Hence, the creation of the 2007 S8, a sport-tuned A8 last sold in the U.S. as a 2003 model. Thanks to the generous use of aluminum in its construction, the S8 (and A8) is relatively light, which allows its 450-horsepower, Lamborghini Gallardo-derived V10 to be all that much more effective. In fact, that sophisticated piece of hardware, when coupled with S8's standard quattro all-wheel drive and six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, allows this most athletic rendition of Audi's flagship to reach 60 mph in only 4.9 seconds. Those are impressive figures, and are sure to catch the attention of large sedan lovers and well-paid executives everywhere, those who won't shy away from the S8's base price of $94,020 when it arrives in November. But they'd best be satisfied with that exceptional straight-line performance, because in the corners the S8 is more oversized linemen than evasive running back. For the total performance package, including outstanding balance and handling, buyers would be best served to take a gander at the smaller S6 sharing space on the Audi showroom floor, or one of the S8's top-notch competitors.
Walk into an Audi dealership, ask for the most expensive ride on the showroom floor, and your salesperson, suddenly bursting with overwhelming friendliness, ushers you over to a shiny long wheelbase A8 with the W12 engine. At about $120,000, it may indeed be the priciest model he's got (until the R8 supercar arrives), but you think it's a big too long for your tastes, and not quite sporty enough. Then, something with an S badge catches your eye – it's nearly identical, but a bit shorter and sportier. Plus, with its $94,420 base price (including a $720 destination charge and $1,700 gas guzzler tax), you can be confident that you've selected the second most expensive car in the joint.
It's the all-wheel-drive 2007 Audi S8, or the sport version of the regular, 115.9-inch wheelbase A8 sedan, which stickers for about $69,000. Passenger sedans of this caliber are typically well-equipped, and the daddy of the Audi family is no exception. Among the standard goods are heated headlight and windshield washers, a dual zone climate control system, a power sunroof, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with memory, heated power front bucket seats, leather upholstery accented by Alcantara suede-like fabric on the doors and headliner, and a voice-activated navigation system. That's in addition to a 12-speaker Bose audio system, a tire pressure monitor, rain-sensing wipers, break-resistant security glass, Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI) central control, Bluetooth connectivity, and OnStar telematics. Front-side, rear-side, and side-curtain airbags were included for good measure.
Still want more? That's cool – Audi's got ya covered. You can swap out the standard gray birch interior with carbon fiber inlays for $500, have the entire interior swathed in leather for $4,900, add a solar roof panel for $790, give your rear passengers some power adjustment buttons to fiddle with for $350, or drop $2,100 on intelligent cruise control that lets the S8 gauge closing distances in traffic. There's also a $3,500 Premium Package that adds rear sunshades, power trunk and door closers, a park-aid system, a rear heated seat, and keyless ignition. What Audi is most proud of is the Bang & Olufsen audio system. In exchange for $6,300, audiophiles are treated to 1100 watts of surround sound from 14 speakers, a subwoofer, and trick tweeters that rise from the top corners of the dash – try to find a Best Buy car stereo installer who can pull that off.
Nuts and Bolts
Like the all-new S6, the 2007 Audi S8 draws power from an aluminum, Lamborghini Gallardo-derived 5.2-liter, 40-valve V10 with dual overhead cams and direct injection. Also like the S6, the S8 uses a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission to push power to all four wheels through Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system, a setup that incorporates front and rear locking differentials as well as a center Torsen limited-slip differential. However, unlike the S6, the 4,278-lb. S8 is mostly aluminum, adds an extra two inches of wheelbase, and tacks on nearly six inches of overall length. Thanks to minor changes made primarily to the exhaust manifold, the S8 boasts an extra 15 ponies. That equates to 450 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, while torque remains unchanged with 398 lb.-ft. peaking at 3,500 rpm (90 percent of the maximum torque is available from 2,300 to 6,200 rpm). The V10 was chosen over the 450-horsepower W12 available on the A8 because of weight savings and improved balance. Audi reports a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds, or 0.2 seconds faster than the S6.
Under the 2007 Audi S8's skin is an impressive collection of sport-oriented hardware, such as a performance-tuned, load-leveling multi-link suspension that can be adjusted on-the-fly for firmness and a ride height 20 mm lower than the base A8; a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering assembly that is 10 percent more responsive than when used in the regular A8 application; and the afore-mentioned quattro system, which with its 40 percent front/60 percent rear distribution, offers the slight rear-drive bias preferred by enthusiasts. Those folks will likely also appreciate the attractive 20-inch alloys and 265/35 Z-rated performance tires that fill the wheel wells, behind which is a four-wheel antilock disc braking system using ventilated rotors and bolstered by electronic brake force and electronic brake assistance technology.
Simply due to their size and presence, not to mention the tastes of their buyers, luxury flagships don't need to be flashy. In regular A8 guise, Audi's largest sedan is best described as understated almost to a fault when compared with the svelte new Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the BMW 7 Series that, despite complaints about its styling, sells quite well. Obviously, pumping things up a bit with a few select visual enhancements couldn't hurt, and that's just what the 2007 S8 does.
