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New Car Review



Nicholas Frankl

European Corrspondent

SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide

Missiles. You know the ones. Light, powerful and more often than not made of aluminium. The S8, armed with a warhead - all 340 bhp of it, does not actually fly. BOO HOO. But if it had wings it might. Constructed, as the "Apollo" adverts have been telling us, from a core of aluminium, wrapped in a sweeping aluminium body and shod in large aluminium wheels, the Audi represents everything that Lotus with there Elise strove for, just bigger and dare I say it?^ a tad heavier too.

But then, who says there aren't any thin cat businessman who don't want to wallow in those other Teutonic mobiles? In fact, a large lunch, desert and some Louis XIV cognac is exactly what you don't want when "cruising" (you know - like the missile) in the Audi. With a lowered suspension, 18" seven spoke alloys and very "hard" 245/45 ZR Dunlop's (more later) the Quattro rides on the firmer side of comfort, and corners on the agile side of GTI territory. In the dry this presents the driver with all manner of problems as the rear passengers get flung around like children in a bouncy castle - a Cheshire cat smile, meantime, broadening across your face. In the wet, however, you'll find the messages coming through the leather sport steering wheel hard to decipher. The tyres are too hard - and it's a rare occasion for me to say that. Quite simply, on a fast bend, the car turns in very well, but initial understeer (this is a big car don't forget) turns to quite lurid four-wheel drifts that can catch a driver out.

One uses the word driver, rather than chauffeur - as this wunderwagan is not really the domain of the professional - mores the pity for them. The ride in the rear is, although not uncomfortable, clearly not as relaxed as in the "normal" 4.2. Ruts, bumps and the like are communicated directly to your behind, which is a shame because if the steering talked as much, the car would be a whole lot better. Even more of an improvement could be found through a very simple adjustment. Because, I assume, the electric steering is the same as that found on the lesser "fat cat" models - the wheel itself is not allowed to descend below 6" above your thighs. This, for a tall fit driver, means a constant wrist strain especially for long journeys. It is extremely annoying and in fact when I mentioned to a friend that I was testing the car, he immediately pointed this out from a recent test drive he had conducted.

You can't fault the power though. I liken it to one of those solid rocket boosters normally found strapped either side of the shuttle. Once they start you cannot turn them off - they just turn out in the inner atmosphere. Well the S8 propels you seamlessly towards the horizon too and doesn't run out till 155mph (does anyone know how to take the limiter off?) Clearly if allowed to breathe uninterrupted this car would run to 180 no problem. I'm sure some Ludwig in Ingostadt is doing just that right now. If that's the case, then he's probably rewired the management system on the gearbox as well, as I doubt the 10 set programmes in the computer would suffice. Unfortunately they do little for ordinary mortals. The change is lumpy, even harsh, particularly on slow speed situations, whilst the "manual" Tiptronic is excellent but does take a little getting used to. Whilst parachutes, water and helicopters were always needed at the end of an Apollo journey - the S8 does extremely well with discs all round, ABS and electric brake balance. They are sharp and fade free.

If all else fails - you need never be alone in the Audi. The GPS satellite system is absolutely outstanding and even talks to you in a beautiful female nerd language- who is this girl? I want to meet her. It took me hours to figure out and programme the thing - helped in no way by Audi who forgot to give me a manual. Perhaps a deliberate error for when you do get caught in a jam with nothing to do? It told me where I was - down to 8 meters - (anything more accurate has to have military approval) and even knew when I had gone the wrong way - asking me to politely make a U-turn, much nicer than my girlfriends who curse as soon as you screw-up the route.

Is the S8 the best luxury saloon you can buy? I don't know. Certainly at 69,000 it represents a saving against the 750I and SE500. The Beemer does have a fabulous V12, whilst the Merc is a little on the big and cumbersome side, at least in standard none AMG spec. For sure if you need long distance comfort mixed with A' road thrills the S8 will prove a very able and willing companion, it does everything you ask of it totally effortlessly and combined with all the benefits of four-wheel drive.

AUDI S8 - 4.2

Bhp/Revs                340/6600
0-62 mph                6.8
Max speed       155

Urban           14.9
Constant 75mph  26.9

Safety systems  crumple zones all over and driver, passenger and FOUR side

Price           69,000