The Audi S8 has held a special place in the hearts and minds of many since Larry very specifically asked for one as the getaway vehicle in director John Frankenheimer’s 1998 film, Ronin. At the time Audi was still rebuilding their brand image due to lingering memories of the 5000 fiasco, and the S8 starring in the movie certainly helped. The D2 S8 ran until 2003 and then in 2006 the D3 S8 arrived with a mildly detuned version of the V10 used in the Lamborghini Gallardo of the same era. Subsequently the D4 S8 used a twin-turbo V8 during its run as did the S8 Plus that closed out the production run of the D4, which was the only S8 option for North America in 2016 and 2017. The D5 S8 arrived in 2020 retaining the twin-turbo V8—albeit making more power. The updated 2022 model, which we just drove in Southern California, isn’t all that different at first glance.
The exterior has been sharpened, but happily not by way of over-styling. The design remains sensible and worthy of a flagship luxury sedan, highlighted by the new single-frame grille that widens the face of the car and gives it a very seamless appearance. While undeniably sporty, the car doesn’t scream it.
In the past, glamorous transport duties would have been handled by the range topping long wheelbase W12, but now the S8 L is the pinnacle of the A8 range and it’s equally qualified to move people seeking serenity as much as it is those seeking excitement. The former may prefer the four-passenger configuration which integrates a full-length rear center console housing folding tables, power outlets and other private-jet inspired amenities.
With an Audi Sport-tuned adaptive suspension coming standard on the 2022 S8, driving enthusiasts will be pleased with the car right out of the box. Opting for the predictive active suspension, however, ups the level of enjoyment behind the wheel to something rarely found in a full-size luxury sedan. Combined with standard all-wheel steering, the active suspension helps turn the S8 from one of the quietest, most comfortable luxury barges we’ve piloted into a curve carving, pavement hugging sport sedan with the push of a button.
Unlike the many drive modes conceived by other automakers whose differences are hard to perceive, the change from “Comfort +” to “Dynamic” in the S8 is dramatic, which makes “Individual” that much more fun to configure. Knowing that the active suspension isn’t simply reacting to changes in the road via a hydraulic system, but able to read the road ahead and make adjustments to load on each wheel via a predictive electronic system gave us the confidence to push the S8 toward its limit, of course without finding it.
The winding canyon roads we drove may have been rather empty, but they’re still public roads. We are impressed by the flat handling and cornering ability of the S8, both of which are aided by the standard quattro sport rear differential. The rear axle steering and active suspension do a great deal of the heavy lifting for this car, but it certainly wouldn’t be the total package that it is without that sport diff effortlessly throwing power from left to right and monitoring distribution of all the force the S8 is capable of generating.
Considering the S8 as the sum of its parts, Audi’s longtime slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik” (Progress through technology) rings as true as it ever has. The S8 is something to marvel at and the direct result of relentless innovation. High-powered variations of luxury sedans have long been billed as having “two-cars-in-one,” but anyone who has tried to hustle a hot-rodded land yacht through the twisties knows there’s a great deal of compromise to be found in these cars. The S8 delivers a driving experience not unlike that of the S4 and with so much more panache, not to mention room. It feels special because it is special, even though the quad-tip exhaust and signature OLED taillights are arguably all that would call attention to it apart from the S8 badge on the trunk. It is a car quite literally capable of flying under the radar. Of course that has always been the allure of Audi to some degree; luxury without all the attention or normal associations.
In recent years some of their most impressive vehicles have had a great deal of styling added to the perfectly attractive designs, but not the S8 which remains taut and aggressive without veering into over-the-top territory. The same is true inside where intuitive dual digital displays anchor a very ergonomic front cabin. The aesthetic isn’t so much minimal as it is sensible. Everything is just in its right place and the same could be said of the S8 itself, as it now occupies the same top spot in the flagship sedan range that it already held in enthusiasts minds for so many years.
Images courtesy of Audi