Despite its cavernous, luxurious interior and pillowy-soft insulating ride, the Audi S8 delivers all the thrills and dynamics of a sports sedan.
SUVs and truck-based vehicles may have taken over the world, but in the luxury space, ample demand remains for titanic flagship sedans. You know the iconic names. S-Class. 7-Series. LS. And, of course, Audi S8 and A8. Extended wheelbases. Sumptuous interiors. Showcases for advanced features. Insulated from the noise of everyday life and road imperfections. Long was the flagship sedan a yacht made to cruise asphalt seas. And then someone wondered…
What if we made them fast?
The D5 generation Audi A8 debuted in 2017 (with the S8 following in 2019 for the 2020 model year). More capable, powerful, and luxurious than ever. For 2022, Audi offers a mid-cycle refresh. Same sedan underneath with revised looks and a few more technological goodies. We recently joined Audi for a media drive event in Oceanside and Temecula, California. Seat time was short, but the goal was to get a sense of the Audi S8’s driving experience and revised visuals. I should also point out that Audi put me — along with other journalists publishing reviews today — up in a fancy hotel for the night while providing high-end dining experiences.
Photographs by Michael S. Palmer
I mention this for ethical reasons, of course. My goal, despite the luxury treatment, is to bring a combination of objective analysis (is this thing good at what it wants to do?) as well as subjective passions to every review. Also, experiencing fancy places with fancy food and fancy people helped put me into the mindset of someone who could actually afford a six-figure flagship sedan (he said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek).
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Okay, enough disclosures, here’s what I experienced, broken down into a list of 8 Things You Need to Know About Audi’s Flagship Sedan Refresh…
8. Lineup Simplified (A8 V8 No More)
While the S8 has always been the pinnacle of A8 performance, Audi used to offer a V8 engine option in the A8. In 2022, Audi simplified the lineup, making the 3.0L twin-turbo V6 (335hp, 369 ft.-lbs. of torque) exclusive to the A8. That’s good enough for a mid-5-second 0-60 time for the 4,762-pound A8. Last year, we tested the SQ5 with the same engine and found it energetic and sporty. Then again, the SQ5 weighs 500 or so pounds less than the A8
Step up to the S8 and behold the glory of the twin-turbo 4.0L V8 with 563 peak horsepower and 590 lb.-ft. of peak torque roaring to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission and standard performance differentials. It weighs in at an Audi-measured 5,126 pounds, but still rumbles past 60 mph under the 4-second mark. Which would have put the best sports and supercars to shame twenty-plus years ago. We’ll talk about suspension in a moment, but despite being the sport-tuned model, the S8 sacrifices no comfort for the sake of superlative handling.
Both the Audi A8 and S8 drivetrains are 48v mild hybrids.
7. New Face, Who Dis?
As mentioned above, the 2022 driveline and feature sets carry over from previous years. The most striking differences, therefore, are visual. Up front, Audi widened the single-frame grille and added a new “angular bar design.” As pictured, the black optic package adds extra aggression. Tucked in next to the grille, you’ll see a pair of Digital Matrix-design LED headlights, which are exclusive to the S8. We’ve enjoyed these on other new Audi models like the RS 5 Sportback, of course, but here’s a refresher. Each headlight features “1.3 million micro-mirrors that break down the emitted light into tiny pixels, allowing the light beams to be controlled with maximum precision.”
In layman’s terms, these fancy lights put on little shows when you approach, lock, or unlock the vehicle. It’s a nice parlor trick, but the lights can also project animations, words, and simple images onto the ground or approaching surfaces. At this time, projections aren’t legal while the vehicle is in motion. But if Audi can earn DOT approval, it hopes to project things like lane markers while adjusting the lights to avoid blinding oncoming drivers.
6. Audi Fans Will Know Your Drive Mode By Looking at Your Brake Lights
Both the S8 and A8 feature OLED rear lighting. Yes, you’ll find more animation and light shows, but also extra safety as well as an Easter egg. First, proximity sensors turn on the taillights if another vehicle gets within 6.6-feet of a stationary A8/S8. Also, the rear lighting changes its signature shape when the vehicle enters Dynamic Mode. A small, perhaps useless feature. But I suppose the Audi faithful will know when you’re ready to party. Let’s just hope the cops don’t figure this one out.
5. How Smart is the Audi S8 Suspension? (Wicked Smart)
Audi describes the air ride system as a predictive active suspension which plays out in two key ways. While adaptable suspensions are common in luxury vehicles and great at reacting to the road, Audi’s system goes one step forward, using a camera to scan and analyze the road as you drive so it can react BEFORE it rolls over imperfections. Additional sensors monitor for side-impact collisions and, ahead of an imminent collision, instantly raises that same side of the S8 so the other vehicle will hit the Audi at a lower, more structurally-reinforced chassis location.
The S8 performs a similar trick in Comfort Plus driving mode. Whereas Dynamic Mode keeps the S8 flat around hard cornering (as one would expect), the Comfort Plus leans into corners. In other words, the outer side of the vehicle lifts upwards while cornering which makes the drivers and passengers experience less lateral g-forces. As a sensation, it feels more like the car is flat, even though it’s tilting. And it works wonders in hard-driving, even if Comfort Plus isn’t the designated sport mode.
All of this, by the way, is made possible by four electromechanical actuators placed in each corner of the vehicle. Quicker than hydraulic suspensions (as well as standalone airbags), these actuators adjust quickly and silently and on the fly. Heck, the S8 even jumps up a couple of inches when you open the doors to allow easier entry or exit.
Put all this technology together and you get a smooth and comfortable ride that trades no sense of performance for its overall sensation of insulation. It’s nothing short of remarkable.