2013 Audi S8 Road Test Review
2013 Audi S8 seamlessly marries high-end performance with high-end luxury
Scores High: Ultra-placid driving experience, stupid-fast acceleration, advanced technology that works
Scores Low: Turbo V8 needs slight boost “pre-load” for best acceleration, great value but still costs six figures
Total Car Score Analysis
Audi has a history of debuting industry-first automotive technology, so we weren’t surprised to find the 2013 S8 sporting enough techno-wizardry to intimidate SpaceX engineers. What did surprise us is how seamlessly Audi weaved this technology together, creating a full palette of high performance driving capabilities as well as truly sumptuous luxury features. Add in the S8’s palatial cabin materials and you’re left with a premium sedan unmatched in its ability to confidently and comfortably transport up to 5 adults – in style. It’s difficult to come up with direct competitors for the S8 because its combination of price, performance and luxury is tough to match in any other sedan. If you’re looking to spend around $120,000 on rapid, first-class automotive travel, you’d be hard pressed to find another model that measures up to the 2013 Audi S8.
Audi took a generally understated approach in differentiating the S8 from its A8 brethren. The standard 21-inch wheels and aluminum mirror caps (“aluminum-optic” in Audi-speak) are the most obvious, but there’s also some extra chrome in the grille and rear bumper area, along with larger front air intakes around the foglights and unique rocker panel treatments. All S8 models feature LED headlights and taillights, four exhaust outlets and black brake calipers with S8 emblems. Like most Audi sedans, the S8’s exterior design takes a conservative approach, emphasizing longevity over controversy.
The 2013 S8’s technology pedigree checks all the right boxes for a premium performance sedan in 2013. The aluminum spaceframe (first introduced on the A8 20 years ago) weighs just 509 pounds and works in conjunction with the aluminum body panels to increase overall rigidity, all with minimal weight penalty. Underpinning the chassis is five-link front suspension with stabilizer bar and a trapezoidal link rear suspension with specific “Sport” calibrations for the S8.
The suspension is adaptive and can be controlled via electronic adjustment, as can the steering ratio and throttle settings. These systems, along with the S8’s standard Quattro all-wheel drive, work in concert with Audi’s “Drive Select” to adjust steering feel, ride quality, throttle response and power delivery to each wheel based on driver preference and driving conditions. The three default settings are “Comfort,” “Auto” or “Dynamic,” and we noticed a distinct change in vehicle behavior for each one. The “Dynamic” mode, for instance, lowers the S8’s ride height by 10 millimeters (this is in addition to the 10 millimeter lower ride height the S8 starts out at compared to the A8).
Regardless of the Drive Select setting, the S8’s 4.0-liter, 520 horsepower twin-turbo V8 moves the 4,600-pound sedan with authority. Audi claims a zero-to-60 time of 3.9 seconds, which is faster than any comparable sedan and, when you consider it, something of a miracle of modern technology. That a luxury vehicle with this much interior space (and curb weight) can get to 60 mph as quickly as today’s exotic cars speaks to the advanced engineering going on under that deceptively unassuming hood.
This twin-turbo engine replaces the previous S8’s normally aspirated V10. And despite losing two cylinders it offers 16 percent more power and 27 percent lower fuel consumption. No doubt the 8-speed Tiptronic transmission helps with the latter, but features like cylinder deactivation (Audi calls it “cylinder on demand”), direct injection and variable valve control contribute to efficiency as well. The cylinder deactivation system was undetectable while driving the S8, giving us no indication of when the V8 had switched off four of its cylinders under light throttle conditions.
With over 481 pound-feet of torque hitting at 5,500 rpm the S8’s engine likes to rev, and it feels every bit the 520 horsepower thrustmeister when it does. However, just hammering the throttle from a dead start had us questioning the 3.9-second zero-to-60 time. So we tried again, after “pre-loading” some turbo boost with a bit of power braking, and the S8 launched like the proverbial startled cat, hitting 60 mph before we could say, “Ah, turbo wants boost.” Given the S8 will still hit 60 in (we’re guessing) around 5 seconds – without any power braking –we’re not at all suggesting it requires such tomfoolery to feel quick. But, if you want “stupid-fast-speed,” keep the power brake option in mind.
