2013 Audi S8 first drive review

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The previous generation of the Audi S8 was a bit odd among the full-size performance sedan crowd, though it was odd in a way we liked. Power came from a high-revving 5.2-liter V-10 whose design was derived from the unit in the Lamborghini Gallardo supercar, and its rating was an impressive—for the time—450 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque.

Subtle “V10” badging on its fenders were enough to tell onlookers there was serious performance residing within the svelte luxo barge, and the symphony emanating from under the hood gave owners a feeling they were driving something truly special.

Driving the latest 2013 Audi S8, you can’t help but feel a sense of loss. There’s still the aluminum construction and standard quattro all-wheel drive, the latter of which comes with a new Sport Differential to vary torque between the rear wheels, but now the choice of powerplant is a force-fed V-8 instead of a sweet naturally-aspirated V-10.

This is a similar setup found in rivals like the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG and Jaguar XJ Supersport, and a slightly detuned version is also fitted to the new 2013 S6 and 2013 S7. In fact, you’ll even find it in Bentley’s new V-8 models and you can bet it’ll appear in a Porsche model or two eventually.

Sure, power in the 2013 S8 is up 16 percent on the previous model, while fuel economy has improved by an even more impressive 27 percent, but is this enough to convince buyers the car is still special? To find out we drove a black example fresh from Audi’s factory in Neckarsulm, Germany, through Switzerland and its beautiful Alps, and on to our final destination in Northern Italy.

The S8’s engine is one of the most advanced V-8s currently in production. Thanks to a twin-turbocharging system, peak output from the 4.0-liter unit is a healthy 520 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque. The latter is available from just 1,700 rpm, and makes highway passing a thing of joy. Just drop the hammer and feel the car hunch down as all that torque accelerates you to illegal speeds in no time. Did we mention the 0-60 time is just 3.9 seconds?

On the highway you can happily cruise at 75 mph, with the revs hovering as low as 2,000 rpm. This saw our mileage get as high as 23 mpg at some points. Drive a bit slower and you’ll have no problem achieving the official highway rating of 26 mpg. The EPA rates the city mileage at 15 mpg and the combined figure is 19 mpg.

Note, the ride is so smooth you can easily creep up to 90 mph without even realizing. Part of the reason for this is that inside the cabin, the sound of the engine is a bit muted—even with the sound generator set to “Dynamic” mode. Outside, however, the S8's engine has an old-school muscle car note to it that definitely turns heads. 

Helping achieve the S8's impressive fuel economy numbers is a cylinder deactivation system, which drops the cylinder count to just four during low load situations. We found the system to be imperceptible. Audi says this is due to active engine mounts that dampen vibrations when running in four-cylinder mode as well as an active noise cancellation system that negates some of the engine and exhaust note.

The buttery-smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox also has two overdrive top gears, which most of the highway driving is done in. Of course, you can also switch to manual mode when you feel like, using a pair of paddle shifters for the gear changes. Other fuel-saving features we utilized on our drive include engine stop-start and adaptive cruise control, both of which were non-issues.

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