2022 Audi S8 First Drive: Automotive Silver Fox

If only we could all age as gracefully as the Audi S8. A full-sized luxury sedan may seem old-fashioned in a world of early EV adoption and SUV dominance, but Audi's flagship vehicle has still got it where it counts. For 2022, the S8 has kept things simple, but remains as stylish and tech-savvy as its contemporaries, while maintaining a level of performance that would be impressive to drivers of any generation. Spry and sophisticated, the S8 is the mature auto we'd all aspire to be, much less drive.

2022's refresh of the Audi S8 brings handful of visual changes to the front and rear to give it a more muscular look overall. It needs it, considering there's a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 underneath the hood to live up to. This is the sole power plant on offer, one that serves up an ample 588 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. Power flows to all four wheels by way of an 8-speed ZF tiptronic gearbox. Stomp on the throttle, and this luxury lounge launches from 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds. It rides on a host of smart technology like a sport air suspension and rear-wheel steering, that works in conjunction with the standard Quattro all-wheel drive suspension to help you drive as impressively as the car makes you feel.

Classic muscle, modern fit

Most of the style upgrades are front and center on the S8. Its fascia has been brought up to make it look like it breathes easier, and in the process highlight the Audi's Singleframe grille. The grille itself is replete with angular "L" bar elements that are directional, with each side of the grille mirroring the other half. These details add up to give the car a very large presence, as does the work in the back. Its rear diffuser flows further outward and has a wider flare to push the more muscular appearance. All told, it's a sedan that still looks classy, but with enough edge to make it fun without taking things too far for its target audience of mature drivers. Nobody said sophisticated had to be boring, right?

HD digital-design lighting jazzes up the front of the S8 in fun ways. The optional extra delivers headlamps which contain 1.3 million micro-mirrors, capable of projecting patterns like "welcome" and "goodbye" animations on whatever garage wall or door you happen to be parked in front of. This hopefully also paves the way to the possibility of the matrix-style high beams that dynamically switch off parts of the beam directed toward opposing traffic, while still illuminating the rest of the road ahead. Audi has offered that in Europe for some time now, but it's something that has had legal hurdles to clear here in the US; happily, those laws are in the process of being changed. Customized OLED tail lights also change dynamically depending on drive mode, at least after stopping as, in the US, tail lights are limited to the degree that they can change while in motion.

A touch of the old-school

The inside of the Audi S8 features the usual quality touch points such as quilted leather seats, wood trim, and solid metal accents. Ambient lighting sets the mood, accenting the environment that surrounds the commanding cockpit. Audi's virtual cockpit digital gauge cluster sits behind the steering wheel and is supported by two hi-def touchscreens on the dash. A 10.1-inch upper screen is home to infotainment, navigation and other systems, while the lower 8.5-inch screen is home for HVAC controls and a handful of other conveniences. 

Consolidating most of the controls into two screens has drastically paired down the number of remaining buttons, but a few important ones remain, and are located where they ought to be, such as a dedicated volume knob and parking sensor buttons. Those functions that have gone digital are still fairly tangible as both screens provide haptic feedback. Icons need a bit of actual force from your finger as a real button does, and a solid tactile response from behind the screen quickly re-wires your brain to adapt from lifeless screen taps.

Street smarts

The twin-turbo V8 may be the main attraction, but the adaptive sport suspension does a decent enough song and dance to very nearly steal the show. In Comfort mode, the system rides high for maximum smoothness, but it isn't bouncy: instead the S8 merely floats along rough roads. In bends, the suspension raises the outward side of the car to reduce body roll. A camera tied to the system is constantly on the lookout for irregularities on the road, and can apparently spot a millimeter's worth of pitch within 66 feet. If it sees something, the sport suspension can raise to counteract the force feel of a divot. 

In theory, it's a neat bit of tech, but in practice, it's literally hit or miss. It's difficult to tell what dip or crack in the road the system will respond to, and while some will channel a bump through the car as it normally would, others are just heard but not felt. Ultimately, the system smooths out more than you probably realize.

Rear wheel steering is also on hand to make the S8 more stable at highway speeds, adjusting by up to 2.5 degrees when on the go and during lane changes. In tight spots, the wheels can turn up to 5 degrees in the opposite direction, and give the S8 the same turning radius as the smaller A4. It's something many parking-garage-reliant drivers will be thankful for.

The magic is finite

Comfort Plus mode engages all of the above, as well as loosening the steering and softening throttle input for a relaxed drive. It's very satisfying to waft around town in the S8, but it's saddled with a V8 for a reason. Dynamic mode flips all of the previous systems into attack position. Throttle response raises, steering tightens, and the sport suspension drops to an aggressive stance. From here, the previously smoothed-out bumps turn into palpable feedback that's channeled through the electronic steering. There's still a touch of lag when stepping on the pedal, but the grunt that follows quickly puts it out of your mind. Sending the torque from side to side means plenty of control through tight turns, while the rear steering does its job making the car feel smaller than it is.

It's all very pleasant though, while the tech certainly let you have the best of both worlds, the magic is finite. It takes effort to get there, but the S8 has its limits. The aforementioned throttle lag starts to grate on repeated twisty bits. You can attempt to counter it by switching the gearbox to manual and staying in a single gear for a little longer to keep the V8 in a higher rev range, but the 8-speed automatic is quick to take back control.

Big tech, big thirst

Feeding a twin-turbo V8 is predictably costly, too, with a 17 combined MPG. What helps is cylinder deactivation to conserve fuel when coasting. There won't be any indicator, the S8 simply (and seamlessly) chooses its moments, which makes one wonder just how much fuel the Audi would go through if this wasn't the case.

A comprehensive suite of drive assists are on hand to provide as much situational awareness as possible as well as making time behind the wheel safe and easy. 24 sensors, cameras, and radar emitters are put to work for adaptive cruise control, parking and lane guidance. Lane centering and adaptive velocity adjustments will work at up to 95 mph speeds.

The more things change...

The price for the Audi S8 starts at $86,500 which hooks you up with standard gear such as the Audi virtual cockpit, Bang and Olufsen sound system, 19-inch wheels, OLED tail lights and the S line interior. Exterior packages replace the more blingy bits with subtle black touches, and luxury packages contain most of the driver assist tech.

At the end of the day, the Audi S8 doesn't change the luxury sedan game. Instead, it refines on the important elements in a distinctly Audi way, in that it emphasizes a balance of comfort with fun, dynamic characteristics. It also packs in the tech while maintaining an aesthetic and cognitive balance, making the gadgetry easy to look at and use as opposed to the sensory overload that rivals like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class dazzles users with. It might not pull SUV drivers away from their oversized shuttles, but those already eyeballing the luxury sedan segment will be hard pressed to find something better.