2007 Audi S8 Expert Review:Autoblog
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This edition of "In the Autoblog Garage" is brought to you by the letter S and the number 8. Alone, each is just another mundane alphanumeric character. When positioned next to each other on a vehicle bearing Audi's interlocking rings, however, they turn into something very special. The character pair becomes shorthand for 5.2 liters, 10 cylinders, 450 horses, 398 ft.-lbs., 4.9 seconds, 155 miles per hour, and $110,000+ in the case of the Daytona Grey Audi S8 tester that had been deposited in my driveway. Yep, it was going to be a pretty good week.
There are times when more simply means more, and others when more means better. The S8 is is the rolling embodiment of both philosophies, cramming in just about every feature Ingolstadt has to offer, while somehow making it seem entirely rational -- appropriate, even -- at the same time. One of the best things about Audi's über-sedan is that to the untrained observer, it's just a standard-wheelbase A8. Why is this good, you ask? Because the S8 is the ultimate sleeper as a result. Those who recognize it for what it is generally make eye contact and nod approvingly, understanding what it is that's before them. They're the ones who know better. Some stoplight denizens are less respectful, tossing sheepish looks at the "rich dude" lined up next to them. They're the ones who rev their engines aggressively, only to be wearing looks of shame as they stare straight ahead at the next stoplight, having been utterly humiliated by a conservative-looking 4,586-pound sedan. Looks, you see, are very deceiving, and the S8 has the means at its disposal to make examples of those who underestimate it.
The visual differentiators worn by the S8 are subtle but unmistakable. For starters, red-trimmed S8 badges adorn the trunklid and the grille, whose vertical elements are dressed in chrome. The door handles are also accented with the shiny stuff, and the rearview mirrors are given a satiny metallic finish. The car's nose sports a pair of honeycomb-trimmed intakes under the headlamps and an ever-so-slight lip spoiler finishes off the bottom. Small V10 badges sit aft of the front wheel wells and when you head rearward, quad exhaust tips stick out through the rear bumper cutouts. The S8's standard rolling stock consists of 20" seven-twin-spoke wheels wrapped in 265/35R20 rubber, but our tester was still wearing its winter kicks despite spring being in full swing. The wheel design was the same, but they were 19 inches in diameter, instead. A peek through the spokes reveals the S8 logo on the front brake calipers. The rest of the car's outward appearance is pure A8 -- understated elegance infused with athleticism. Think of an NFL linebacker in an expensive tailored suit and that's the profile the S8 cuts as it drives by: classy, but muscular.
Opening the door presents you with a case study in how to design a proper cabin. If you're part of the club that feels Audi has the best interiors going right now, the S8 does absolutely nothing to diminish that belief. To the contrary, it reinforces it. The tester was outfitted with the optional full leather upgrade, meaning just about every conceivable surface was covered in beautifully-stitched hides, including the door panels (which also had Alcantara accents), center console, and the dashboard. Two-tone black-and-silver seating with contrast stitching added some pizazz, and passengers almost unanimously commented favorably on the Alcantara headliner. Speaking of passengers, the S8 is technically a 5-place sedan, but for practical purposes it's a four-seater. The backseat is set up with a pair of buckets separated by a flip-down armrest containing the car's first aid kit and a pair of cupholders. A fifth passenger can take that middle spot when the armrest is stowed (there's a belt, after all), but it probably wouldn't be fun for any extended period of time, especially having to straddle the transmission tunnel.
After settling into the very comfortable driver's seat, gently pull the door shut and the car's power door close assist (part of the tester's Premium Package) does the rest. A meaty 3-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters faces the driver, and beyond that, the S8's instrument cluster stands ready with the basics -- speedo, tach, temp, and fuel gauges. The uninterrupted dash is accented with carbon fiber and aluminum inlays, as is the center console. There's no need to wield the trademark switchblade key, as the Premium Package turns it into a full-fledged keyless fob. Simply hold down the brake, press the engine start button on the center console, and the car comes to life. The gauges light up, and in the middle of the instrument panel, a section of carbon fiber flips open to reveal the S8's LCD screen. A secondary MMI/information display between the two primary gauges also makes its presence known.
