/ 1 July 2023

The Audi S8: Subtle design, scintillating performance

Effortless: The exterior of the Audi S8 has been refined

A “serene yet ballistic lounge suite on wheels”. This was one of the descriptions that came to mind while I was at the wheel of the latest derivative of Ingolstadt’s flagship performance sedan, the Audi S8. 

Who could forget the first generation of the luxury barge being the protagonist’s chosen car in the 1998 action-thriller Ronin, driven at the ragged edge through the streets of Paris? It is easily one of my favourite movie car chases. 

It was shot in real time with very little in the way of CGI or post-production foolery, and that placed the S8 high on the list of cars I ached to drive one day. 

Boasting a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 with 250kW, it was claimed to scoot to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds, which was mighty impressive for a 1.7 tonne-plus behemoth. 

It was not until 2007, after the introduction of the second-generation model a year prior, that I would finally get behind its wheel. 

Replete with a thunderous 5.2-litre V10, lopped off wholesale from the Lamborghini Gallardo and slightly detuned to produce 331kW to 368kW, it was my first stab at the model, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

It looked understated parked and, except for the quad exhausts and V10 badge on the flanks, it could easily pass for your grandad’s Sunday church coach. Okay, make that your rich grandad, but the point is it hardly shouted from the rooftops that it shared a heart with a raging bull. 

And that remains the golden thread that knits together the tapestry of the S8 lineage. 


What you see in these pictures is the latest incarnation of the model launched in 2020. It has recently been to the tailor to prim-and-proper its Savile Row suit, including a few nips, tucks and hems sown into mainly the exterior. These are subtle, of course, as there was very little wrong to begin with, in my view. 

The cabin sports fine nappa leather on the pews, while exotic materials, such as the carbon-fibre inserts on the gear lever and centre console, add a sporty feel. It is done in the tasteful way we have come to expect from the Vorsprung brand. 

It’s plush, intricate and a great sanctuary to while away the time as you contemplate life’s complexities and the next big move. 

It’s a car at home being chauffeur-driven or paddling yourself; we will dwell on the latter for this exercise. 

Suspended on a 21-inch wheel-and-tyre combination, the standard air suspension offers a function where it lifts for easier ingress and egress, and the system also lifts the body while going over bumps. 

The former makes sense but the latter is gimmicky at best. I get the concept of raising the car, isolating occupants from shock, but the system feels rudimentary and requires polishing since some suspension thud still permeates the cabin. 

Also, what of wear and tear in the long run and the replacement costs of the contraption a few years down the line? Only time will tell.

Powering the S8 is the tried-and-tested 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that does duty in the RS 6 Avant but is slightly detuned in this application to make 420kW and 800Nm via an 8-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. 

That sweet motor whirrs to life in the distinct, but velvet-glove-wrapped, refinement befitting a luxury saloon. 

The stylish interior has nappa leather on the seats.

Given its tractable engine, with a huge seam of torque from the bottom of the rev range, there is an effortlessness in how this car goes about its business. 

That transmission is silky-smooth in its transitions, working in a harmonious marriage with the torquey engine. The adaptive suspension breathes so well with the road that the large 21-inch wheels have very little effect on ride quality and polish. 

It is an accomplished luxury cruiser, which perhaps comes as no surprise, but there’s another side to the S8’s repertoire — the performance envelope.

Mash the throttle from a standstill, and there’s a slight pause as the turbos spool up and those eight cylinders take in a lungful of air and fuel. 

The rear squats as the entire weight sits on the back axle and the nose tilts skyward as the car lunges forward with a burst not far removed from an Olympic sprinter. Usain Bolt, is that you? 

The S8’s turn of speed is impressive and the handling is dynamic enough to entertain the driver as the trick suspension does its level best to keep the car’s overall body control.  

With BMW not bringing in the M Performance version of the 7 Series, and Mercedes-AMG S63 yet to make its debut in Mzansi, the S8 is in an enviable position as a unique proposition in the segment. 

Its subdued styling, painstaking interior appointment and performance make a compelling package. 

Price: R2 795 000 (R3 029 100 as tested).