Audi’s movie-star S8 reborn with V8 hybrid oomph
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Audi’s movie-star S8 reborn with V8 hybrid oomph

By GoAuto - 22 July 2019

MOVIE car-chase classics. Quite rightly, most people namecheck Steve McQueen and his Ford Mustang tearing through the streets of San Francisco in 1968’s Bullitt as the definitive article, though whether it’s the best is certainly debatable.

Heist film Ronin, from thirty years later, ranks right up there, too, and also made a star of one of its chase vehicles, in the elegant yet muscular shape of the original Audi S8. Set in France and starring Robert De Niro, the Ingolstadt limousine eventually reels in a plucky Citroen XM (which magically morphs from a Series 1 to a Series II halfway through its big moment – look for it!) as part of a spectacular thriller that sees some 80 cars destroyed.

Definitely worth checking out.

For a little while, Ronin helped establish the D2-series S8 as the full-sized luxury sports sedan of choice for film-loving car enthusiasts. Now, 21 years later, Audi has unveiled the D5-series iteration with the emphasis still on fast first-class travel.

As with all past versions, this one is based on the aluminium-bodied A8, but this time around, the Germans have made a concerted effort to make the V8 a bit more socially acceptable, thanks to the introduction of 48-volt mild-hybrid electrification. You know, to help hurry things along a bit more.

Elegant OLED tail-lights and brutish quad exhausts are possibly the only thing you might spot as the S8 whooshes past.

The numbers make for some tantalising reading. The 1999 S8’s naturally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 and five-speed Tiptronic torque-converter automatic delivered 265kW of power and 420Nm of torque, for a 0-100km/h sprint time of about 6.6 seconds – quite the hot-rod for a big old barge back then.

Three full generations later, the 2020 S8’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 belts out 420kW and 800Nm, making this Clark Kent of a super-sedan the most powerful production Audi this side of the recently announced R8 V10 Performance quattro supercar.

Like all good muscle cars, the new S8 has an exhaust system flap to turn up the decibels under hard acceleration.

Upshot? Audi isn’t yet divulging the final numbers, though only a fool would bet against the newcomer beating its immediate predecessor’s 3.6s 0-100km/h time.

We don’t know how thirsty the latest S8 is either, but the latter is no doubt aided by the 48-volt belt-driven starter motor-alternator, which fires up the V8 for stop-start driving, thus easing fuel consumption by up to 0.8 litres per 100km.

Also in the name of economy, the twin-turbo 4.0L includes cylinder deactivation tech, cutting off unnecessary piston power when cruising along. Nice.

Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system features a sportS rear differential lock to help deliver the right amount of torque per wheel for ideal traction and grip during high-speed cornering.

The S8, then, stays true to form by promising to be ferociously fast. But it’s also business as usual for the brand since it is not shouting said astounding capabilities from the rooftops from a visual perspective – at least, not when the tacho needle is swinging like a Geiger meter to reveal the Audi’s majestic soundtrack. 

In other words, you’ll spot the most audacious A8 from its unique 21-inch alloys, S-specific detailing that live in the bumpers, side sills and mirrors; and massive twin exhausts. Another giveaway are the standard-fitment LED matrix headlights and OLED taillights. Under the radar yet raring to go – essential for any move car-chase scene!

Just like the regular A8 dash, the S8’s is a bewildering array of technology accessed via several touchscreens as well as Alexa voice activation.

To help keep all that speed in check, there is so-called ‘predictive’ active suspension, featuring trick electro-mechanical actuators and air dampers to push down or lift each wheel individually to balance the car and ride bumps more effectively.

It’s really quite clever: a front-mounted camera can spot potholes and somesuch to set the suspension’s softness or hardness accordingly, while leaning through fast corners is halved from 5.0 degrees to 2.5 degrees in the system’s athletic ‘dynamic’ mode, even tilting the S8 by up to three degrees in the opposite direction in some turns so the occupants can cope better with lateral forces.

The original D2-series S8 launched in Europe in 1996 and arrived in Australia three years later, breaking new ground in the luxury-sedan segment for performance and technology.

Additionally, four-wheel steering brings unexpected agility, it is claimed, aided by a rear ‘sports’ differential in the quattro all-wheel-drive system, which aims to aid traction scurrying out of corners.

The goal is for the five-metre-plus S8 to steer and handle like an S3 while cosseting its occupants as comfortably as possible. We’ll have to wait and see how successful the engineers have been on this front.

The first S8 benefited from the D2 A8’s aluminium spaceframe construction, which has helped to cut weight and increase structural strength in that and every iteration since then.

Touching the doorhandle elevates the Audi by 50mm to help entry and egress, and when sat inside, specially-prepared leather-faced sports seats with pneumatic bolsters and three-stage heating simultaneously situate and nicely bake posteriors to a desirable level.

Plus, there are 38 driver assistance systems, bringing adaptive cruise assist with traffic-jam assist and lane tracking, acting predictively in anticipation of the conditions ahead by drawing on “swarm intelligence” data fed into a centralised monitoring set-up.

Instruments are fully digitised, naturally, and all connectivity functions can be controlled using Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa interface. No doubt it will all seem like a tech overload.

Though the Audi S8 was one of the stars, the heist movie also featured a Citroen XM, BMW E34 535i, Peugeot 406 and a rare Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 in various states of destruction.

Pricing should be somewhere in the vicinity of the D4-series S8 versions, last sold here in 2017. They went between $280,000 and $335,000 depending on spec. This ain’t no cheapie!

Finally, when will we see the A8 range-topper on Aussie soil? Audi isn’t saying right now, but expect it to arrive sometime during the first half of next year.

In the meantime, the S8 is ready for its camera close-up now. Did someone say Ronin II?

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