A number of buttons populate the center console area, and though they all look similar, the arrangement's logical and they're well-labeled. The linchpin to everything is Audi's MMI, which is given the prime real estate in the middle. Superior to BMW's iDrive, the controller's made up of a dial surrounded by four buttons, each of which corresponds to menu selections shown in the corners of the primary LCD display. It's easy to get the hang of, and menu navigation quickly becomes second nature. There are nice touches, too, as some features like the radio tuner get popped onto the LCD inside the gauge cluster was well, allowing you to change channels or songs without having to look over at the middle of the IP. The model is repeated on the climate controls. Driver and passenger each get their own thermostat dials, which actually have MMI-type functionality. For example, twisting the dial will change the selected temp by default, but pressing the button with the fan icon changes the dial's focus, and spinning it increases or decreases the fan speed (the LCD screen automatically reflects what your doing, too, making your actions crystal clear). The MMI system is used to control and adjust everything from audio and phone configuration to navigation and suspension settings. While some of you surely have an aversion to these comprehensive in-car GUIs, Audi's is the class of the bunch.
As entertaining as the in-car theatrics at startup are (the B & O tweeters rising from the dash never failed to elicit oohs and ahhs), they're just a sideshow to the main event as the 5.2L V10 growls to life, emitting a techno-metal soundtrack that you never want to turn off. When you succumb to the urge to goose the throttle, baffles in the mufflers snap open, making the the exhaust music even more sonically exciting. For extra fun, pull into the nearest parking garage and do this indoors. You'll give yourself goosebumps. By now, the car has already adjusted its active suspension in accordance with whatever setting's been chosen. If it's nighttime and you parked facing a wall, the headlights let you see this movement firsthand.
After popping the car in reverse to back out and then slipping the Tiptronic's shifter into drive, the S8 shows that it does the luxury car thing exceedingly well, cruising silently along at neighborhood speeds. The cabin, with all the windows shut and sunroof closed, is as serene as a library staffed by pistol-packing librarians. Breaking the silence is easy thanks to the optional (and expensive) Bang & Olufsen audio system. The 1000-watt fourteen-speaker rig is better-sounding than most home systems, and when combined with the Audi Music Interface, which provides true iPod integration via the MMI, it offers one of the most complete musical experiences of any car on the market.
Sliding the shifter down one more notch into Sport mode sets the stage for music of a different sort. Left alone there, the transmission will hold gears longer, waiting to shift until the redline approaches. You can also pick your own shift points with the paddles. The sound coming from the engine compartment as this goes on is worth turning off the stereo and opening the windows. Turn onto a long highway on-ramp, and the direct-injected, Lamborghini-sourced 5.2L V10 gets going with a snarl that builds into a guttural bellow as mechanical magic happens all they way up to 7,000 rpm. Stay on the throttle and the landscape bordering the roadway becomes a blur, zipping by at a pace as frenetic as the goings-on underhood. Any doubt that the car is capable of reaching its electronically-governed top speed is vaporized as you watch the speedometer needle move clockwise at an unexpectedly rapid and steady clip. The S8 hurtles forward like a bullet train, totally composed, never wanting for power. Traction is not a problem thanks to the quattro AWD, and the car feels very balanced. In the end, the rational part of you simply takes over and you heel the beast under your right foot. Enlisting the car's massive brakes (15.2" discs in front, 13.2" in back) halts the S8's forward motion quickly and without drama.
Big cars like this are supposed to spoil you with comfort, but we never expected it to be so much fun to drive. The torquey, responsive V10 is always ready to play, and the car's gee-whiz air suspension keeps it composed at all times without ever resorting to harshness, even in the dynamic mode. The S8's a snap to drive, and its features are easy to use thanks to the sensible MMI that ties so many of them together. Other nice touches abound, too, like ambient lighting in the cabin, approach lighting in the door handles and a power rear sunshade. The trunk is just huge, and for all the performance the car dishes out, it still got a completely reasonable 15 mpg over the week it spent with us. The Audi S8 is the whole enchilada: awesome performance, bona-fide luxury, and understated class. At $110,920 as tested, it's worth every single penny.
