One after the other, the three tenors pull up. The Lamborghini-sourced V-10 of the Audi S8 chants with the fiery intensity of Luciano Pavarotti. The Ferrari-engineered V-8 of the Maserati Quattroporte Automatica intones aural nuances with the spine-tingling depth of Jos Carreras. The big-bore, 6.2-liter eight-cylinder of the brand-new Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG bellows with the vibrant timbre of Plcido Domingo. Their viciously threatening idles only hint at what the next 7000 or so rpm will unleash: sports car performance and turbinelike torque, plenty of brio, and engineering that turns any favorite rural road into your own private Nrburgring.
The Quattroporte was released in 2004, but it took the ragazzi from Modena until 2007 to find a suitable automatic transmission as a viable alternative to the jerky and hesitant paddleshift DuoSelect transaxle. Supplied by ZF, the new six-speed manu-matic is a no-cost option that's expected to be installed in 90 percent of all Quattroportes. Since the gearbox attaches directly to the engine, this new variant has a slightly less favorable 49 to 51 percent front-to-rear weight distribution when compared with the DuoSelect-equipped car. With an extra 44 pounds to move, the Automatica accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 5.6 seconds and on to a maximum speed of 168 mph, according to Maserati. The output of the 4.2-liter V-8 is unchanged at 400 hp, but torque climbs from 333 to 339 lb-ft. At the same time, fuel economy improves slightly.
The Audi A8 offers two choices for those customers interested in a high-end luxury car: the 6.0-liter W-12 donated by Volkswagen or the 5.2-liter V-10 adopted from Lamborghini. Both units deliver an identical 450 hp, but the S8, which gets the ten-cylinder, is sportier in both concept and appearance. Its air suspension has a tauter calibration, its standard tires are fat twenty-inchers, its fuel is delivered directly into the cylinders, and instead of conventional cast-iron brake rotors, you are invited to pay extra for virtually fade-free ceramic discs. In addition, Audi claims that the S8 sprints to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds (a hair quicker than the W-12) and is electronically limited to 155 mph.
The 518-hp Mercedes-Benz S63 musters 465 lb-ft, eclipsing both the Maserati and the Audi, which is good for 398 lb-ft. Large displacement and high revs are the hallmarks of this normally aspirated 6.2-liter engine. Married to a seven-speed manu-matic, the AMG powerhouse turns the S-class into a senior citizen on steroids. On a high-friction surface, the big Benz can roar to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. On less grippy surfaces, progress is a constant fight between slip and surge. Top speed is normally restricted to 155 mph, but for a price, AMG will happily raise the barrier to a Ferrari-threatening 186 mph. With a range-topper like this, who needs Maybach?
Born as a luxurious, high-tech whisperliner, the S63 has been turned into a fire-breathing performance car. Although the first impression still says S-class, it's clear that the true home of this model isn't the taxi stand at the Ritz-Carlton but the passing lane of a German autobahn. Go-faster cosmetics include a more aggressive front apron with extra air intakes, unique sill profiles, a new rear bumper with four chrome tailpipes, and optional twenty-inch wheels.
In our test, all three of these cars ran on high-speed winter tires good for 149 mph: the Benz was shod with 255/40VR-19 Pirellis all around, the S8 wore 235/45VR-19 Dunlops, and the Maserati was fitted with 245/45VR-19 Pirelli Sottozeros in front and 285/40VR-19s at the back. As a result, the wheels pictured on these pages don't necessarily correspond with those you'd get in combination with summer tires.