What is it?
Spare a moment to wrap your mind around the facts of the new Audi S8 Plus. This car is more than 5.1 metres long and weighs a moderate grocery shop short of two tonnes. It probably has more leather and electric motors in it than Air Force One, yet it will strop to 62mph in 3.8sec. That’s (officially) the same as a Porsche 911 R. It’s actually within a blink of the Audi R8. It’s 0.5sec faster than the S8’s nemesis, the Mercedes-AMG S 63. That’s mental. Just mental. A decade or so ago, that would have been about as extraordinary as the moon landings.
The magic happens courtesy of the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that you get in the standard S8, but the ‘Plus’ treatment includes new engine mapping with a limiter stretched upwards by another 200rpm, and new geometry for the turbochargers’ innards, among other tweaks. This boosts power and torque to a shocking 597bhp and up to 553lb ft (the latter while on overboost).
What’s it like?
Fast luxury limos like this always warp your perspective of speed – an inevitable side effect of being so faultlessly hushed and isolating by nature, yet simultaneously banzai-rapid. The national speed limit suddenly feels like walking pace. With the Audi being the most ludicrous of this breed in terms of performance, that characteristic is only enhanced. Put bluntly, on UK roads the S8 Plus is a licence-loser of the first order, so you spend a lot of time keeping an eye on the speedo.
Regardless of the actual relevance, or even advisability of cars like this, the big Audi is a truly fine example of the breed. That engine is an absolute peach. Yes, it’s monstrously powerful, but more to the point it’s virtually silent when you want it to be and then emits a subtle yet cheekily raucous V8 bellow if you really go for it. The eight-speed automatic gearbox delivers silky changes, and this – mated to the predictable power delivery, smooth step-off and easily modulated brakes – makes the S8 an appropriately easy thing to drive with exacting, lurch-free precision around town.
Ride comfort is also very impressive, even on UK roads. A8s and S8s of old have always been criticised for falling short of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class’s cushioned yet controlled ride and handling balance, but it does seem to have improved with time. Even on the 21in standard alloys of the S8 Plus, the standard air suspension does a good job of ironing out the road’s imperfections. Yes, you’ll still be aware of a thump and dip over bigger potholes, and it isn’t quite as remarkably well judged as the Merc, but it would take a scruffier road than we could find to make the suspension feel jarring.
What’s less ideal is the steering. The S8 Plus comes as standard with a variable-ratio ‘Dynamic’ rack, which is a shame as a normal rack would be preferable. This one feels simultaneously light and inconsistent in its responses, whether you’re in town or on a B-road, lacking initial bite as you turn in and then seeming to suddenly wake up and deliver a heavier weight and sharper response than you probably expected. It’s all quite unnatural, which is a shame in a car that is otherwise quite intuitive and well judged. The only time the steering feels well sorted is on the motorway, where the S8 Plus is, as you’d expect, an impeccable long-distance cruiser.
Of course, with such wonky steering weight and response at play, handling is never going to be as organic and sweet as that of the S-Class. Still, the rear-biased, active four-wheel drive of the S8 Plus endows it with stoic grip, and while there is plenty of body roll, you can still enjoy the incongruousness of how quickly you can hammer down a B-road in this huge, supercar-fast saloon.
The interior of the S8 Plus isn’t much different from that of the standard S8, although you do get 22-way adjustable sports seats (if you can’t get comfortable in them, you won’t get comfortable in anything), and lashings of carbonfibre trim, along with the white-on-grey S dials to remind you of what you’re in. The big, retractable colour screen and multimedia system may be a bit old now, but they remain easy to use and replete with all the convenience functions you could want, as well as a 14-speaker Bose sound system. Automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise are also thrown in.
Rear passenger space is adequate (you can’t get the Plus in long-wheelbase form) but actually not what you’d expect of a big barge like this – a flaw in the arsenal of a car that is, at heart, a chauffeur’s car – albeit less so in S8 guise. Even so, most adults will be more than comfortable in the back. And while the boot is smaller than that of some rivals, it’ll still serve the purposes of most S8 buyers.
Should I buy one?
The S8 Plus is an astonishing piece of engineering – oddly intoxicating to drive, thanks to that potent mix of over-indulgent comfort and ludicrous pace. We’re glad it exists as a bullet point in the history of what man can achieve with the modern saloon car.
It’s also comparatively good value next to the £30k more expensive Mercedes-AMG S 63, so if you are set on a storming luxo-barge, there’s clear merit to the S8 Plus. However, the S 63 has the better cabin, better rear passenger space and better handling. A Jaguar XJR is also better handling by some distance and a bit cheaper again than the Audi.
On top of all that, it’s worth pointing out that anyone wanting a fast, fun-to-drive saloon would be better served by smaller and cheaper options such as the BMW M5 and Audi RS6, while those after a good chauffeur’s car should look to the hardly tardy and much better value diesel offerings.
So, realistically, no – you shouldn’t buy one. Admire it and walk away, or wait a few years and buy a used one when the resale values – which will have the buoyancy of a lead balloon – have dropped. Still, there clearly is demand for these super-limos, and if you’re set on one, the four-wheel drive and stratospheric pace of the S8 Plus make it a compelling option in this niche class.
Audi S8 Plus
Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £98,395; Engine V8, 3993cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 597bhp at 6100-6800rpm; Torque 516lb ft at 1750-6000rpm (553lb ft at 2500-5500rpm on overboost); 0-62mph 3.8sec; Top speed 155mph; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2065kg; Economy 28.2mpg (combined); CO2 231g/km, 37%
What is it?