Now into its fifth year, the current generation of Audi’s A8 flagship sedan gets a mid-cycle refresh that sees it facing the world with a new grille, some snazzy OLED taillights, and updated technology.
It may be aging, but the all-aluminum flagship sedan is still one cool customer. Here we have the 2022 Audi S8 sporting $1,700 21-inch black wheels (20s are standard) and red brake callipers ($500), with the big Audi exuding a sense of quiet menace that’s not to be taken lightly. This $144,200 executive sedan can go from cosseting luxo-barge to unblinking assassin faster than you can blurt “Mein Gott! Mein lederhosen!” Just ask the guy in the Dodge Charger SRT who was on my tail (briefly) during an inland canyon run.
The heart of the matter is the Volkswagen Group’s 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8. Initially developed by Porsche, the hot V engine – that means the turbos are wedged between the cylinder banks instead of the more traditional placement outside them – churns out 563 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque in this application, and when provoked it delivers an eye-widening turn of speed along with a suitably boisterous soundtrack. It drives all four wheels through a brainy eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel steering and a sport differential are both standard in the S8.
While few S8 buyers will be chasing Porsches on snaking mountainous roads, should the opportunity arise, they will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was. The standard air suspension is tuned by Audi Sport, and when buttoned down in dynamic mode, the long-wheelbase Audi is agile, pointy, and grippy. But most of all, it’s just a lot of fun to fling along. You can’t say that about very many high-powered, high-mass vehicles. With its rear-wheel steering, disciplined body control, and sport differential apportioning torque from side to side, the S8 seems to shrink two sizes and shed a bunch of mass. So kudos to Audi for dialling up this dynamic cocktail for the few who might want to press on in their S8s.
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These S8s were also fitted with the optional $11,500 carbon ceramic brakes that reduce unsprung weight and provide unfading stopping power. These binders might make sense if you plan to track your S8 or you live in Germany where hauling down in a hurry from 250 km/h could save your life. But here in North America? The downside is they are a bit grabby and harder to modulate. [Some might call them expensive, too, Pete. – Ed.]
It’s not as if the S8 ignores it prime directive of being pampering, protective, and indulgent, though. It’s a premium luxury conveyance of the highest order in that no-nonsense Audi way. The cabin announces its intentions with a serious, horizontal aesthetic that ditches almost all tactile controls for a pair of large haptic touchscreens. It is exquisitely detailed and hush quiet, and the soft leather seats will massage and cool your backside. The available so-called 3D audio system provides crystalline sound.
For 2022 the S8 gets a new three-spoke heated steering wheel with metal shift paddles, and Audi’s phone box – a slot in the centre console with wireless charging and signal booster. The optional $5,900 Rear Seat Comfort package bestows full powered rear seats with ventilation and massage, heated armrests, and LED reading lights.
These testers were also fitted with the $9,400 Predictive Active Body Control that reads the road surface ahead and preemptively smooths the ride via instant electric actuators at each wheel. It works a treat, while also having the sedan courteously rising up when the doors open for easier ingress and egress. With a reaction time of 300 milliseconds, the system will instantly raise the S8 80 mm (3.1 in) in the event of a T-bone collision for better distribution of forces through the A8’s structure.
At the European media launch of this new-gen A8 back in 2018, the Audi folks couldn’t stop blathering about the brand’s Level 3 autonomous capability. An army of sensors (ultrasonic, radar, and laser), plus several cameras and enough computing power to dim the lights at NASA would allow the A8 to drive on its own (under certain conditions on controlled roadways, of course), allowing the driver to send emails, practice the clarinet or just enjoy the scenery. My, how times have changed. Like most other automakers, Audi has gone mute on the brave new world of autonomous driving that was promised but never happened. Of course, the S8 will still do the party trick of Level 2 – adaptive cruise control paired with lane keep assist.
The 2022 Audi S8 is an understated overachiever. Its restrained exterior and somewhat clinical cabin may not scream opulence like some of its competitors, but boy does this sedan has a broad bandwidth. The luxury quotient in undeniable, but also are its performance bona fides. More than just putting up big numbers (that’s the easy part), the S8 actually enjoys playing sports car on a back road, and invites the driver to share in the fun.