All Photos ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Power and sophistication.
The Audi A8 is a big luxury sedan designed to challenge the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The A8 beats them in some areas and in others it has raised the bar for performance. In any case, the Audi A8 offers an individualistic alternative.
Three versions are available. The standard A8 features a 4.2-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission that deliver instant throttle response, while quattro all-wheel drive and an adaptable air suspension provide an excellent balance between handling and ride quality. The A8 offers a supreme sense of control with Gibraltar-like stability, benefits of its lightweight, highly Aluminum Space Frame that bonds the car into one cohesive unit.
The cabin is elegant and comfortable, and tops the class in finish quality. Audi's Multi-Media Interface, or MMI, integrate controls for various features and electronic systems into a big knob. It's a little easier to learn than BMW's iDrive, but it isn't easy. There is a learning curve and sometimes we find ourselves having to work harder to perform simple functions and wonder whether this is progress or burdensome technology.
The A8 L rides on a stretched wheelbase that provides more room and comfort for rear-seat passengers, not that the standard-length model is cramped.
New for 2007, both V8 models get a 20-hp boost to 350 horsepower, while improving fuel economy by one mile per gallon to an EPA-rated 18/25 mpg City/Highway.
The A8 L W12 features a 12-cylinder engine and a whopping 450 horsepower. It's the only 12-cylinder sedan from Germany's big three luxury brands with all-wheel drive.
The Audi S8, new for 2007, is powered by a 5.2-liter V10 and comes with a firmer suspension, faster steering, and bigger brakes. The S8 is distinguished by special trim and equipment inside and out. The S8 is perfect for triple digit speeds on wide-open highways and would be an excellent choice for a cross country race. It's also a good selection for getting away from enemy agents, for those in that line of work, particularly in bad weather. For driving through the neighborhood or in stop-and-go traffic, however, we found it suffers from an overly sensitive throttle that makes smooth takeoffs a bit too challenging.
Audi A8 retail at a lower price point than comparable Mercedes and BMW models.
The 2007 Audi A8 is available in four variations: the A8 4.2 ($68,900); A8 L 4.2 ($72,900); A8 L W12 ($119,350); and the S8 5.2 ($92,000). All come with Audi quattro all-wheel drive.
The A8 4.2 rides on a 115.9-inch wheelbase, while the A8 L adds 5.1 inches in both wheelbase and overall length. Both are powered by a 4.2-liter V8 rated at 350 horsepower and come with a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift control. Both models come loaded with all the luxury features you'd expect at this price point. The air conditioning uses temperature, moisture, and infrared sensors to demist the windows before they can even think about fogging. The parking brake is operated by a switch.
The A8 L W12 rides on the 121-inch wheelbase and is powered by the 450-hp W12 engine. It comes with ultra-luxury amenities such as power sunshades for the rear windows; heated power-adjustable rear seats; and leather upholstery on the door panels, console and dashboard. The A8 L W12 also comes standard with a full-length rear-seat center console, housing elaborate climate controls and seat adjustments, plus a dual-screen entertainment system; this limits seating capacity to four, though the rear center console can be deleted at no cost in favor of a three-place bench seat.
The S8 rides on the standard 115.9-inch wheelbase, and features a high-performance 5.2-liter V10 rated at 450 hp. The air suspension is firmer, the brakes are larger and the steering is quicker. Extra bright trim and 20-inch wheels contribute to a distinctive look outside; while inside are sport seats upholstered in two-tone leather, darker wood or carbon fiber trim with aluminum accents, and white-on-gray italic gauge faces.
Option packages for the A8 and A8 L include a Sport Package ($2,800) with firmer suspension settings, 19-inch wheels with P255/40R19 summer performance or all-season tires, and a multi-function leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles. A similar package is available with 275/35ZR20 performance tires on 20-inch wheels ($4,000). A 14-speaker, 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system custom-tailored to the Audi's interior acoustics ($6,300) is available. A Premium Package ($4,400) includes Advanced Key, heated front and rear seats, electric rear sunshade, manual side sunshades, power trunk open/close, power door-close assists, Advanced Parking System with rearview camera, and rear vanity mirrors.
