"You may find yourself sitting behind the wheel of a large automobile... And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"
-David Bryne, The Talking HeadsOnce in a Lifetime
I have always wondered what type of car Mr. Bryne was talking about in that song. A Cadillac, a Dodge maybe? Or perhaps something entirely different altogether?
For three days, those curious words stayed locked inside my brain, repeating themselves over and over like a stuttering CD. The more I tried not to think about it, the louder it got.
"You find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile."
Indeed, the new S8 certainly qualifies as a large automobile. Measuring almost 17 feet from nose to tail with an impressive set of shoulders, its dimensions are sizable indeed. Perhaps this was the car Mr. Bryne was talking about.
I'm inside the man's head right now.
Just a few minutes behind the wheel leaves the distinct impression you're driving something larger than life. Things this big shouldn't move so fast, turn as quick and stop so hard. Or perhaps the rules of physics are rewritten each time you turn over its powerful engine.
"Well, how did I get here?"
That's the question I continued to ask myself, specifically in regards to the S8. In typical Audi fashion, the path to building the 2006 S8 was anything but ordinary.
The first thing you notice about the S8 is its styling, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Although its profile is classic European-bred sport sedan, the S8 lacks protrusive bulges, wings and ventwork that would suggest it is a manufacturer's high-performance emissary. Audi has always been good at making its cars look muscled without major cosmetic surgery and the S8 follows this rule well. According to one Audi designer, the current trend in Europe is moving toward vicious understatement, the Q-ship mentality. A few consumer clinic sessions even went so far as to de-badge the S8 entirely, just to mess with fellow drivers. Ah, what a cruel trick. Nothing is more humbling than getting your doors blown off by an executive-class sedan.
At first glance, the new S8 resembles its older A8 cousin. There are, however, a few significant differences, the most noticeable of which are the new grille treatment and quad exhaust. The front airdam has been reworked with three inlets to provide greater airflow while the rear end terminates in a slightly petulant flip. The S8 will roll on new S-design aluminum alloys, handsome 20-inch wheels with 265/35-20 tires. Ultimately, it makes for quite a footprint. And whereas black widow spiders have a red hourglass, the S8 will wear brilliant silver side mirrors. You have been warned.
Yes, the S8 is fast. Both its Quattro driveline and sport-tuned adaptive air suspension reward hard acceleration with a unique sensation. The S8 simply explodes off the line much like a Hot Wheels car being launched by a sugar-addled child. The S8's six-speed Tiptronic gearbox has been programmed for shorter shift points and quicker gear changes and has no reservations revving beyond 7000 rpm (in a V10!). At speed, the S8 can be set to ride 20 mm lower via its MMI operating system. While the 70-to-100-mph burst is immensely quick, it's the way the S8 gets there that is so unique. The S8 feels as though it is being guided by an invisible hand (maybe that candy-eating kid). There is so little drama it's all too easy to forget just how fast the car is actually going. And should you need to stop, the S8's gigantic 18-inch brakes do a great job imitating the Le Mans-winning Audi R8 racecar. Long, sweeping corners are rewarded with vault-like stability, and although the S8's steering feels a bit light in town, it takes on a decidedly firmer sensation at speed. And while I spent more than a day on unrestricted sections of the autobahn, more often than not I was schlepping through congested cities doing my best not to get lost.
Jennifer Cortez, the first lady of Audi PR, gently suggested I try the navigation system. I simply stared at the MMI (Multi Media Interface) dial and did my best impression of a helpless male. With a few deft turns, Jennifer plotted the route and had us back on track. Despite the gentle voice of the female nav computer, I made a wrong turn and prepared to be verbally chastised. No, she simply replotted the route from my position. It became obvious that the S8 was smarter than me.
There is much debate about the S8's engine genealogy. Is it adapted from the Lamborghini mill or vice versa? Personally, I don't care. When there's more than 450 bhp and 400 lb-ft of twist, you're gonna win. Perhaps my only gripe with this engine is that it has been muffled. Although Audi engineers have done a good job tuning the S8's voice, I'd like to hear this engine in its purest form. It's that good (see sidebar).
We've raved about Audi interiors since our first long-term A4. The standard electronically controlled sport seats are covered with Valcona leather, the inner sections clad in a different hue. Unlike typical "old man" sport seats, these units manage to lend real support for spirited driving. The rear passengers will enjoy much the same as their seats are contoured with the same care. Interior trim is brushed aluminum and high-quality synthetic materials, and there seems to be ambient, passive lighting everywhere. Perhaps my only complaint is the steering wheel's design. Although it is well contoured and features both shift and electronic controls (radio, cruise control, MMI access), the center section is a bit bulky. I'd like to see the wheel from the RS4 in there.
