"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.