Options for the A8 and A8L include adaptive cruise control ($2,100), which uses radar to maintain a prescribed distance from traffic ahead; Sirius Satellite Radio ($550); four-spoke wood and leather multifunction steering wheel ($690); a solar-powered sunroof panel ($790) that blows cooling air through the car while it is parked (and replaces the standard glass sunroof); front seat massage and ventilation ($1,500); rear-seat electric lumbar adjustment ($350); dual rear-seat climate control ($600); a ski sack ($175); 19-inch wheels with all-season tires ($1,900); and, for the A8 L only, personal refrigerator ($1,500) in the trunk accessible through the rear-seat armrest. Special paint-and-leather combinations are available ($11,500).
A8 L W12 options are limited to the adaptive cruise control, solar roof panel, four-spoke multi-function steering wheel ($200), Bang & Olufsen stereo, refrigerator, full-leather upgrade ($3,900), and 20-inch wheels ($3,200).
S8 offers the Premium Package ($3,900) with powered rear and manual side sunshades, Advanced Key, power opening and closing trunk, power assists to gently close the doors, heated rear seats, and Advance Park System with rear-view camera. Most of the stand-alone luxury options offered on the standard-wheelbase A8 are available on the S8 for the same prices. Carbon-fiber interior trim ($550) is available.
Safety features on all A8 models includes 10 air bags. In a crash, computers quickly determine which dual-threshold, dual-stage air bags to deploy, how quick.
Elegant. That's how we'd describe the A8 in a word, but elegant in a forceful fashion that's not at all prissy. The A8's distinct wedge shape features a short front overhang, a low hood-line and a high, powerful tail. The shoulder line rises to the rear, creating the impression of a crouched beast ready to spring. The A8 is expressive in an understated Audi way, and people will know you mean business when you fill their mirrors.
A8 L models are five inches longer than the standard A8 and S8. (L stands for long-wheelbase.) Inside the car, those 5.1 inches translate entirely into increased rear-seat legroom. Choose the A8 over the A8 L if squeezing into tight parking spots is more important than a vast rear seating area, remembering that the standard A8's rear accommodations are quite expansive by typical sedan standards.
At 115.9 inches, the standard A8 is fractionally longer in wheelbase than a Cadillac DTS. The A8 L is essentially the same length overall as a Mercedes S-Class and BMW 750i. The A8 L wheelbase stretches 121.0 inches, which leaves it 3.6 inches short of the long-wheelbase Mercedes and 2.2 inches short of the long-wheelbase BMW. Other things being equal, a longer wheelbase offers more passenger room and increased stability at speed, but is less maneuverable in tight parking lots. The Audi is an inch wider than the Mercedes-Benz and comparable to the BMW.
All the doors open extra wide, making it easier to get in and out. The flush, lever-style outside handles are attractive, but we find them harder to use than the type you can put your hand through, such as those on a Mercedes.
Standard on A8 4.2s are five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels with 255/45HR18 all-season tires; these provide excellent handling and ride comfort and superb grip in the wet. The optional 19- and 20-inch wheels and tires more aggressively fill the wheel wells and provide a surprisingly smooth ride in spite of their short sidewalls. The A8 L W12 gets the 19-inch wheel/tire package standard; with 20-inch wheels available and 18-inchers (which offer the best ride) offered as a no-cost option.
All models feature a tall, vertical grille that connects Audi's familiar horizontally split grilles over the front bumper, emphasized with a chrome surround.
The rear of the A8 models feature taillights that fit flush with the clean rear design. Turn signals use LED technology and feature side repeater lamps to signal your intentions to drivers alongside. Dual exhaust pokes from below the beautifully integrated rear bumper.
The S8 has a bolder front end, with a bright finish emphasizing the vertical elements of the family grille; and a honeycomb texture for the air intakes on either side of it. A red-and-black S8 badge is offset to the lower right. Sharp-eyed Audi-watchers might notice additional S8 badges on the front fenders and front brake calipers, as well as unique aluminum-look trim on the side mirrors and door handles. Subtle, too, are the S8's integrated deck-lid spoiler and light-reflecting panel in its rear apron; not so subtle are its four oval exhaust tips.
