IN­SIDE INFO Specs and rat­ings Model: En­gine:

Friday - - Leisure - S8 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo Seven-speed auto, AWD @ 5,800rpm 520bhp 650Nm @ 1,700rpm 250kph 4.1sec NA Ma­trix LEDs, su­perb en­gine, trans­mis­sion Lacks vis­ual drama

to tell from look­ing at it – it’s a big, sub­tle sa­loon. Per­haps too sub­tle; there are no go-faster de­cals here and the Day­tona Gray paint hardly gets your blood pump­ing. Noth­ing warns you of its im­mense power, bar­ring a few tiny S8 badges on the ex­te­rior.

Its sin­gle-frame plat­inum gray grille fea­tures hor­i­zon­tal dou­ble bars fin­ished in chrome, but there’s re­ally noth­ing else to dif­fer­en­ti­ate this from the old model. The give­away is the pierc­ing eyes up front and a chrome strip be­tween the tail­lights. The LEDs are ex­cep­tion­ally in­ter­est­ing bits of kit; they can iden­tify as many as eight on­com­ing ve­hi­cles and dim in­di­vid­ual sec­tions of the head­lights so those com­ing to­wards you are not blinded by your beams, yet the rest of the road is fully il­lu­mi­nated. And, like the R8, the in­di­ca­tors now flow out to the side of the car. Clever? Not re­ally. Cool? To­tally.

As we’ve come to ex­pect from Audi, the busi­ness-like body is mostly con­structed from alu­minium with some hot-formed steel sec­tions around the B-pil­lars. It’s all un­der­pinned by the Audi Space Frame, de­signed to keep weight down and to add rigid­ity. Ba­si­cally, it looks like any­thing but a tar­mac oblit­er­at­ing tear­away. But that is ex­actly what it is.

I fol­low the guid­ance on the sat­nav and it isn’t long be­fore I’m on a ru­ral stretch and it’s safe to put the ham­mer down. The 0-100kph sprint takes just 4.1 sec­onds – if it wasn’t for the re­stric­tors, this rau­cous V8 would ease past the 250kph limit with­out a grum­ble. For­tu­nately, there is plenty of rum­ble; the twin-oval tips on both sides of the dif­fuser cackle and pop the mo­ment I switch it to Dy­namic Mode on the drive se­lect – the only way to drive the S8. It isn’t my imag­i­na­tion and I am not driv­ing with the win­dows open; the twin turbo is way more res­o­nant than I re­mem­ber. It’s a su­perb unit, in­tox­i­cat­ingly po­tent and so torquey it feels as if my head has been glued to the head­rest. It’s an ab­so­lute hoot, and that it con­sumes just 9.6 litres per 100km makes it al­most un­be­liev­able. I’m just wait­ing for an Audi engi­neer to tap me on the shoul­der and scream, “Fooled you!” be­cause the stats just can’t be true. There’s no sign of him.

What makes the mo­tor such a beast is a host of tech­no­log­i­cal tricks, from the lay­out of the cylin­der heads with the hot side on the in­side, to the twin-scroll tur­bocharg­ers, to the cylin­der-on-de­mand sys­tem. Heck, it even has ac­tive en­gine mounts that help re­duce vi­bra­tion.

Mated to this mean mo­tor is an eight-speed tip­tronic that makes the S8 sporty yet ef­fi­cient and shifts so smooth in Com­fort Mode that you’ll ques­tion if there’s a trans­mis­sion in there at all. Along come a few twists and your mind tells you to let off the loud pedal a lit­tle – but there isn’t any need; the tip­tronic, which sends the grunt to a quat­tro driv­e­train, is backed up with a sport diff at the rear axle mean­ing grip is aplenty (it wears mas­sive 265/40 tyres wrapped around 20in al­loys) and the bends are sliced wide open. All the while, the chas­sis re­mains com­posed cour­tesy of the adap­tive air sus­pen­sion work­ing over­time to keep the ride magic car­pet-like.

The electro­mechan­i­cal steer­ing sniffs out the cor­ners with the kind of hunger that a lux­ury sa­loon re­ally doesn’t need, and I’m lov­ing the way the S8 shifts ef­fort­lessly from left to right with very lit­tle body roll. The six-pis­ton cal­lipers pro­vide plenty of stop­ping power, but what’s clear in my mem­o­rable blast is that the S8 just wants to go. It’s im­pres­sive and I haven’t even got to the usual deal clincher when talk­ing about Audis; the in­te­rior.

It’s sporty and el­e­gant, there’s Al­can­tara on the doors and ceil­ing, the per­fo­rated Val­cona leather seats (they can heat, cool and mas­sage you) of­fer good sup­port and the alu­minium ped­als look fab. Am­bi­ent light­ing, four-zone AC, a bang­ing Bose sur­round sys­tem and MMI nav­i­ga­tion are some of the good­ies. Audi’s also ex­panded the range of trims for the cabin and colour schemes too, so go crazy with the spec sheet.

It’s just a mid-life facelift and, sure, more power and lux­ury is al­ways good. But al­though the big news may be just the ad­di­tion of those fancy new head­lights, that’s all that might be needed for this car to push it­self up a con­sid­er­able notch or two. Just like that quiet girl in school, you know that the S8 is go­ing places. I knew I should have asked her out.

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