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Audi S8 - The Ultimate Sports Sedan

by Ali Arsham
Sunday, March 15, 2009


The Audi S8 is not your typical sports sedan, it's the ultimate sports sedan.

Sports sedans come in all kinds of flavors.  One of the most extremes has to be the Audi S8.  The S8 is in the super sports sedan category and there are not very many cars that are even in the same category.  It is very hard to find anything with this much performance, luxury and space blended together.

The S8 is based on Audi’s large all aluminum A8 sedan.  This is a large car and at almost 200 inches in length is almost as long as some full size trucks.  Even though the S8 is based on the A8, there are some major differences between the two cars.  The biggest difference is what is under the hood.  Audi wanted something that sets the S8 apart and for that they went to their other division, Lamborghini.  Audi took the Lamborghini Gallardo V10 engine and modified it slightly, giving it less horsepower but a broader powerband. 

Audi feels that a ten-cylinder engine is the ideal power plant for realizing sporting aspirations. It has the edge on a comparable twelve-cylinder unit thanks to the smaller number of components, resulting in lower moving masses and less internal friction; the fuel is consequently put to very efficient use. A V10 is moreover considerably lighter and more compact than a conventional 12-cylinder engine – including all its add-on components, the engine of the Audi S8 is just 26.9-in. long, 31.5-in. wide, and 28.0-in tall. The bare engine measures 22.0-in. in length. Although an eight-cylinder engine would be even more compact, to make it into the five-liter class it would need large, heavy pistons and connecting rods, so its ability to rev freely would be impaired as a result. It is no coincidence that many competitors have generally concentrated simply on high torque with their large-capacity V8 engines, rather than attempting to squeeze sporty performance out of them.  The V10 uses the gasoline direct injection principle Audi calls FSI.  This permits a high compression ratio of 12.5:1 which helps make the engine more efficient.  The bottom line is 450 hp at 7000 rpm and 398 lbs. ft. of torque at 3500 rpm.  The all aluminum engine displaces 5.2 liters and revs freely to its redline and sounds great in the process.  At 7000 rpm, the engine sounds ferocious but Audi has chosen to keep the car on the luxury side so the engine is muffled quite severely and the engine sound is only noticed at high revs. 

That fantastic engine is mated to a six speed automatic transmission.  Being Audi’s top of the line sedan, it uses quattro four wheel drive as standard equipment.  The quattro system works very well in the S8 with lots of traction.  Most sedans at this power level are two wheel drive and rely on electronic systems to keep the wheels from spinning.  When you have this much power under the hood, quattro really comes in handy in any weather.

The S8 uses Audi’s air suspension which is amazing in all conditions.  The suspension uses aluminum components to keep weight down and uses firmer settings than the A8 due to the car’s sportier nature.  When it comes down to it, the S8 is still more about luxury than performance with a ride that can never be called harsh. 

The S8 gets its own wheels, the S-design cast aluminum wheels that measure 9 x 20 inches with summer performance tires in a 265/35-20 size.  Behind the huge wheels lie giant 15 inch front brake rotors with two piston brake calipers.

The combination of all of these great parts make the 4600 pound S8 feel much lighter and more nimble than its weight would suggest.  Around twisty roads the S8 actually feels tossable and liked to be driven hard.  The quattro system makes the car easy to drive at the limit with moderate understeer at the limit which helps keep the car pointed in the right direction. 

Inside the car is a superb place to be.  The materials used are simply fantastic and there is nothing that even comes close to making you feel cheap.  The dash is leather wrapped and feels great to the touch.  The headliner is suede lined and is luxurious to the touch.  The S8 sports seats, which have a wide range of adjustment, have two-color upholstery with stitching in a contrasting color.  They are adjustable in all directions and even have an adjustable thigh support.  The back seat is huge with limo like space for those lucky rear passengers. 

Audi has gone to great lengths to create an ultimate sports sedan.  They have extensively used aluminum wherever possible and used a fantastic V10 engine, just so that the owner can boast that he has more cylinders than his neighbor.  These measures have not come cheap.  It is expensive to keep weight down and despite these efforts the S8 still weighs 4500 pounds.  It is amazing to have a 4500 pound car that performs like this.  When driven hard, the S8 never feels like a 4500 pound car.  In a drag race the S8 can blow away many sports cars with a ¼ mile time of 13.3 seconds.  And it accelerates all the way to its electronically governed 155 mph top speed.  And it does this while achieving 19 mpg on the highway and 13 mpg in the city. Yes the S8 is expensive to drive and with a base price of $96,000 it is expensive to buy.  Our car had only a few options, none of which were cheap, which brought the total to a head spinning $116,000.  Included in that price was a $2100 gas guzzler tax.  One of those options was a $6,000 Bang and Olufsen sound system which sounds just terrific but we were expecting better sound quality for $6000.  . 

Those of us that have regular jobs probably would never even consider buying a $116,000 car.  The $20,000 in options on this car would buy a very nice new car but it would not be anything like the S8.  If we had $116,000 we would likely do other things with it.  But the S8 is not made for the regular folks.  That is why only about 1000 copies will be made.  It is made for the type of person that earns more money in a year than many of us earn in a decade.  People like that want something special and the S8 is definitely special.  If you have the chance, it can make you feel special too.  We felt very special during our short drive with the S8 and we were really hoping that Audi would forget that they loaned us the car.  This car is that good.

2009 Audi S8
Type.  V10.  All aluminum.  Direct injection. 
Displacement.  5.2 liters
Compression ratio.  12.5:1
Power.  450 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque.  398 lbs. ft. @ 3500 rpm
Valvetrain.  DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder

Transmission: 6 speed Tiptronic.
quattro all wheel drive

Wheelbase.  115.9 in
Length. 199.3 in
Width. 74.7 in
Weight. 4586 lbs.

0-60 mph. 4.9 secs
¼ mile. 13.3 secs
Top speed.  Electronically limited 155 mph

Fuel Economy EPA cycle:
City 13 mpg
Highway 19 mpg

Base: $96,200
As tested: $115,775 (includes $2100 gas guzzler tax)

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