Audi S8 2022 review – an old-school performance car with old-school appeal
A fine example of exquisite German engineering, set against an outdated set of principles
You know when a car manufacturer has little intention of carrying on with a model when its mid-life facelift is so mild you need to share a mortgage deed with the designer for them to tell you the differences between this new for 2022 Audi S8, and the car from 2019 that it replaces.
There’s a new single-frame grille design, the bumpers front and rear and deeper side sills are reshaped, plus there’s the adoption of Audi’s trick Digital LED Matrix lights for the font, with new OLED units at the rear. There's also some new wheel options, and in the UK at least, a much more sinister design theme with blacked-out wheels, badges and brightwork.
That a larger proportion of the S8’s presentation was given over to a new colour palette tells you that even the might of Ingolstadt has already switched its attention to the A8’s all electric replacement, something that’ll be inspired by the Grandsphere concept.
There’s a few more years to go for the current A8 and therefore the S8 though, which means a few more years of the latter’s 4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 with its fuel saving 48-volt mild-hybrid system. In the world of Porsche Taycans and Audi’s own e-Tron GT, the S8’s 563bhp and 590lb ft of torque might look a little undercooked, and with 2220kg to haul around it doesn’t take long to understand that Audis with an S in their name aren’t as potent as those with an R and an S.
It’s quick, to a point, and then physics take over and the S8’s performance becomes agreeable. Its 3.8-second 0-62mph time is impressive for a big girl, but soon after that thump tails off and the pace becomes more of a cruise. When the autobahn traffic parts ahead of you the eight-speed auto needs to drop a few ratios if you’re not to be consumed by the 530d counting every one of those LEDs in your fancy new rear lights.
The S8 still performs at its best when on a quick cruise than a full on bull run. It has that cast iron body control afforded to it by its predictive air suspension that scans the road ahead and pre-loads the air springs accordingly, allowing the cars to deliver two contrasting elements as one: maintaining that level of body control at high speed without a sense that every single component in the suspension has been made from, er, cast iron.
As a car to traverse large swatches of any country the S8 still remains a comforting place to be. Wrapped in the very best that the company’s interior maestros can create an S8 – all A8’s for that matter – remains the pinnacle of Audi’s famed interior quality and refinement, delivering a blend of performance and luxury rivals from BMW (750i) and Mercedes (S63) struggle with.
Away from a main trunk road and the S8 does struggle, but then it’s not exactly an RS3 rival. It’s here that the technology that allows the suspension to add up to three-degrees of counter roll into the body between 50 and 70mph to aid the S8’s lateral stability as much as possible. It doesn’t feel like a natural apex chaser, but neither does it feel out of its depth if you cycle through the dynamic select driving modes in a bid to discover its sharpest edge. Although you’ll need to call on the standard carbon ceramic brakes more than you would in a model from the class below, and their calibration feels a generation behind with a hint of delay on initial application causing you to push a little harder just as your first input takes effect.
Standard-fit four-wheel steering and the torque-vectoring quattro sport differential have more of an influence over keeping the S8 a step ahead of other A8s rather than transforming it into a pure driver’s car, although both systems do result in a large car that’s keen to turn-in and resist the urge to wash wide with an impressive degree of commitment. But it feels unnatural with the S8 not exactly willing to get up on its toes as the current crop of large RS models such as the RS6 and RS7 do. Yet the depth of engineering that’s gone into the S8 does feel deeper than that of an S6/7.
Ultimately in a world of polished performance EVs the S8 has grown to be a car that feels like it's from yesterday trying to keep up with today. Highly polished and engineered to a remarkable standard, you’ll appreciate every journey in an S8 but you’re unlikely to remember many of them. Then again, that’s possibly true of all in this segment.
Prices and rivals
The 2022 Audi S8 kicks off in the UK at £102,730, with a Black Edition costing a few grand more at £105,730. Both are very well equipped, with all the S8’s key chassis upgrades fitted as standard, but for the garnish you’ll need to upgrade to the Vorsprung at £117,730, which throws in almost the literal kitchen sink.
The segment is otherwise pretty thin today, with BMW’s V12-powered M760iL no longer in service and Merc’s incoming AMG S-class going upwind by including some substantial hybridisation. As such, the S8’s rivals are placed below, with BMW’s 750i and Mercedes S500 sitting around £10k less and with around 50bhp and 100bhp less from their powertrains.
The Merc’s package is certainly lacking any sporting pretence, but the BMW is much closer in spirit and execution, and is a mighty fine driving experience to boot.
Maserati’s Quattroporte Trofeo is a potential rival, and while no where near as polished or capable, it does have a different cool factor (it’s the movie villain’s car, not the protagonist’s) and that brilliant crackle-finish Italian V8 to make up for it.