Audi S8 (2001)
SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide
by John Heilig
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Audi S8 ENGINE: 4.2-liter 40-valve DOHC V8 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 360 hp @ 7,000 rpm/317 lb-ft @ 3,400 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic with Tiptronic WHEELBASE: 113.4 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 198.2 x 79.0 x 55.8 in. STICKER PRICE: $78,975
Imagine coming home from vacation to find a car like the Audi S8 sitting in your driveway. Here I had been, either driving a minivan for hundreds of miles (granted, it was an excellent minivan), or sitting shotgun while my son-in-law bused everyone around in his Chevy Suburban. Then I sit behind a 180-mph speedometer in a car that gives every impression that it can peg the needle there as it goes even higher. What fun.
The S8 is the sportier version of Audi's top-of-the-line A8 sedan. Dimensionally, the two cars are almost identical, with the S8 riding slightly lower. The S8, however, derives 360 horses from its 4.2-liter DOHC V8 engine, while the A8 must "limp along" with a mere 310. The difference is in the compression ratio; the A8's is 10.8:1, the S8's 11.0:1. These are lofty numbers and premium fuel must be used to prevent knock and to extract the maximum performance from the engine.
Connecting the engine to the road is a five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. Tiptronic was the first of the "automatic stick shift" transmissions that allow the driver to shift the transmission like a manual for maximum performance when it's needed, and to leave it in "D" for automatic shifting when there's no need for performance driving. The Tiptronic was necessary in some instances, as there appeared to be a slight lag between the time I asked for more power by hitting the accelerator pedal and the time the engine delivered it in the form of acceleration. I'm not saying this was a serious delay, but it was longer than I had expected from a performance car.
Of course, the S8 is an Audi, and as such it's a true luxury car. Audi has always built excellent automobiles, and the S8 it the epitome of that engineering genius. It is a full five-seat sedan, with leather upholstery and all the amenities one would desire. We had an excellent sound system with a Bose AM/FM stereo radio, 6-disc CD changer plus a single player in the dash and a cassette player. We also had dual zone automatic climate control, which allowed my wife to keep the right side of the car at a comfortable temperature for her, while I kept the let side at a more sensible temperature for me.
Both heated front seats were 14-way powered, there was a power sunroof, and polished walnut inlays for the dash console and doors.
One missing feature that surprised me was no "auto down" feature for the power windows. When even economy Korean makes offer this feature, it was noticeably absent in this European luxury car.
A nice feature was the anti-theft feature that featured a motion sensor. When you have a $79,000 car parked in the supermarket parking lot, you want to know that it will make a lot of noise if someone tries to take it illegally.
The suspension used four links up front with a stabilizer bar. In the rear was a trapezoidal link suspension. In addition the S8 has ESP, Audi's Electronic Stabilization Program that prevents the car from oversteering or understeering off the road. And it had ABS.
But more importantly, it had quattro permanent all-wheel drive with EDL (Electronic Differential Lock). All these techno goodies allowed the S8 to be driven at any speed on any highway. Coming back to the office from our remote location, I travel along a nice winding road. When there were no other cars on the road (I don't like to risk other drivers), I was able to drive the S8 up to double the speed limit (OK, the speed limit wasn't over 35, but still, that was impressive). I feel I could have driven faster, but why? Also, I'm not that good a driver.
All this is to show that the S8 felt completely safe at higher speeds on winding roads. It's not necessary to travel at elevated speeds, but there are times when it's convenient to be able to do it. The S8 was one of those cars that made the road feel wider when you went faster, not narrower, as is the case with most cars.
The bottom line comes from a base price of $72,500, $3,500 for the luxury Valcona leather trim package, and $700 for heated rear seats, an expandable ski/storage sack, power rear window sun shade and manual side window sun shades. The destination charge was $575.
I'll admit that the S8 is out of the price range of most drivers today. But if it is in your price range (and it competes with vehicles like the Mercedes S-Class AMG), it's a vehicle that definitely should be considered. It's a vehicle that should be considered, too, if only for its lust value.