The previous S8, sold in the States from 2001 to 2003, challenged all but the most dedicated Audi spotter, as its visual giveaways were limited to a slightly lower ride height; eighteen-inch wheels; and silver side mirrors. The new S8, by contrast, stands out from the current A8 in myriad ways. A series of vertical bars has been added to its grille, added just months before the design was finalized. The nose of the car is reshaped with a protruding chin punctuated by several air intakes; the trunk lid sports an integral spoiler; and, once again, the mirror housings are faux aluminum. There are special wheels, of course, twenty inches in diameter and wrapped in 35-series performance rubber. The special treatment extends to the interior. Audi's top-spec leather covers the seats, in a choice of single or two-tone colors. The headliner is Alcantara synthetic suede. And buyers can spec carbon fiber trim for the dash, console, and door panels.
The most dramatic distinction, however, is under the hood, where Audi has installed its first-ever V-10 engine, adapted from the one in corporate sibling Lamborghini's Gallardo. Audi enlarges it from 5.0 to 5.2 liters and fits FSI gasoline direct injection. That's enough to produce 450 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque and a 0-to-62-mph time of 5.1 seconds. At 135 mph, the car is still pulling strongly, but unfortunately electronics limit the top speed to 155 mph. (Call us jaded, but this seems like a half-hearted attempt to keep stride with Mercedes-Benz's AMG and BMW's M divisions, given that both of them offer 500-hp engines. The V-10 in the BMW M5 and M6, for example, makes 500 hp.)
The S8 will join the S4--Audi's only current S model--next year, along with the S6, which will have a slightly detuned (think 420 hp) version of the FSI V-10. Like all A8s, the S8's chassis features adaptive air springs and a choice of damping modes: comfort, automatic, and dynamic (firm), as well as a raised ground-clearance setting. Another difference between the two is the S8's use of Audi's rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system, first seen on the RS4. Instead of a standard torque split of 50/50, it sends 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels--until it detects slippage, when as much as 85 percent can go to the rear or 65 percent to the front.
The S8 is available in all colors in the A8 lineup, and one color--Daytona Grey Pearl--is exclusive to this car. Audi has tagged the S8 with a base price of approximately $95,000; it will show up in Europe this summer and on American streets soon after.