The 2021 Audi S8 TFSI perfectly marries pace and grace, presenting all the luxuries of a full-size premium sedan with the V8 brawn and sharp dynamics you’d expect from an S-badged model.
There’s no doubt the Australian car market is a strange one when it comes to big, full-size luxury sedans. While in many other wealthy countries, these are the sorts of cars one is driven in, nine out of ten Australian buyers are the ones actually sat behind the wheel.
That’s why Audi saw fit to relaunch the monstrous S8 super-sedan alongside the regular A8 L first seen here in 2018, and although this car might not make sense to some, in a market like ours, it’s exactly the right version of Audi’s biggest sedan.
It’s around the same cost as a house and land package in a small outer suburb, it’s the length of an ocean liner, and weighs as much as a female African forest elephant, yet it’s being bandied around as a performance car with an S badge on the back.
A fitting halo for the Audi S line of cars, it is, as it’s the most powerful S model currently available. Featuring a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 backed up by a 48V mild hybrid system, it puts out supercar levels of power – 420kW and 800Nm.
Backed by an eight-speed torque converter auto and the full-fat ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive system with a self-locking centre differential, it’s dispatched from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds – a time that’ll see it humble many a sports car.
Just consider that pace for a second, because this is a 2.3-tonne car at the end of the day. Sure, it’s not as fast as the old S8 Plus – this new model makes less power, but produces more torque more quickly – but it’s damn quick, especially for a car of its size and weight.
As it emits a deep, muscular, classic V8 growl, it really does pin you to the back of your seat as it digs into the road to put down all the torque it has on offer, and while it mightn’t be as fast on paper, in the real world it delivers more than enough in the way of pace.
So it’s fast in a straight line, but I’m sure some may be wondering whether this heffalump can handle a corner. Audi’s engineers clearly left none of the S8’s potential on the table though, as the level of composure it holds itself with is staggering for a car of its heft.
Pitch it into a corner and the air suspension always seems to know exactly how to handle it. It neither dives nor rolls too much – it just feels balanced and predictable.
Of course, part of why it knows exactly how to handle it is because it’s actually a predictive system that scans the road ahead, equally useful for balance in a sharp left-hander in Dynamic mode or when sending it over a speed bump at the posted speed limit.
You’ll barely feel anything in Comfort+. Normally, this author is not the biggest fan of four-wheel steering systems – they add too much weight, and have no benefit in shorter wheelbase cars like the Renault Megane R.S. 280.
But in something stout and incredibly long like this, the system manages to make its 2998mm wheelbase feel more like that of an A4. As you turn in and it clings to the corner like a cat on curtains, it’s as if the car just shrinks around you.
Don’t think that by sportifying this limousine that it has lost any of its luxury charm either, as the reality is quite the opposite.
Sure, there’s more exhaust noise than you’d hear in a typical luxury limo – there’s some pumped-in sound as well, which is totally unnecessary given the brawny exhaust note to begin with – but it still feels every bit as plush and proper as the normal A8.
Kitted up with the $13,900 Sensory Package – the only option other than minor cosmetics on top of its $260,000 list price – you get just about everything you could ever ask for.
Although heated and ventilated massage seats come as standard up front, this package adds them in the rear as well, where the seats also have an additional reclined position.
You also get a 23-speaker 1820W Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system (which has absolutely incredible clarity) and an extended leather package. When you consider this car is around $300,000 on the road, it’s a drop in the ocean and a must-have as a result.
But even without the add on, the S8 boasts plenty of impressive kit. Up front you get the full dual-screen MMI infotainment system with Google Earth overlay for the navigation system and wireless Apple CarPlay.
There’s the excellent Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster, a 360-degree camera system with an augmented reality 3D view of the car, a head-up display, and carbon fibre trim inlays on the door cards, dashboard, and gearshift.
Power-operated sunshades for all rear windows also feature, to block out lesser beings in the outside world. With excess being the name of the game here, there are plenty of little touches to make you go ‘oooh’ too.
A pair of speakers rise out of the dashboard as you fire up the stereo, for instance, and the dashboard air vents are hidden behind carbon fibre trim before finally being revealed as you turn up the fan speed.
There’s even a removable tablet in the rear, which controls the MMI system up front, along with rear convenience features like the seating, climate control, and sunshades.
And in yet another air suspension trick – as you open the door, it will automatically raise to a height that makes it easier to get in and out. With that said, we’re surprised there’s no fridge in there, given the new Land Rover Defender has one. First-world problems, we know.
Throwing it into Comfort+ mode, as touched on before, gives it a suitably plush ride for a luxury limo. You’d never know you were rolling on 21-inch rims wrapped in skinny Pirelli P Zeros with the way the suspension absorbs imperfections in the road.
From behind the wheel, it feels substantial, even at its waftiest, and with the steering feeling its lightest. Sure, there’s not much feedback through the tiller, but there doesn’t need to be in something like this, even when you’re fully sending it.
That’s something which you will most certainly want to do on a regular basis to exploit that V8’s muscles. Is it worth roughly $315,000 on the road as tested? We know that sounds like an unthinkable amount to us mere mortals.
It’s an important question to pose given it’s up against some stiff competition, in the form of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, both of which outsell it around sevenfold in Australia.
On price, the S8 manages to just undercut the V8-powered options from both brands, the 750Li and S560. It offers performance more in-line with that of the V12-powered M760Li and boosted-V8 S63L.
It’s only a mere 0.2 and 0.3 seconds off their respective 0-100km/h claims, despite costing more than $100,000 less. We know it’s hard to talk about value for money when it comes to cars worth this much, but it’s certainly a strong value.
The rather lovely new Lexus LS is a rival worth mentioning too, with the twin-turbo V6 LS 500 being a very good thing to drive, with plenty in the way of performance and similar luxuries (in Sport Luxury specification), for around the $200,000 mark.
Lovely though it is, it does lack the panache the European offerings have, and the performance really isn’t on the same level as this, given it lacks that V8 charm.
We wouldn’t discount it from consideration as that’s the real value buy in this segment, but this author doesn’t doubt the people buying this would rather pull up to the country club in an Audi than a Lexus.
Although it’s always been a slow seller compared to its rivals, we can only see this new S8 helping the A8’s case. This thing just makes far more sense than a sensible diesel or dull hybrid in this neck of the woods, and at this price point.
In one word, this thing is proper. In three? Proper bloody brilliant.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com and has been republished with permission. Photography by Marcus Cardone and Sam Moeung. Our test vehicle was provided by Audi Australia. To find out more about the 2021 Audi S8 TFSI, contact your local Audi dealer.