Jack of Its Own Trade

Auto manufacturers lately have been struggling to create an unstoppable jack-of-all-trades. In that attempt to be everything to everyone, they’ve fallen flat. But Audi may have proven that by focusing on doing one thing well—building a solid full-size sedan—everything else falls into place. Yes, the brand with the four rings has once again proven that refinement of a classic formula trumps bowing to fleeting fads. The 2015 Audi S8 craftily packs power and luxury while still maintaining a degree of subtlety—only the 21-inch titanium finished wheels, broad fascia and burbly exhaust notes betray the might within. Surprisingly, its single-mindedness makes it tailor made for nearly any occasion, creating a versatility of its own kind.

For obvious reasons my favorite place in this or any car is behind the wheel, but I do also appreciate having a well-appointed backseat for guests to enjoy, and the S8’s cabin is certainly designed for comfort. Swathed in quilted leather and Alcantara surfaces, the rear of the car is crafted with the VIP in mind, regardless if it’s a professional or personal one. Heated seats and dual climate control keep the spacious rear at the most nominal temperature while passengers can either listen to the deep thumping of their favorite tracks from the Bang & Olufsen sound system, or enjoy the quiet afforded by its active noise cancellation.

Those in the back may feel like rock stars, but up front I’m the boss. The cockpit has an efficient private-jet-like layout, keeping everything within reach and streamlined. I got to enjoy all the same touches of refinement as would-be passengers, including the brushed steel surfaces and real carbon fiber inlays woven with copper. Discreet strips of ambient lighting completed the mood and 22-way adjustable seats meant my driving position was customized to be commanding yet relaxed.


image: audi of america

The only thing better than riding in this car is driving it. Beneath the massive hood is a 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 engine churning up 520 horsepower routed to all four wheels by way of an eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking the broad-shouldered Audi would be all straight-line speed; a car this big shouldn’t be able to round twisty mountain stretches in step with rally-inspired sports cars half its size. Yet with a colleague joining me in the new Subaru WRX STI for a spirited back road thrash (location undisclosed), I can heartily attest that it can. The Audi was on its tail each time, even after we swapped. It’s the Quattro all-wheel drive system with sport differential and adaptive multi-link suspension that allows the S8 to nimbly carve corners. And it handily launches from 0 to 60 in just under 4 seconds, meaning it’ll also leave certain muscle cars in its dust.

Getting around fast was made even easier with the maker’s MMI infotainment system, which has Google Earth-powered navigation. Receiving the actual camber and elevation of the roads ahead, I was able to properly predict cornering speeds and entry angles. The heads-up display projected right in front of my face on the windshield reduced the need to glance down at the speedometer. During less spirited journeys, the digital information screen, nestled between analogue gauges, displayed all of the data I needed, and then some.

As nimble as the Audi S8 is, it is still inescapably a large car at nearly 17-feet long, but there are thankfully a score of systems in place that helped me navigate the road. I took the S8 from the North Shore to Flushing, Queens, where things become significantly narrower. Side assist alerts kept me posted on where the cars around me were, lighting up dimly when detected and flashing when they got too close for comfort. Parking was made mercifully easy with a parking system that not only has sensors, but a multitude of cameras that give a top-down 360-degree display of the area, allowing me to stow the sedan away with little apprehension.

Be it as the stalwart family sedan, the corporate CEO chariot or the stealth sports car under professional attire, the Audi S8 is almost universally fit for purpose. Drivers will be hard-pressed to discover a situation it isn’t suited for, but they’ll certainly have a blast finding out.