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2020 Audi S8 Is Not Meant for Chauffeurs

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 11/27/2019 Jens Meiners

a car parked on the side of a building: The fourth-generation in 2020 Audi S8 follows the mold of its predecessors as a grand luxury performance near-limousine, only this time it's situated at the top of Audi's A8 lineup. Read the full story here.
The 2020 Audi S8 is two cars in one, at least according to Audi, being both a luxury sedan of the highest order and the sportiest member of its near-limousine segment. With Audi having built S8-badged derivatives of every generation of A8 sedan thus far, the bar for this high-performance luxury barge is well established and quite high. The ultimate variant of the previous generation, the S8 Plus, featured a 605-hp twin-turbo V-8 and could hit a claimed 190 mph. This time around, however, the S8 is not just the sportiest version of the A8, but also the overall range topper, even supplanting the previous W-12 model.

a car parked on the side of a road: Audi's fourth-generation S8 luxury sports sedan flaunts big power, impressive technology, and contemporary elegance to lead the A8 lineup.© Audi Audi's fourth-generation S8 luxury sports sedan flaunts big power, impressive technology, and contemporary elegance to lead the A8 lineup.

Research the Audi S8 on MSN Autos | Find an Audi S8 near you

The fourth-generation S8 returns for 2020 without the Plus moniker, although such a wilder, Audi Sport–developed version may be added to the lineup later. For now, the regular S8 is plenty powerful, thanks to a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 augmented by a 48-volt hybrid system and lithium-ion battery, which broadens the operating range of the engine's start-stop system and hastens the V-8's refiring. The system's belt-driven motor-generator does not directly contribute to the vehicle's thrust, but the boosted V-8 engine cranks out ample grunt on its own: 563 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 590 lb-ft of torque between 2000 and 4500 revs.

a close up of a keyboard: The Audi S8 Is Meant to Be Driven© Audi The Audi S8 Is Meant to Be Driven

The "hot-V" arrangement of the 4.0-liter mill with its turbocharges nestled in the valley made by the two banks of cylinders results in short intake paths and impressively lag-free throttle responses, which are leveraged by the quick-shifting standard ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. This engine is utterly pleasant with its beautiful yet unobtrusive V-8 sound, and we expect it to rocket the S8 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Audi says the top speed is 155 mph.

Charging ahead on back roads or on motorways, the S8 provides a sheer endless power rush, and it is a veritable mental exercise in restraint to keep it within the legal speed range. But the Audi S8 also is surprisingly economical, thanks to its mild hybridization, cylinder deactivation, lightweight construction, and slippery aerodynamics.

Magic Carpet Underpinnings

That 48-volt system also powers Audi's suspension with air springs, adaptive dampers, and active anti-roll bars. It is a technological masterpiece, using a grille-mounted camera to look ahead and evaluate the road to anticipate bumps. Between 50 and 80 mph, it can actually lean the car's body into corners by up to 3 degrees. In Comfort mode, it virtually eliminates body jiggles. And the system even can raise the car slightly when the doors are opened for easier ingress and egress.

a car driving down a highway: The Audi S8 Is Meant to Be Driven© Audi The Audi S8 Is Meant to Be Driven

Comfort mode works extremely well for the passengers, but it was not our favorite setup behind the wheel due to the shortness of feedback it provides. The Dynamic setting is much better, as it provides more harmonious body movements and sufficient, though not overly pronounced, levels of tactility. The S8's steering is ultra precise, despite the standard all-wheel-steering system that generally doesn't help turn-in precision. A torque-vectoring rear differential also is standard, and the handling can be further optimized with an optional carbon-ceramic brake package that is more than 20 pounds lighter than the standard iron rotors. As with the lesser A8, the S8's driver-assistance systems are rather unobtrusive, although we still prefer to turn them off for anything but lazy commutes.

a car parked in a parking lot: The Audi S8 Is Meant to Be Driven© Audi The Audi S8 Is Meant to Be Driven

For the United States market, the $131,795 S8 comes only on the longer of its two wheelbases. Stylistically, the S8 looks sharper than the regular A8. The low side skirts add to its performance stance, the grille gets specific decor, there is a rear deck spoiler, and big 20-inch wheels are standard with 21s optional. Inside, the S8 is fitted with contoured seats with embossed S8 logos and diamond-pattern stitching, as well as carbon-fiber accents that can be replaced with piano-black trim. It's all executed exquisitely, in trademark Audi fashion, and the futuristic four-spoke steering wheel jibes well with the 1980s-style bar graphs in the S8-specific digital instrument cluster.

When we first drove Audi's last-gen S8, we opined: "Audi's new king-size sports sedan is definitely fast, but it could be sportier." That may still ring true for the latest iteration, but the 2020 Audi S8 is no less impressive as a grand luxury performance sedan because of it.

Research the Audi S8 on MSN Autos | Find an Audi S8 near you

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