather, Bang & Olufsen sound
Configuration: front-engine, all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 4.0L turbocharged V8 / 8-spd sport automatic
Power/torque: 520 hp/ 481 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): premium (90L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 9.6 L/100km average
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 15 L/100km over 300 km
Warranties: 4 years/80,000 km limited warranty
Competitors: Alpina B7, Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, Jaguar XJ-R
Report Card (out of 10):
Fuel Economy: 3 – When driven conservatively the S8 will achieve decent fuel economy.
Equipment level: 10 – Well-equipped with the latest technology and comfort amenities.
Price: 8 – Well-priced in the segment build quality, materials, and performance.
Styling: 8 – Taut sheet metal looks imposing, yet the A8 still drives under the radar.
Comfort (front): 10 – Seats are comfortable, interior materials are of the finest quality and fit and finish is excellent
Comfort (rear): 8 – Rear heated seats and separate climate control keeps passengers happy and temperate
Handling: 9 – The S8 is a veritable 4-door sports car when thrown into corners.
Performance: 8 – Strong acceleration, braking and high levels of cornering grip will satisfy all of your back-road fantasies.
Storage: 8 – Interior storage is well thought-out; 520 litre trunk will swallow plenty.
Overall: 9 – A luxurious, high-tech sedan with sports car moves and AWD traction.