Outside, S8 and V10 nomenclature can be seen on the fenders, grille, trunk lid, and brake calipers, while a revised fascia gives the car a more aggressive face. The side profile is differentiated by alloy mirror housings, additional chrome accents on the inner grille, 14-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels, and if the driver has been playing with the suspension settings, an especially keen observer may notice a ride height that sits 20 mm lower than the A8. Similar attention to detail is required to notice four chrome tailpipes rather than the normal two.
It's almost as hard to distinguish the S8's interior from that of the A8. Hints that you're looking at the sport model include a three-spoke, thickly-padded steering wheel and redesigned gauges, both featuring the S8 logo. Gray birch or optional carbon fiber inlays run the length of the doors and width of the dash; real alloy panels reside just below. Collectively, it makes for a beautiful interior, one made all the better when dressed up with the full leather package. But what might really catch your eyes are the tweeters that pop out of the forward corners of the dash. They're part of the 1,100-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system that is also available on the A8.
In addition to being attractive, the S8's interior is designed for optimum usability. The leather-wrapped, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows for custom placement, while forward of the properly-positioned shifter reside clearly-marked buttons for the climate control system. Radio controls are largely confined to dials on the steering wheel spokes and the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) center dial, packages oft-used items together for simplified use. Compared to its competitors, Audi's MMI setup is relatively easy to operate, though some of us would still prefer to drop this new level of automotive bureaucracy in favor of simple, clear buttons only.
Bigger is better, right? Not if you're a large SUV owner when gas prices top $3.00 per gallon, not when you meet the girl of your dreams and discover she doesn't date guys who subsist on Whoppers and milk shakes, and not when size allows you to be outperformed by your smaller and less powerful brother.
The brothers in question are the 2007 Audi S6 and S8 models. To be fair, company officials claim the S8 reaches 60 mph in 4.9 seconds as compared to the S6's 5.1 seconds, so in that one respect, bigger is better. Thank the S8's generous use of aluminum and an extra 15 ponies, for a total of 450 from the same 5.2-liter V10 used in the 435-horsepower S6. But, with a wheelbase that's two inches longer and a body that stretches an extra six inches, the S8 lacks the S6's balance when pushed on twisty roads. It's simply too long to be driven as fast and aggressively as the more lithe S6, or at least not with the same level of confidence. When attacking tight turns or peaking a crest in the road, the car's length prevents it from feeling nimble. Audi readily admits that weekend canyon carvers will be more inclined to purchase an S6.
That's not to say the S8 can't hold its own. Quite the contrary, as the big Audi offers an adjustable suspension that can be set for comfortable cruising or sporty switchbacks. In either case, the ride is stiff, albeit to different degrees, so you can expect a solid, firm feel when pushing the limits, but don't expect a luxuriously smooth cruise through town. Like the S6, the S8's steering is speed-sensitive, meaning light at slow speeds and heavier as speed increases, and comes up a little shy in the level of road feel and responsiveness one would expect from a top-tier sports sedan. However, beefy ventilated discs ensure consistent, confident braking, leaving no room for complaints in the stopping department.
Also akin to the S6, the 2007 S8's powertrain proves immensely powerful, though lacks the brute force one experiences in, say, the BMW M5. There's a slight delay upon initial tip in of the throttle, after which all 398 lb.-ft. of torque and 450 horses tackle the asphalt with tenacity. With a subsequent roll on the accelerator you'll experience steady, brisk increase in speed. Because of the cabin's isolation from engine noise and refinement that dulls some of the rough edges, the S8's straight-line performance can be hard to appreciate...until you notice the speedometer or increasingly blurry surroundings. Otherwise, clues are scarce, especially since the car tackles the road with equal confidence regardless of whether velocity registers 35 mph or deep into the triple digits.
In terms of price, how much more is the S8 versus the Audi A8? The 2007 Audi S8's $94,020 base price represents an $24,400 premium over the 350-horsepower, regular-wheelbase A8 sedan.
I read that the smaller and less expensive S6 also uses the 5.2-liter V10, but has 15 fewer horsepower. Why the difference? The S8 and S6 are equipped with the same 5.2-liter V10 engine paired with a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. However, due to engineering requirements (and likely due to the desire to offer more horsepower in the larger and more expensive S8), changes were made primarily to the exhaust that resulted in the S8 getting 450 horses instead of the S6's 435.
Are there any direct S8 competitors in the U.S. that come with all-wheel drive? The 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 is a possibility, in that it can be equipped with the brand's 4MATIC full-time all-wheel-drive system, but that car isn't really designed for the same sport-oriented crowd as the S8. Otherwise, there are no direct competitors.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Audi S8
Base Price: $94,420 (includes a $720 destination charge and $1,700 gas guzzler tax)
Engine Size and Type: 5.2-liter V10
Engine Horsepower: 450 at 7,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 398 lb.-ft. at 3,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed Tiptronic automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,278
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 15/21 mpg
Length: 199.3 inches
Width: 74.7 inches
Wheelbase: 115.9 inches
Height: 56.1 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.3/37.6 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 37.3/38.0 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 17.7 cubic feet
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Photos courtesy of Audi