The aluminum space frame saves about 300 pounds compared to a conventional steel frame, allowing more features without overburdening the car with weight. An A8 L 4.2 weighs 150 pounds less than a BMW 750Li and only 23 pounds more than a Mercedes-Benz S550, neither of which have all-wheel drive. The A8 benefits from a highly rigid structure, which means less flex, and the A8 feels as if it's milled from a single block of bar-stock aluminum. A rigid structure is the key to a smooth ride quality and sharp handling.
The Audi A8 comes loaded with features, and each model is comfortable and luxurious. Interior design is clean and classic. A choice of leathers and wood trims ensures a touch of individuality. Handsome Valcona leather seat upholstery comes standard, with attractive Alcantara (suede-like) door inserts. Walnut, sycamore, and birch woods are used to warm the interior. A swath of aluminum around the dash and doors brightens the interior. The mix of wood and metal is pleasing and adds a sporting flair. In total, the A8 cabin is handsome and remarkably rich in appearance. Audi is known for high-quality, well-designed interiors and the A8 lives up to this.
The A8 seats are supportive and comfortable and adjust 16 ways. A memory feature keeps all the settings for four different drivers (or moods), including climate controls. Front and rear seats can be heated and ventilated. The center console provides generous storage, and the electroluminescent instrument panel adjusts brightness automatically according to ambient light. The four-spoke, leather-covered steering wheel with a hub fashioned to replicate the shape of the grille.
In the A8 L W12, virtually every surface that isn't carpeted is covered with leather, save the top of the dash and headliner, which is made of Alcantara. Order the Full Leather Upgrade and the dash gets covered in leather, too, as well as the whole of the inner door panels, instead of just an insert. The double stitching on the seats in contrasting colors is really wonderful.
The S8 gets special seats upholstered in two-tone Valcona leather with contrasting stitching; or in all black if that's what you prefer. The wood trim in the S8 is an almost-black Gray Birch, which contrasts more sharply with the aluminum-look highlights. Carbon fiber trim is optional. The S8 comes with a three-spoke steering wheel wrapped in gray leather. Instruments are white-on-gray with italic figures.
A seven-inch color screen in the top-center of the dash of all models displays Audi's Multi-Media Interface, or MMI. Four buttons and a dial on the center console do the adjusting. This system is designed to consolidate interior functions into one control center, giving the driver lots of options without filling the dash with buttons. Audi's MMI features a shallower menu structure than BMW's iDrive, meaning you don't have to burrow as deeply through a maze of menus to get to the adjustment you want. Audi did not incorporate the climate controls into this system, however, and this is a good thing. Heating and air conditioning have traditional controls mounted high on the center stack, so you don't have to call up a menu to change the fan speed. You simply twist a dial. Occasionally, we twisted this when we really wanted to turn down the radio, but we learned. The MMI screen matches the look of the controls, and a Return button takes you back to where you were, like the Back button on a Web browser.
Virtually everyone we've spoken too, from auto reviewers to consumers, rates Audi's MMI better than BMW's iDrive. But some rate the Audi system only minutely better, and don't like it much at all. Or, easiest of all, Jaguar's elegant and traditional controls. The point? Designing controls to manage the ever-increasing number of performance, entertainment and communications systems in luxury cars traveling at high speeds remains a young, inexact science. This systems take some time to learn and, at times, we found the technology overwhelming and distracting.
Beyond finish quality, attention to detail is one of Audi's greatest assets. A secondary heater in the A8 is designed to heat up the rear cabin quickly. Ambient lighting in the interior allows control of mood in the cabin. Mood lighting is good. One small demerit is the power door that hides the MMI when the car is shut off operates closes in a jerky fashion.
The A8 is quiet underway. The cabin is well insulated (the W.
In the Audi A8, a driver can use the Driver Information Display to set the optional Adaptive Cruise Control, which minds tailgating and maintains a safe, pre-determined distance to the car ahead. The Electronic Stabilization Program can help control the car when the driver can't. Electronic Brake-force Distribution keeps the car balanced in a panic stop, and Brake Assist slams the binders harder if the driver doesn't press as hard he or she should. Adaptive Air Suspension keeps the ride smooth and tires planted no matter the surface. There are moisture-sensing wipers, high-intensity headlamps and ten airbags. Yet all these advanced systems, identified by a confusing array of acronyms, don't mask one crucial point. The A8 can be a complete joy to drive, reminding all but the sensory deprived how pleasant gobbling miles in a big, fast luxury sedan can be.
