Published March 17, 2007

Bigger, Badder, Faster

The S8 has the power of a tractor and the nimbleness of a hatchback, says SAMUEL EE

YOU could say that it all adds up when it comes to the latest super saloon from Audi. Take an A8 body, slot in a V10, hook it up to 4WD, and you have the big bad S8.

Discreet exterior: Apart from its 20-inch wheels and two intimidating pairs of tailpipes, the Audi S8 hardly looks wild

As the flagship model of the Audi range, the A8 normally has a top-of-the-range 4.2-litre V8. But for the new enhanced sports version, the S8, the Ingolstadt, Germany-based car maker decided not to soup up the existing eight-cylinder unit but slot in a new V10 instead.

This 10-cylinder engine is derived from the one found in the mid-engined Lamborghini Gallardo, but is slightly bigger and boasts an innovation shared by newer power plants in the Volkswagen family - FSI direct fuel injection.

In the large all-aluminium body of the S8, the 5.2-litre V10 is more than adequate - it is brilliant. Slip the gear lever into S (sport), floor the gas pedal and the S8 leaps forward with an exhaust rumble that is discernibly muted but still obviously brutal. There are 450 horses on tap and 540 Newton metres of torque, with 90 per cent of the latter available at just 2,300 rpm.

But if you want a more sedate, limo-like drive, it is also possible because the S8 cruises at 100kmh in sixth gear at just under 2,000 rpm. The serenity is interrupted only when the accelerator is blipped and a slight burble gives a hint of the 10 frenzied pistons in front of you.

Audi says it picked the V10 because with a larger displacement - that is, over five litres - it revs more quickly and hence performs more efficiently than a V8. The V10 is also lighter and more compact compared with a conventional V12.

The V10's prodigious torque provides effortless performance. Rare will be the situation when you will feel that the S8 needs a bit more oomph. With quattro permanent all-wheel-drive, the S8 is also confidently reassuringly around fast curves. If you need a better illustration of its abilities, just imagine the power of a tractor with the nimbleness of a small hatchback and just a hint of understeer.

But for a driver's car, the S8 lacks the accuracy of a sensitive steering wheel. It feels vague at times and there is insufficient feedback.

There are no issues with manoeuvrability, though, because even at 5.06 metres long - or more than 16 1/2 feet - the S8 feels agile and the turning circle is also good.

But where the S8 excels is in its overall refinement. While the smaller RS4 can come across as being too detached for a compact sports saloon, the S8's insulation from its raw power and dynamic performance is more acceptable.

It strikes a better balance between handling and luxury, and not only the driver will appreciate the refined ride and interior. As with all recent Audis, the beautifully made cabin still manages to win over many fans despite a more conventional design compared with its rivals, the S-Class and 7 Series.

So does its ride comfort. Shod with 20-inch rims and 35 series tyres, the S8 exudes an understated machismo while revealing serious stopping power with front brake discs the size of manhole covers.

Adaptive air suspension - with a choice of three damper settings and ride heights - can be selected using the multimedia interface's seven-inch colour monitor, and the electronic shock absorption system ensures maximum ride comfort except when encountering low-speed bumps in dynamic mode.

If there is any complaint about the S8, it has to be the discreet exterior styling. Apart from the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and the two intimidating pairs of tailpipes, the S8 hardly looks wild. While no one is saying its styling should be as subtle as a sledgehammer, it would be nice to see a little more differentiation between it and an A8.

But for those who prefer not to announce the fact that they just spent nearly half a million dollars on it, the S8 is perfect.

Audi S8 5.2 FSI quattro

Engine: 5,204cc V10
Gearbox: 6-speed tiptronic transmission
Max power: 450 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Max torque: 540 Nm @ 3,500 rpm
0-100 kmh: 5.1 secs
Top speed: 250 kmh
Price: $455,000 (with COE)
Distributor: Premium Automobiles, tel: 6566 1111