The autobahn speeds also show the subtle difference in the S8's suspension. 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. In the S8, the default position (automatic) is firmer and the ride height approximately three-quarters of an inch lower. The changes make the chassis feel tensed, poised. Overall, the S8 drives like an A8 on high alert.
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 rear bias is supposed to impart a rear-wheel-drive feel in hard cornering. We drove the S8 through a 40-mph slalom course, and it seemed to change direction a bit more eagerly than most Audis, which tend to ask too much of their front tires. (In case you're wondering, the V-10 adds about 70 pounds up front, but Audi partially compensates by moving the battery to the rear.) We really didn't feel much rear-wheel bias, however, on our drive through the flat farm country in northwest Germany.
With the new S8, Audi has done a lot more to make its largest S model something special. But the overall effect is still fairly subtle compared with other German supersedans. If you're judging by the numbers, the S8 is not your car. But buyers who appreciate a well-rounded package more than bragging rights may find the S8's subtlety to be a virtue.
Price: $95,000 (base, est.)
Engine: 5.2L V-10, 444 hp, 398 lb-ft