Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Audi S8

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Audi’s flagship executive sedan, the A8, is nearing the end of its product cycle. It saw a minor facelift for 2015 that gave the regal full-size a tad more visual bite. Put a 2014 and 2015 A8 side by side, and you’ll notice the newer model has a slightly larger (is that possible?) and more angular grill, redesigned full-LED headlights, a more defined chin and interesting character lines that sweep from the sides of the headlights down to the front splitter. The hood has some fresh creases that are consistent with the more aggressive look.

Out back we see a recontoured derriere with thinner taillights, a metal valance around the exhaust tips and a wider trunk lid featuring a new slash of chrome.

The Audi A8 seems determined to fly under the radar.

All very subtle stuff that doesn’t really alter the overall impression of a big, stately luxury sedan that telegraphs… well, not a whole lot really. Unlike the Jag XJ or even the new Mercedes-Benz S Class, the Audi A8 seems determined to fly under the radar. No flash here. It looks nothing more than a larger, squared-off and slightly more imposing version of Audi’s lesser four-door offerings.

Oh, wait a sec. This one has an S before the 8. That means fast, right? Plus those five-spoke 21-inch wheels looks suspiciously… big. And the exhaust sounds rather serious too. It rumbles and woofs with a barrel-chested depth that signals something ominous is afoot.

Yes, we’re looking at the $128,900 2015 Audi S8 here, that, with 520 hp and 481 lb-ft squeezed from the 4.0L TFSI twin-turbo V8, runs unapologetically with the super-sedan crowd - the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG (577 hp $156,400), Porsche Panamera Turbo (520 hp $161,500), BMW M6 Gran Coupe (560 hp $127,900) and Jaguar XJR (550 hp $119,900).

A strange breed of vehicle are these. Whether or not you can find any logic in taking what is all ready a swift and luxurious full-size sedan, then making it marginally quicker, less comfortable and whole lot more expensive, seems completely beside the point. Still, there will always be those who’ll happily pay the additional $25,700 the S8 demands over the 435 hp A8, just because anything less than the baddest “8” just won’t do.

Indeed, this velvet glove packs a wallop when pedal hits the metal. The S8 may be down on power and torque compared to its rivals, but a zero to 100 km/h dash of 4.0 seconds is mighty impressive, and it accomplishes this feat with turbine smoothness thanks to the creamy V8 and the equally slick eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission that swaps cogs with near imperceptibility. A truly epic drivetrain.

The S8 is the quintessential Autobahn hero, happiest cocooning its occupants while gobbling up vast chunks of blacktop at superhero speeds. Or so I would imagine. 

Problem is, there are no Autobahns here in Ontario (and more than a few police impound lots), so I’m relegated to assessing this fine expression of automotive excess on terms dictated by the laws of our land.

We’ve determined the 2015 Audi S8 is fast. On an extended highway jaunt it proved exceedingly difficult just to keep a mere 30 km/h above the speed limit, such is the serenity within and the power underfoot. The massive grill and those searing LED headlights seem to strike fear into anyone viewing them in their rearview mirror - the proletariat cleared the way pronto.

Now we must look at the handling. Somewhere it is written this select demographic expects their big-ass luxo-barge to perform decent impression of a sports car when flung down a mountain pass.

The S8 will do that. Sorta. As much as you can expect from a 2,125 kg sedan. In typical Audi fashion, the steering yields little feedback and mild understeer is the prevailing attitude. Yet even on these winter tires the S8 would show its tail lights to many a serious performance car. You just won’t have much fun doing it.

So how does Audi so effectively taunt the laws of physics? Naturally, quattro all-wheel-drive plays a big part, and here in the S8 it defaults to a more rearward bias. Go to the Audi Drive Select screen in the MMI interface (the “Car” button on the console calls this up), then select Dynamic (Comfort, Auto and Individual are the other choices) and all the car’s performance parameters are put on high alert. The air suspension stiffens up, the steering quickens, throttle response sharpens as do the tranny’s shift points, and the torque-vectoring sport differential (not found on the A8) finds the best way to put the power down and get you around a corner.

While all this is going on, you’re ensconced is a showpiece interior. The quality within the S8’s spectacular cabin is unassailable, as every surface, be it leather, suede, metal, plastic, wood or carbon-fibre is vetted for the utmost scrutiny. Tell your passengers the carbon-fibre trim has that unique hue thanks to imbedded copper filaments, and it might even wow them more than the rising of the MMI screen and Bang and Olufsen tweeters on start up. Would I spend the $7,000 for the B&O upgrade? It seems these systems are tuned for Teutonic perfection and not so much for warmth of sound. In your driveway, a classical CD sounds amazing. On the road, rock, pop and just about any other genre is too shrill for my liking.

Audi’s MMI takes some learning, as it is with any of these multi-layered premium vehicle/driver interface systems, but ultimately it proves functional and intuitive. Scribbling letters on the touchpad for navigation inputs is a novel time saver.

The beautifully crafted electronic shifter can be a pain. Like the similar contraption now being exorcised from Fiat/Chrysler’s products, it’s easy to overshoot the shift from Park to Reverse. It makes BMW’s shift wand seem quite logical.

The S8’s front seats are less cushy than those in a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series, but they are infinitely adjustable and have a terrific five-function massage that gets my nod for the best in the biz.

Naturally the chairs are heated and cooled, the latter being a feature that car makers should be marketing to menopausal women. Whenever a hot flash hit, my wife cranked up the cold (despite an outside temperature of near absolute zero) and became suddenly less… er, menopausal.

The S8 is not available in long wheelbase, presumably because it’s more performance car than limousine. That said, rear seat occupants are not exactly hard done by. There is decent headroom, plenty of legroom, and the seats are mighty accommodating.

Obviously, the Audi S8 has a pretty narrow appeal. Logic dictates one would want one’s luxury sedan to act as such - not harbor grand delusions of apex strafing and 911 taunting. And surely there will be no back seat passengers when engaging in such shenanigans. My money would be on the diesel $90,600 A8 3.0 TDI with its 429 lb-ft of low-down torque.

I suspect most owners will keep their Audi S8s in Comfort mode, and relish in the car’s gob-smacking straight line acceleration and effortless high speed cruise. And in the knowledge they sprung for the baddest “8” money can buy.

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

BMW B7 Alpina SWB xDrive
Jaguar XJR
Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG
Porsche Panamera Turbo

Model Tested 2015 Audi S8
Base Price $126,900
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $143,895
Optional Equipment
Bang and Olufsen audio $7,000; Night Vision $2,500; Driver Assistance Package $3,600; Alcantera headliner $1700;