Although the S8 will leave few drivers wanting, there is one new option prospective buyers may want to consider. Audi worked with the Denmark-based crew at Bang & Olufsen to develop a superb sound system specifically for this car. The fully digital system integrates 14 speakers and two amplifiers providing more than 1000 watts of power. The system uses what is known as Acoustic Lens Technology, a method in which sound is "sculpted" for better performance. If you are a hardcore audiophile, get the Bang & Olufsen system. Audi PR literally had to drag me from the rear seat and shut off the AC/DC video I was watching.
Plan on bringing about $115,000 if you want an S8 for yourself. Bring $20k more if you need the optional ceramic brakes and Bang & Olufsen sound system. Although the S8 is by no mean inexpensive, Audi built a truly fabulous vehicle, one that is both fun to drive, incredibly fast and remarkably intelligent. I'd say that makes the S8 quite a bargain.
2006 Audi S6
Base Price: $115,000 (est.)
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
5.2-liter V10, dohc, four valves per cylinder, FSI direct injection
Six-speed automatic w/ Tiptronic
Four-link front with double upper and lower wishbones, self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear axle with wishbone, air suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars
Diagonally split dual-circuit system w/ ESP, brake servo, hydraulic brake assist
Length x Width x Height (in.): 199.3 x 74.7 x 56.1
Wheelbase: 115.9 in.
Curb Weight: 4,197 lb
Peak Power: 450 bhp @ 7000 rpm
Peak Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.1 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (electronically limited)
Not all V10s are created equal
by Franklin Stoudameyer
The 10-cylinder engine long since used in the Lamborghini Gallardo has been integrated with Audi's race-proven technology and seated in the all-new S8 to provide another milestone in Audi's history of revolutionary automotive engineering. Using the Gallardo V10 as a base, Audi reengineered key differences to suit the specific needs of the S8. Audi's alterations to the engine allow for engine specifications to be tailored to the S8's design, form and function. Audi's V10 version has been restructured to give its 946-pound heavier, four-door sedan a chance to become synonymous with sporting performance and compete, to a degree, with its lighter, two-door Gallardo cousin.
The V10 engine utilizes two banks of cylinders that are offset by 18.5mm, twin five-cylinder banks arranged at a 90-degree included angle between the deck surface and intake runners, with a spacing of 90 millimeters between cylinder centers. Located within the center of the cylinder bank is a balance shaft that rotates at the same speed, but in the opposite direction, as the crankshaft. This opposite spin cancels out and effectively eliminates engine vibrations and contributes to the engine's refined sound. Vibration under load is smoothed by the uniform ignition spacing of 72 degrees between the cylinders, which is achieved by offsetting the crankpins 18 degrees.
Audi's overhaul of the V10 engine included increasing the engine bore by 2mm, from 82.5 to 84.5. The increased displacement from 4,961cc (5.0 liters) to 5,204cc (5.2-liters) subsequently necessitated redesigning the crankcase. Audi uses technology carried over from its motorsport program: low-pressure die-casting from a hypereutectic aluminum alloy to form an intermediate frame reinforcing the compact crankcase and providing high torsional rigidity.
Audi eliminated the standard fuel injection management and upgraded to its trademark FSI direct fuel injection borrowed from the Le Mans-winning R8. This change required Audi engineers to update the engine management system from the standard Lamborghini LIE management program to the highly advanced Bosch Motronic MED 9.1. This in turn allowed for an increased compression ratio, 11:1 to 12.5:1, and for a more accurate air-to-fuel ratio based on a lambda value of 1. The common rail injection system delivers the fuel directly to the combustion chambers in precisely metered amounts, at a pressure of up to 1,470 psi.
Although the S8's V10 puts out less maximum horsepower, 450 bhp at 7000 rpm compared to the Gallardo's 513 bhp at 8000 rpm, it makes up for the loss in torque. Realizing that higher torque achieved at a lower engine speeds was needed to give the S8 a dynamic, lively engine feel and increased power delivery, Audi implemented Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG). At low rpm, the speed of airflow is increased by directing the air through a longer path with limited capacity, but a shorter and more capable path opens when the load increases so that a greater amount of air can enter the combustion chamber. This allows the engine to deliver 90% of its maximum torque from as low as 2300 rpm. The Gallardo puts out a maximum 376 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm in comparison to the S8's 398 lb-ft at 3500 rpm.