They say happiness is a warm puppy, but I’d like to suggest a far better definition: a leather-lined, technology-packed, all-wheel-drive sedan with 605 horsepower.
That’s the 2017 Audi S8 Plus in a nutshell. Yes, it’s big (almost 17 feet in length) and yes, it’s heavy (nearly two and a half tons, despite being largely aluminum), but, oh yeah, it will blow your mind right into the weeds.
Introduced for model year 2016, the Plus edition of Audi’s super-sedan added 85 horsepower to the previous model. It’s now the only S8 version available on our shores, and, man, does it ever run. Mash down on the throttle, feel the eight-speed automatic dicing and slicing all 517 pound-feet of torque (553 lb-ft when Overboost kicks in), and this sumptuously appointed, $148,000 executive’s chariot will blast from 0 to 60 mph in, says Audi, just 3.7 seconds. No way. It’s quicker than that. I’ve driven some seriously fast machinery lately and the S8 Plus is right there with all of them. With Quattro all-wheel drive, the S8 simply explodes off the line, all four tires biting into the asphalt, the V-8 screaming to its 6,800-rpm redline, stupefied Corvette drivers exclaiming, “What the hell was that?!”
Speed doesn’t come much more sublimely than it does with the S8 Plus. The bodywork does suggest some serious muscle lurking beneath, but it’s a subtle come-on. You have to pay attention to notice the 21-inch Audi Sport alloys dressed in 275/35 summer meat, the massive front air intake, the enormous 15.7-inch front and 14.6-inch rear ceramic brake discs, and the carbon-fiber rear lip spoiler. Otherwise, you might just mistake this for just another conservatively styled, garden-variety luxury sedan. Stealth plays a huge part in the S8’s appeal.
Unlike its “regular” A8 L sibling, the S8 rides on a shorter, 117.9-inch wheelbase. You won’t really miss the space—the rear seats are still plenty roomy—but the tidier package makes for noticeably improved nimbleness. The S8’s adaptive air suspension is stiffer, too, while the Plus’s Quattro system has been rejiggered to bias more torque to the rear.
In Dynamic mode, the S8 is astonishingly responsive for a sedan its size. Steering feel (it’s an electromechanical system) is outstanding, appropriately hefty and with fine communication of building cornering loads. Understeer is minimal, and the chassis will actually step out in back with judicious application of the gas or brakes. Paddle shifts aren’t dual-clutch quick but they’re quick for a slush-box. And the ceramic brakes (part of the $11,000 Dynamic package) are all but bulletproof. I never noted a hint of fade, and I pushed this beast through my favorite mountain lanes hard.
Yet the S8 has another, softer side. Switch into Comfort mode and you could almost be riding in a Jaguar XJ. It’s that supple. The turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 is muted at low revs, wind noise is minimal (almost nonexistent), and the transmission changes gears without a ripple. The luxury is prodigious, too. My test car included the Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound system ($6,300); the Audi Design package ($5,500), which includes black leather with Arras-red stitching, carbon-twill inlays, and a piano-black shifter; and such standard niceties as 22-way power front seats (heated and ventilated, too), a power moonroof, navigation, an Alcantara headliner, and a head-up display.
As always, Audi gets the look right, from the quilting of the leather to the glossiness of the center console to the pleasing feel of the thick, three-spoke leather wheel. Some of the elements are beginning to look dated (for instance, the S8 lacks the glorious, multi-function Virtual Cockpit color display found in the S3), but the conventional analog gauges still have an appropriately businesslike appeal. No one who enters this cockpit will do so without saying, “Wow!”
The S8 uses an older version of Audi’s MMI infotainment interface, but it still works well. The small rotary dial and accompanying mode buttons in the center console make summoning various systems and commands easy. There’s an “old-school” charm to the S8’s cockpit; it’s almost a throwback to a pre-digital age (though there’s still plenty of advanced tech on hand). It’s approachable, clean, stylish without being flashy. I like it.
A Driver Assistance package ($2,100) adds active-lane assist, adaptive cruise, and Pre-Sense Plus—which, at speeds up to 52 mph, actively scans for moving pedestrians and vehicles ahead and, if it senses a potential collision, alerts the driver and even hard-brakes itself if the driver takes no action. Also helpful is a standard parking-sensor system with a topview camera monitor.
I cannot hide it: I loved my week in the S8 Plus. I like its quiet presence, the confidence it inspires during enthusiastic driving, the peace of mind delivered by its myriad safety systems, the car’s ability to transform itself from relaxed cruiser to raging monster at the flick of a dial. But most of all, I loved the speed. The effortless, hair-straightening speed. When you order the optional Dynamic package, the electronic limiter doesn’t cut in until 190 miles per hour.
That’s right: The Audi S8 Plus has to be restrained before it goes even faster.
2017 Audi S8 Plus 4.0T Quattro Tiptronic Specifications
|ENGINE||4.0L turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/605 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 517 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/24 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||202.6 x 76.7 x 57.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||190 mph (electronically limited)|