Here’s a switch, at one of Vancouver’s most premium French restaurants, Le Gavroche, Kevin and I are arguing over who gets to drive rather than who gets to drink. Somehow I suffer through a $140.00 bottle of wine, but it’s a sacrifice. Sitting out front is a truly premium gentleman’s expresses, the 2007 Audi S8, a car that forces such hard choices.
True, the wine was exceptional. Yet, as a passenger through the sweeping curves of the Sea-to-Sky Highway during our post meal drive, I can’t help but think I made the wrong decision. The S8 is just that much better.
From the outside, little registers the S8 as anything other than a euro-sedan, one whose only unlisted option is a cute chauffeur. The differences over the A8, marking this as a driver’s car rather than the Driver’s car, are subtle. The couple small ‘S’ badges, discrete V10 emblems, tasteful chrome accents, slight rear spoiler, a set of twin exhausts and S8 branded brake calipers will only be spotted by Audi cognoscenti.
It’s tasteful, restrained and dashing, but this varietal’s character hints at others in its horizontal flight. There are overtones of Jaguar, Aston-Martin and Mercedes, the design standout being the gaping, vertically slatted, oncoming menace of a grill.
Any one of the S8’s interior ingredients, leather, suede, carbon fibre and aluminum, sound like an austere blend cold enough to require dialing the heated seats to five. Yet, like a fine dish bringing together diverse and challenging ingredients, these elements are expertly crafted into a welcoming, and comforting unified whole.
That’s quite a trick given each of these materials has a distinct texture; the soft suede roof-liner, smooth gloss of the carbon fibre, and slight brushing of the aluminum. The S8 is as much a consummately executed and nuanced tactile experience as a driving one. Spun out heiresses, high on ecstasy, have been spotted sitting in the spacious rear seats petting the S8 all day.
Meanwhile the driver knows a far stronger intoxicant lies under the hood, the S8’s V10 engine. Intense and complex this 450hp engine has long legs, carrying you up to the 250 kph/155mph electronically restricted top end.
Pulling away the S8’s engine is whiplash sharp, thanks to 90% of the torque arriving at a mere 2,300rpm. “Drivers” who don’t administer the throttle gently will be wiping up spilled aperitifs and having dry-cleaning bills pulled from their salaries… Or they can just revel in their coming unemployment.
A planted foot will convert your passenger’s organs to “mousse de foie gras”, as the quattro all-wheel drive struggles to minimize wheel spin and 400ft-lbs of torque trebuchets the S8 from 0-100kph in 5.1 seconds. Feel tipsy? It’s not that you’ve sipped and forgotten to spit, but that the acceleration has sluiced all the blood to the back of your brain starving your frontal lobes.
Betraying some Lamborghini parts sharing, the 5.2-litre V10 unleashes a rich, smooth, and deeply animalistic sound – like a bull hit with a cattle prod. It will strip the Ginch Gonch undies off a man at 20-paces. Other companies would have toned a car like this down, but Audi’s delivered pure audio ambrosia. It’s worth being mugged at the pumps every time you fill up.
Forgo the tiptronic transmission’s smooth upward rush for the sport-mode and upshifts are made more aggressively and pushed further into the tachometer. For even more explosive results, switch to the manual mode, using the steering wheel mounted paddles or shifter, and hold the engine to a ferocious 7000rpm before the tiptronic protectively grabs the next gear.
Sampling a narrow lakeside road, I hit the left paddle, downshifting before a tight corner, unleashing the engine’s audio dynamite. A moment later we’re rocketing out of the apex, the S8 showing the balance and deportment of a smaller vehicle. It’s not quite a sports car, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a 2080kg/4586lb sedan, though it is slightly numb and you’re well aware of the S8’s width on narrow roads.
The air suspension delivers on the tricky balance between comfort and sport; on dynamic setting it’s the soft side of sporty, on comfort setting it’s the sporty side of soft, making the S8 a velvet glove with which to drop the hammer.
The quattro drive distributes power in a 60/40 split favouring the rear. That gives the S8 the feeling of a proper rear-wheel drive sport sedan, rather than a wallowing luxo-barge. In extreme conditions the quattro can push up to 65% of the drive to the front or 85% to the back to optimize traction, something the massive low-profile 20-inch tires never seem short of. You can scare your passengers senseless in this one, and barring that hit the formidably powerful brakes and put them into locked seatbelts.
Where the S8 truly excels, though, is when you ease off the throttle and simply savour the engine’s long smooth finish. The experience is so pampering, the steering effort so minimal, you hardly know you’ve wafted up to autobahn styled speeds. The giveaway is the respectful nods from other German auto-philes as you cruise by.
Other drivers treat you differently too. The S8’s imposing presence seems to demand courtesy at intersections. My sister determined the root of this, “In this, you look like you have a lawyer on speed dial… Or in the trunk, it’s big enough.” It could be the sense of solidity the S8 projects, also, you’d swear the imperious Gordon Ramsey could mow down entire line-ups of patrons daring to eat at inferior restaurants without it being harmed.
What keeps the S8 from being “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée”? Er… The side window blinds, unlike the rear, don’t deploy electrically. While fumbling for it, your passenger must tolerate the paparazzi’s flashes, so there’s a quarter demerit. Then there’s the navigation system’s voice, without the option to change it to a mellow male you’re stuck with a business like lady giving near infallible instructions – a full point there. The cellphone interface on our tester requires an adapter plate, which begs the question what happens if you change phones periodically? Oh, and the leather has stitches, I mean couldn’t Audi just grow the cow in the shape of the interior?
Obviously we’re stretching here.
When you grow weary of conversation with endless “car guests”, turn up the Bose stereo and drown them out with brilliant sound quality. For iPod users you’ll need a special adapter. We were forced to revert to archaic CDs. For the record this is not a Madonna “Run Away Lover” sort of car, the Flower Duet from Lacme however keeps ringing though my mind.
Optioned out to $136,100.00 our tester’s sticker price is what will cork most people’s bottles, but then the 2007 Audi S8 is pulled from an executive cellar. That doesn’t seem as outlandish a tag as it did when we first picked up the S8.
It comes to me after a performance outburst. The S8 glides through light night traffic, city lights glistening on its glass and aluminum skin. The warm red-orange backlighting of buttons illuminate the cabin. The music mellows, Jamiroquai’s Music of the Wind graces the stereo, mixing jazz, funk and soul. It’s a confluence that creates a rare perfect driving moment… except in the S8 this sort of satisfaction isn’t rare.
You could cross continents as easily as you cross town in this state of fluid ease. In a society that frowns on all but rare expressions of driving enthusiasm, and requires us to tow the social line the rest of the time, the S8 makes exquisite sense. It is superb at both extremes. When was the last time your drive to the suburbs and back was bliss?
True, the 2007 Audi S8 is a monstrously fast gentleman’s express fortified with a V10 that begs to be uncorked. It is also a pleasingly mature vehicle, one that retains its youthful exuberance. Connoisseurs with the means will find the S8 a rich, bold flavour, with appealing weight and presence. For the rest of us the difference from common automotive Vin de Table is simply stunning.
Model as tested:
2007 Audi S8 5.2L V10
MSRP: $136,100.00 CDN
- Premium Package – $4,800.00
- Heated Rear Seats
- Power Trunk Open/Close
- Electric Rear and Manual Sun Shades
- Power Door Close Assist
- Advanced Key
- Carbon Fibre Trim – $650.00
- Ski Sack – $250.00
- Destination Charge – $700.00
Base MSRP: $129,700.00 CDN