OCEANSIDE, CA – Although newly updated, the 2022 Audi S8 actually hasn’t changed much. Its exterior has been nicely revamped, it has some great new lights, and there are two new colors in the palette. However, what has changed since the D5 generation of the A8/S8 generation debuted in 2019, is how quickly the industry’s shift to electrification has progressed.
Since we reviewed the new S8 at the time, Audi has announced the end of its high-end sports car, the end of internal combustion engine development, and parent company Volkswagen has announced that the manual transmission has officially been discontinued. You didn’t have to be a clairvoyant to see this coming, but here in 2022 the end of the conventional car as we know it looks a lot closer than it did back then. As such, the lasting feeling that the S8 will be the last of its kind loomed large over our test drive.
Since you asked, this “type” is the big sleeper German sedan, a class that arguably Audi caught in 1996 with the D2 S8. The W140 S-Class Benz and E38 BMW 7 Series may have similar production V8s – or larger V12s, but their performance credentials barely extended beyond the engine bay. There was no AMG S-Class, and even a sporty 7 in general at that time did not extend into the world of performance like the S8. Combined with the stiff, low-profile sport suspension, it was a technological powerhouse with Quattro AWD, an aluminum frame body and a recalibrated Tiptronic gearbox. It even has a sunroof to maintain climate control when parked.
These days, Merc and Bimmer have caught up in terms of technology, in the same way that Audi has caught up in terms of badge credibility. All-wheel drive and aluminum bodies are no longer exclusive to any one brand, and neither are the high-performance variants. In a way, though, the Audi S8 feels more true to its original mission.
It has the lowest lines in its class, and is suitable for a large executive limousine with the moves of a much smaller sports sedan. Almost looks like a Mercedes very Slippery, and who knows what’s going on at BMW studios these days. The S8 splits the right difference between sleek and sculpted.
A redesigned front grille — and yes, larger — softens the chrome for a more technical look. Its L-shaped gaskets do a much better job decorating the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 than the 2020 model’s HVAC-like horizontal intake vent. The shiny work throughout is now more refined, a look that makes last year’s look instantly antique. . Or you can use the black optics package as in our test car and remove any trace of gloss at all.
New headlights receive split headlights and high-resolution matrix lighting as standard. The optional digital-array lighting system uses 1.3 million tiny mirrors each measuring less than a tenth of a millimeter that Audi says can be tuned 5,000 times per second for adaptive, precise dispersal of photons. It should be noted, however, that some of these functions are not yet available for use on the road in the United States, and are as legal as they may now be.
At the rear, the wide lower skirt gives the car a more aggressive stance and frames the quad tubes, which is a major boon that this isn’t just an A8. The new OLED taillights replicate the signature segmented lighting from the front and emit a different pattern when the vehicle is put in dynamic mode, should you wish to signal your intentions for a night competitor on the highway.
Speaking of modes, the S8 has a bit of a personality split. In Comfort, you navigate along with the surround pop of the Coupe de Ville, while leaving passengers undisturbed by outside noises. The insanely complex Active Air Suspension system uses the 48-volt mild-hybrid electric system to raise and lower various sides of the vehicle by up to 3 inches. It’s fast enough to fling either side to the max within half a second if it detects an imminent impact.
When it’s not flipping, it rises to keep the car level above road irregularities. Like high-end Mercedes cars and various Genesis models, the camera senses ripples in the road ahead and adjusts the suspension to compensate. Rather, it rises to facilitate entry and exit. Speed bumps are reduced to bot points and uneven asphalt disappears into the air.
However, when you shift it into dynamic mode upon finding a winding mountain road, the 17.5-foot-tall, 5,126-pound behemoth seems to shrink down to an A4 size. Thanks to a lot of elaborate tech, you’re suddenly carving grooves like Skipp Sudduth chasing a handcuffed bag (what, you thought we’d get a full S8 review without referring to the”roninActive suspension and sway bars work overtime to keep the car level. Rear torque vectoring differential and AWD keeps the Titanic’s 563 horsepower and 590 lb-ft flowing into right angles. Standard four-wheel steering By positioning the rear wheels opposite the front in tight corners, so much so that you can feel the car moving like the world’s hoarse ballerina.
With the sheer power of technology, the S8 feels sturdier and inspires confidence in shifts and hairpins than even the smaller, slender A3. Like other four-wheel-steering systems, this system also helps keep the car anchored quickly on highways as well, swaying the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts for stability. And while it’s heavy, the big red calipers mounted to the larger front brakes (15.8 inches versus 14.8 inches in the A8) eliminate overspeed more frequently without drama.
The whole time, you’re sitting in the cockpit in great comfort. The seats look great, the materials are appropriately first class, and from these eyes the design is an edge over its German competitors. It’s much less crowded than the flashy S-Class and unlike the BMW 7 Series, Audi has managed to integrate its screens into the console.
Unfortunately, it’s the standard dual-touchscreen setup that Audi has been using since 2019. The system responds faster than the old system, but no matter how responsive it is and how much haptic feedback it provides, it’s still impossible to use without taking your eyes off the road for longer than It is perfect. Even the driving mode selector and hazard lights are triggered via a flush panel where multiple clicks are required to get what should be one-touch “buttons” to do what you expect. We much prefer the e-Tron GT’s central stack, which has at least Some physical keys.
This is the problem at the core of the S8. It’s hugely capable, but it can only do what it does because there’s an army of sensors that emit more invisible waves than Three Mile Island. Tricks like hideaway slots and eye-catching ‘welcome party’ animations are new at first but unnecessary after a few laps. We shudder when we think about the repair bills that would come with all this complexity. Which is actually something that has been ironed into the S8 since its early days, but this car is positively attractive compared to its 2022 descendant.
If you can get past those concerns, and perhaps those dropping the car’s price by $130,000, the S8 is a rewarding drive. It’s a worthy successor to the D2 S8, and it’s almost certainly the last…well, at least as we know it.