2021 Audi S8 review: this is the best car Audi makes and I won't hear otherwise
The most honest Audi on sale
The Audi S8 isn't trying to be something it isn't. It's not a big estate car trying to be sporty (RS 6, I'm looking at you). It's not a slightly aged and soft sports car trying to hang with the modern supercar crowd (hello, R8). It's a no-nonsense luxury limo that's designed to demolish big distances at great speed.
And it's bloody good at it.
Find out how as I review the car exclusively on location at Center Parcs in the video below, or read on for more thoughts.
What is it?
It's a £97,000, 2.2-tonne saloon car with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine putting out 570hp. Think of it as an Audi RS 6 in a grown-up body that looks like it'd be at home ferrying executives to airports or wanky hotels for meetings about firing hundreds of people and ruining their lives.
How does it drive?
Impressively well, thanks to a never-ending barrage of chassis technology to cater for the comfy side of things, as well as the naughty driving that V8 encourages. The S8 sits on Audi's air suspension system, linked to a camera on the front of the car that feeds info to the suspension control unit, adjusting the ride 16 times a second to cope with whatever you're about to drive over. We're not sure the algorithm accounts for wildlife – it's just a very comfortable car to ride in, although you don't feel totally isolated from every lump and bump in the road.
Sure, the S8 looks about as understated as it's possible to get – but that's part of the charm
As well as giving your buttocks a respite from the punishment of day-to-day life, the suspension has a few neat tricks up its sleeve to make living with the S8 easier.
You can set the suspension to raise the driver's side of the car by 50mm when you open the door to get behind the wheel, and in some of the drive modes the S8 will actually lean into corners a bit like a motorbike. The latter's useful when tackling motorway slip roads at the sort of speeds you shouldn't really write about on the internet, and there are 48-volt active anti roll bars to help keep the body of the car level when you're driving like a fool. No matter how briskly you go, the S8 feels utterly glued to the road. There's no skidding about here – just unbridled, reassuring and comfortable traction.
It should go without saying that the V8 makes the S8 astonishingly rapid – 0-62mph takes 3.8 seconds, and you very quickly see three-figure speeds in the head-up display if you're not paying attention. The cabin's excellent sound deadening is as much a risk to your license at the engine's power.
Infotainment's about as good as it gets for a touchscreen system
Around town, the S8's standard-fit four-wheel steering works absolutely bloody miracles, making the car feel at least a meter shorter than it actually is when you're trying to squeeze into an awkward parking space. It bimbles around with complete nonchalance, and it's very easy to forget about the stonking power available when you finally get to a national speed limit.
What's it like as a family car?
Glad you asked. I used the S8 to ferry my other half and our two young kids to a long weekend away. We filled the 505-litre boot with ease and had to use the spacious rear footwells for some of our stuff, but with two kids aged under two you tend to carry enough kit and caboodle to equip a small army. It's worth pointing out that your rear-seat passengers get a huge amount of legroom. Useful if you're carrying diplomats, but doubly useful if your toddler likes to dance like a gibbon on the back of the front seats.
There's loads of room to keep the front seats well out of toddler kicking range
What should've been a two-hour drive ended up taking five hours thanks to M25 traffic hell, and the S8's active cruise control (which works down to a standstill and will keep up with crawling traffic for you) took a huge amount of stress out of the drive, as did the massage seats, a brilliant sound system and the thought of a bathtub's worth of beer at the other end. In short, in any other car I'd have felt a lot more stressed doing a literal 2mph for an hour on the motorway. With two screaming kids.
Should I buy one?
In terms of being fit for its intended purpose, the S8 is undoubtedly our favourite current Audi. It's fast, comfortable, roomy and even gets 28mpg on a cruise thanks to imperceptible cylinder deactivation technology. Sure, it isn't a natural born back-road hooning machine (although it grips and turns very well), but as a car to live with it's just downright wonderful.
Probably the best Audi on sale in 2021. Fight us.
It's almost understated in its excellence, and it feels a shame that more people don't buy S8s to use as family cars. Part of the reason why is the huge depreciation that the model's faced in the past – but if you look for nearly-new ones, you could pick up an absolute bargain – and one of the most exceptional cars on sale.