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Future Classics 

Audi S8


The average person living in the 1960s probably envisaged the advent of space exploration as heralding a new age for mankind, where, by the 21st Century, we would be colonising distant planets, flying in cars through skyscraper cities, and working ten hour weeks, all whilst wearing ridiculous jumpsuits.

The future, of course, had more prosaic plans, but one by-product of the space race has been the plethora of products reputedly created as an offshoot of some or other NASA project. From the apocryphal (non-stick frying pans – surely ensuring that saucepans were easy to clean was not high on most astronaut’s priorities list) to the true but absurd (zero G pen springs to mind), hundreds of companies have associated their products with the American space agency over the last forty years.

Which brings us to the Audi A8, or more specifically, the range topping S8, which was advertised as being built on similar technology to NASA’s moon buggy, a vehicle that must hold the record for highest cost to top speed ratio. But we will forgive Audi this brief sojourn into the world of bad advertising, as, when it finally produced a full sporting version of the A8- the S8 – the company succeeded in creating a car that merged the straight-line speed and refinement of a GT with the space and discreetness of a well proportioned saloon.

The look of the S8 is akin to an enlarged first generation A4, but there is a tautness and muscularity to it that disguises its considerable size and distances it from the smaller car. Unlike the A4, the S8 and A8 are relatively uncommon sights on British roads, which means that the aesthetics have not been spoiled by familiarity.

The interior is of typical Audi quality, but it is noticeably from a pre-TT incarnation of the company; there is less design-led, architect’s apartment detailing and more Mercedes-like durability. It feels like a car that could easily last a lifetime – something that is rare in these days of accelerating obsolescence.

360 BHP in today’s hyper saloon market may not sound that much, but the S8 is reasonably light for a car of its size, and never feels underpowered. Anyway, this is not a car to be hustled along a narrow country road at speed – if you want those sort of thrills, buy an Exige or an Impreza. The S8 is designed to travel great distances at speed, but with a high degree of comfort and, perhaps most importantly, discreetness.

Although the suspension is stiff and the tyres large and low profile, the cabin is a peaceful place to inhabit, thanks in part to the double glazing and excellent sound insulation. There is a nice V8 rasp from the exhaust, but it only intrudes into the cabin at high revs.

On the move, there is the typical Audi nose-heavy feel caused by the engine position, but it is less pronounced than in non-Quattro models from the marque. Traction from the four wheel drive system is superb, allowing rapid all weather progress to be made even with the electronic aids switched off.

Severe provocation on corner entry can induce oversteer, but the S8 does not really seem to appreciate this; it feels like asking a thoroughbred to pull a cart – something that is both beneath it and for which it is not particularly well suited.

Put the S8 in D, let the auto box adapt to your driving style and you will be rewarded with a sporting yet cosseting drive. It will cruise in comfort at over a ton on the autobahn, yet will be quite happy to traverse an icy mountain pass, or carve its way through a set of S bends.

But, ultimately what makes the S8 a future classic, in our view, is the way that it offers all of these abilities in a package that does not impose a pre-determined image onto its driver. Where BMWs and lesser Audis carry the preconception of suburban middle management, the S8 has a restrained air that thwarts simple stereotyping. And there are few modern saloons that can make a similar claim.





 
 

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