It’s worth noting that, while the V8 makes a healthy and appealing growl when given the boot, the rest of the S8 remains calm and coddling – even under maximum acceleration. And once you get off the throttle and pick a speed the cabin is as noisy as the void of space – even if the speed you pick is 100-plus mph. Thank the S8’s combination of active sound deadening (it uses the audio system to counter unwanted noise) along with dual pane windows that looked like they could stop a 9 mm slug (note: this is a guess, please don’t find a way to test this). It was somewhat bizarre to see the earth rushing past us at extra-legal speeds with essentially zero wind or tire noise. Road trip!
Interior Design and Function
Specific S8 interior treatments include contrasting stitching on the standard sport seats and three-spoke steering wheel, a gray instrument cluster with white needles and “S8” badging, plus carbon fiber trim on the upper dash, door panels and shifter. A red engine start button, aluminum pedals and aluminum shift paddles complete the S8’s interior treatment. These items create a performance theme within the S8’s otherwise luxurious cabin.
If there’s any doubt about the car’s premium pedigree a close inspection of the sublime Alcantara headliner and 22-way power seats, swathed in diamond cross-stitched leather and offering heating, cooling and massage functions, should put them to rest. And while the first impression of the S8’s interior is one of performance-themed-luxury, closer inspection speaks to the build quality exercised during the car’s design and assembly. Items like a one-piece, wrap-around dash appear cleaner and reduce the potential for rattles or creaks. The consistent look and weighty feel of the S8’s controls further adds to the impression of quality and attention to detail by Audi’s engineers.
While the A8 is offered in standard and long wheelbase form, the S8 only comes in the standard length. Most full-sized adults will still find more than enough room in the rear seat, but professional athletes from the NFL and NBA might prefer the accommodations an A8L.
Primary Features and Options
A starting price of $110,000 sounds a bit steep at first, even for a performance sedan as capable as the S8. But a long list of standard luxury and high-tech features suggests it’s something of a bargain. Beyond the advanced drivetrain and suspension technology, every S8 includes power closing doors, a power trunk, a sunroof, four-zone climate control, park-assist exterior cameras, Audi connect and Audi Online Services featuring Google Earth navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, HD radio and a Bose surround sound audio system with 14 speakers and 630 watts.
Options include radar cruise control, Audi side assist (lane change assist with cameras), night vision assist with pedestrian detection, wood trim along the door panels and center console, a rear seat ski pass-through, heated rear seats, a rear entertainment package, two 21-inch wheel designs and a 19-speaker Bang & Olafsen audio system with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and 1,400 watts.
It’s Perfect For…
Wrapping a luxury vehicle around a performance-tuned engine and chassis isn’t a particularly innovative concept. Various German automakers have been doing it for years. What is innovative is the 2013 Audi S8’s high level of luxury and performance made available at a (relatively) low price. Drive the S8 at a steady 75 mph and you’ll wonder if Audi stole all the cabin materials and sound deadening from its corporate cousin, Bentley. Then blast it down your favorite stretch of curving asphalt and you might think another relative, from Stuttgart, had a hand in the chassis and suspension tuning.
Yet the S8 costs less than either family member while, we would argue, looks better than both. It’s also more entertaining to drive and less expensive than a Mercedes-Benz S63 or Maserati Quattroporte, making it the value leader in a segment not particularly focused on value. In short, if maximum bang for your premium-performance-sedan buck is important, this is your car.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Audi S8
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $110,000
Options on Test Vehicle: Driver Assistance Package (includes adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go monitors, Audi pre sense to reduce collision damage -- $2,500), Cold Weather Package (includes heated steering wheel, ski sack with trunk pass-through, heated rear seats -- $3,100), Full Leather Package ($5,500), Lane Assist Package (includes Audi lane assist, 4-spoke multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles -- $500), Audi Rear Seat Entertainment Package (includes dual 10.2-inch LCD screens mounted in the back of the front seats, media controls in center armrest, DVD player, two wireless headphones – $3,000), Night Vision Assist Package (includes infrared camera to detect and display pedestrians -- $2,300), Destination Charge ($895)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $124,876
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of Audi North America