2022 Audi S8 first drive

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Although freshly updated, the 2022 Audi S8 hasn’t actually changed much. Its exterior has been nicely refreshed, it has fancy new lights, and there are a few new colors in the palette. What has changed, however, since the launch of the D5 A8/S8 generation in 2019, is how quickly the industry’s transition to electrification has progressed.

Since we last reviewed the new S8, Audi has announced the end of its premium sports car, the end of development of the internal combustion engine, and parent company Volkswagen has declared the manual transmission officially dead. You didn’t have to be far-sighted to see this coming, but here in 2022 the end of the traditional car as we know it looks much closer than it did back then. As such, the ever-present feeling that this S8 would be the last Audi of its kind loomed over our test drive.

Since you asked, that “genre” is the German large sleeper sedan, a category that Audi arguably ignited in 1996 with the D2 S8. The Benz S-Class W140 and BMW 7-Series E38 may have had similar output from V8s – or even bigger V12s – but their performance didn’t extend much beyond the engine bay. There was no AMG S-Class, and even the generally athletic 7 of the time didn’t stretch as far in the performance realm as the S8. Besides its stiffened and lowered sports suspension, it was a technological powerhouse with its Quattro AWD system, aluminum space frame construction and recalibrated Tiptronic gearbox. It even had a sunroof to keep the air conditioning running when parked.

These days, the Mercs and Bimmers have caught up in terms of technology, the same way Audi has caught up with them in terms of posh badge credibility. All-wheel drive and aluminum bodywork are no longer exclusive to one brand, nor are the high-performance variants. Somehow, though, the Audi S8 feels more true to its original mission.

It has the most restrained lines in the segment, which suits a large executive limo with the movements of a much smaller sports sedan. The Mercedes almost looks like also slippery, and who knows what’s going on in the BMW studios these days. The S8 splits the good difference between sleek and chiseled.

A redesigned – and yes, larger – grille slims down the chrome for a more high-tech look. Its L-shaped inlays adorn the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 much better than the horizontal-bar CVC-style vent of the 2020 model. Gloss work throughout the car is made more delicate, a look that makes the look from last year instantly dated. Or, you can opt for the Black Optics package as seen on our test car and remove all traces of shine.

The new headlights get segmented accent lights and standard HD matrix lighting. An optional digital matrix lighting system uses 1.3 million micro-mirrors each measuring less than a 10th of a millimeter that Audi says can adjust 5,000 times per second for precise adaptive photon dispersion. It should be noted, however, that some of these functions are not yet available for road use in the United States, legal as they are now.

At the rear, a wider lower valance gives the car a more powerful stance and frames the four pipes, which serve as the main giveaway that this is no mere A8. New OLED taillights repeat the segmented light signature from the front and emit a different pattern when the car is placed in Dynamic Mode, should you want to signal your intentions to a nighttime rival on the highway.

Speaking of modes, the S8 has something of a split personality. In Comfort, it floats with the oceanic bob of a Coupe de Ville, while leaving occupants unfazed by outside noise. An incredibly complex active air suspension uses the mild hybrid’s 48-volt electrical system to raise and lower various sides of the car by up to 3 inches. He is fast enough to launch either side at maximum in half a second if he senses an impending impact.

When it’s not flinching, it lifts up to keep the car level over bumps in the road. Like high-end Mercedes and various Genesis models, a camera detects undulations in the road and adjusts the suspension to compensate. It even stands up for easy entry and exit. Speed ​​bumps are reduced to Botts Dots and the uneven asphalt disappears into thin air.

And yet, when you switch it to dynamic mode after finding a twisty mountain road, the 17.5-foot, 5,126-pound behemoth seems to shrink down to the size of an A4. Thanks to heaps of elaborate tech, you’re suddenly digging canyons like Skipp Sudduth chasing down a handcuffed briefcase (what, you thought we’d skip through an entire S8 review without referencing “Ronin”?). Active suspension and stabilizer bars work overtime to keep the car level. The torque-vectoring rear differential and AWD system maintain a titanic 563 horsepower and 590 lb-ft in the right corners. Standard four-wheel steering dials the rear wheels opposite the front wheels in tight corners, so much so that you can feel the car pirouette like the world’s most husky ballerina.

Thanks to the strength of the technology, the S8 feels more planted and confidence-inspiring on the switchbacks and hairpins than even the much smaller and more nimble A3. Like other four-wheel steering systems, this one also helps keep the car planted at high speeds on highways, by edging the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts for added stability. And despite its weight, the big red calipers attached to larger front brakes (15.8 inches vs. 14.8 inches on the A8) repeatedly shed excess speed without drama.

All the while, you sit in a cockpit of great comfort. The seats feel good, the materials are top quality and, in these eyes, the design is superior to its German rivals. It is much less crowded than the garish S-Class and Audi has managed to integrate its screens into the console unlike the BMW 7 Series.

Unfortunately, this is the standard dual touchscreen setup that Audi has been using since 2019. The system responds faster than the old one, but no matter how responsive it is and how much haptic feedback it provides, it’s still impossible to use it without looking away. the road longer than ideal. Even the drive mode selector and hazard warning lights are operated via a flush panel where multiple presses are required to get what should be one-touch ‘buttons’ to do what you expect. We much prefer the e-Tron GT’s center console, which has at least some physical apparatus.

That’s the problem at the heart of the S8. He’s extremely capable, but he can only do what he does because there’s an army of sensors emitting more invisible waves than Three Mile Island. Tricks like hidden vents and an ostentatious “welcome ceremony” animation are new initially but useless after a few rounds. We shudder to think of the repair bills that might come with all this complexity. Which is actually something that’s been leveled on the S8 since its debut, but this car is positively scenic compared to its 2022 descendant.

If you can look past those concerns, and maybe shell out $130,000 for a car, the S8 is a rewarding drive. It’s a worthy successor to this D2 S8, and almost certainly the last… well, at least as we recognize it.

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