For those who thought the Audi S8 was great but not powerful enough, the 597bhp S8 Plus might be the answer to your ‘problems’. But is it worth the extra $22K?
|V8, twin-turbo, 3993cc
|597bhp @ 6100-6800rpm
|553lb ft @ 2500-5500rpm (on overboost)
My first hankering for the Audi S8 came in 1998 when I saw Ronin. Building on the elegant yet tech-heavy A8 Ingolstadt introduced in 1994, this new BMW 7 Series rival was faster, more dynamic, equally as elegant and yet considerably more ‘gangster’ thanks to an aggressive new look. And here it was evading the gendarmerie down some of the narrowest streets in Paris, all whilst Sean Bean rambled in his best pseudo-cockney accent (“that’s a fact, that is a fact”). I was sold immediately.
Today that enthusiasm takes another step with the S8 Plus, a more powerful – and more expensive – sport saloon for those who found the already insanely fast $107,600 S8 too conservative. For starters, that 4-litre V8 receives new engine mapping and a revised geometry for the twin turbochargers, upping an already whopping 513bhp in the S8 to a barely credible 597bhp, torque also making a jump from 479lb ft to 553lb ft. Consider the insanity of that. 0-100kph drops from a ‘paltry’ 4.1 seconds to 3.8 seconds, meaning this 2065kg premium saloon is just a whisker behind the A8 on the run to the ton and half a second faster than arch rival Mercedes’ S 63 AMG. And that’s not all: top speed is a traditionally limited 250kph, but ask Audi nicely – with a few hundred extra dollars – and they’ll loosen that to 305kph.
What kind of performance does the S8 Plus have?
These are figures designed to boggle the mind and rotate the spleen: plant the right pedal and the S8 Plus will shift like a rocket-fuelled locomotive both effortlessly and unceasingly, aligning the sword of Damocles above your driver’s licence as it does so. And yet the seamless shifts through the eight-speed automatic and the hushed confines of the cabin – minus an occasional raucous burble on the V8 overrun – mean this brutal turn of speed is bafflingly civilised. That savage power delivery is beautifully predictable, the air suspension and even the ‘gangster’ 21in alloys soaking up imperfections in the road surface impressively well, and finding an comfortable driving position with the 22-way adjustable seats is a physical impossibility.
Indeed, save for some darkened tail lamps, a tail-lip spoiler and some carbon fibre wing mirrors should your wallet be busting at the seams, there’s very little visual difference between the ‘Plus’ and the elegant S8 base. All the better for hiding that potency: imagine buying a prawn sandwich and only finding two dozen jalapenos once you’ve bitten into them.
Where inevitably this Ronin fairy-tale receives a kick to the groin is through the handling. On highway stretches, the S8 Plus wafts effortlessly along, but on the windier stretches of mountain asphalt, there inevitably lacks a certain precision. Each corner is assaulted rather than tackled with plenty of body roll, though fortunately massive amounts of grip and Audi‘s finely judged Quattro all-wheel drive setup means the electric safety net is enormous.
Still, pointing and shooting the S8 with a degree of finesse and a feather-light right foot might be possible were it not for the steering. Heavily power assisted, the weighting is inconsistent, lacking initial bite before dialling in additional weight when you least expect it. Ironically the initial turn-in is sharp thanks largely to those grippy front tyres, but the lack of textured feedback through the ‘Dynamic’ rack makes hustling the S8 Plus on anything other than straight highways bursts is a daunting prospect.
Of course to reasonable expect the thrill of driving through the corners in a two-ton premium saloon is a tad ridiculous, so there’s a degree of leniency dealt the handling. After all, if you’re in the market for a large, comfortable, stylish and blisteringly quick highway muncher, then you’ll likely find little better than the S8 Plus. This does of course come with a large asterisk.
So, what’s the verdict then?
Well for starters, that additional 84bhp ,74lb ft and dashes of carbon fibre comes with an extra $21,500 on top of an already stiff S8 price tag. Fine, it may be $40(ish) cheaper than the Merc S 63, but also tips the financial scales against the less expensive albeit less powerful Jaguar XJ, something to consider carefully before dishing out the deposit. In terms of comfort too, the Mercedes would still get our nod, and since the current gen A8 arrived back in 2010, a new model can’t be too far away.
But having said that, and much as it did in 1996, the Audi S8 Plus ticks the necessary boxes for me. Brutally fast, beautifully built, effortlessly smooth and comfortable, and just the right side of mental. If you’ve got $129K to spare on a super saloon that will outrun a Maserati MC12 that might seem some finessing through the corners, then you’ll fair much worse than an Audi S8 Plus. And hey, if it’s good enough for Ronin…