The first impression at the wheel of an A8 is its smoothness. There's nothing remotely resembling a squeak or rattle, and almost no vibration in the cabin.
The A8 can be a thrill to drive. The 4.2-liter V8 delivers powerful acceleration, but its power delivery is sophisticated, not crude. The V8 responds with a muted roar to every poke at the gas pedal. No matter how fast the A8 4.2 is already going, the driver can tap into a deep well of acceleration-producing torque.
2007 models get a boost in horsepower, and Audi claims the 350-hp A8 4.2 can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds, about 0.4 seconds quicker than the 2006 model. A sub-six-second 0-60 is quick. Top speed is electronically governed at 130 mph. In short, the A8 is fast traffic.
The 6.0-liter W12, rated 450 horsepower, is quite remarkable. The A8 L W12 is a blast to gas. Throttle response is immediate, and the 12-cylinder engine delivers acceleration-producing torque in a wide, flexible power band befitting a luxury carmaker's flagship sedan. The W12 pulls hard up to its 6200-rpm power peak, and it feels like there's still more power coming when it hits the rev limiter. Moreover, the revs translate to executive-class thrust. Audi reports 0-60 mph times of 5.0 seconds, very quick, indeed, with top speed governed at 130. The W12 is remarkably refined, docile, and tractable, particularly given 450 horsepower, but it does have a hint of an overly sensitive throttle so you might have to recalibrate your foot to avoid lurching from a standstill.
The six-speed automatic that comes with either engine shifts up or down according to the driver's wishes, deftly sensing how quickly and how hard the throttle is mashed. The transmission features what Audi calls DSP (for Dynamic Shift Program), a form of smart software that selects from over 200 possible shifting programs to adjust to any individual's driving style. Upshifts are silky smooth in full automatic mode; in some instances, downshifts could come quicker, but the reserve of torque in either engine more than compensates for any shift lag. The automatic features Porsche's Tiptronic system, allowing the driver to slide it into a manually controlled mode. Manual shifting is never necessary, because the transmission is quite responsive in the automatic mode, but it can be fun. Here, however, we lodge a small complaint. Even in manual mode, the transmission will shift up at high rpm, rather than holding the selected gear, which seems to defeat the purpose of giving the driver manual control, but it's a good thing if you forget to shift.
The quattro all-wheel-drive system offers excellent traction in slippery conditions, but also improves stability when cornering, whether under full-throttle acceleration or when the driver lifts off the gas suddenly in the middle of a turn. Quattro also eliminates torque steer, that pulling sensation on the steering wheel that powerful front-drive cars often exhibit under acceleration.
An adaptive air suspension is used at all four corners on the A8, and it's a bit more soph.
The Audi A8 is fast, roomy, luxurious and exceptionally comfortable. It rides like a luxury car, yet it's taut and handles like a sports sedan. Loaded with innovation, the A8 is a thinking person's luxury car, more progressive, less traditional than a BMW or Mercedes. It's elegant but not arrogant, indulgent without being excessive. It's priced a little lower than comparable sedans from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, yet gives up almost nothing to either. V8, V10, or W12? In Germany, where the autobahn beckons with no speed limit, that would be an easier choice, assuming money is no object. In our land, the advantage of the W12 or the sporty S8 is more image than reality. The price premium for the W12 seems like a lot for image, but it is a wonderful 12-cylinder sedan with all-wheel drive and we think it's a good choice. We'll pass on the S8 due to its overly sensitive throttle, however.
NewCarTestDrive.com editors Mitch McCullough and J.P. Vettraino contributed to this report.
Audi A8 4.2 ($68,900); A8 L 4.2 ($72,900); S8 5.2 ($92,000); A8 L W12 ($119,350).
Options As Tested
solar sunroof ($790).
Audi A8 L W12 ($119,350).
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