It's sharper than both the 7 Series and S-Class behind the wheel. But is that enough?
The 2023 Audi S8 is an interesting luxury executive sedan, not just for that alluring description but because there's not really anything in the segment that it competes with directly anymore. The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series don't offer AMG or M-fettled variants at present, with both automakers having seemingly shifted focus to electric executives like the EQS and i7. Audi doesn't have an electric version - or even a hybrid, for that matter - but it does have the S8, which still holds its own despite being older. Both the A8 and S8 received a refresh last year, which included sharper styling and tech upgrades, but not much else.
It appears as though Audi is going into battle with a fourth-generation F-15 Eagle while BMW and Mercedes get to use a newer fifth-generation F-22 Raptor. But perhaps it's not so simple. We spent a week driving a 2023 S8 after having extensive seat time in both the 7 Series and S-Class models. It may not be the flashiest, but the S8 shines as a phenomenal driver's car; here's why someone might choose it over more modern rivals.
Audi's styling updates to the A8 and S8 were minimal, but why fix what isn't broken? Even a small detail, like the little kink on the headlight, gives the S8 a tougher demeanor. Speaking of those lights, Audi offers an available Matrix LED option that can project images onto the road; the tail end features OLED lights. 20-inch wheels are standard, but opt for the $2,100 Black Optic Package as on our tester, and you get 21-inch ten-spoke gloss black wheels with summer tires. Our tester looked particularly eye-grabbing with the blacked-out exterior elements and the no-cost Ultra Blue Metallic paint. This blue hue is a total crowd-pleaser that's guaranteed to draw attention.
By comparison, the new BMW 7 Series' design is extremely controversial thanks to the grille, and we're not sure it will appeal to everyone. The S-Class, on the other hand, is designed to not stand out and is much more understated. We think the S8 strikes a great balance between elegant and menacing, and as things stand, is by far the prettiest of the three.
The S8 may not be an Audi Sport GmbH car like the RS6 and RS7, but the engineers who worked on those cars also played a role here. A 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 delivers 563 horsepower and 590 lb-ft to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. That's enough to rocket the S8 quattro all-wheel-drive sedan to 60 mph in only 3.8 seconds. For comparison, the Mercedes S 580 is way down at just 496 hp with a 4.4-second benchmark sprint. From BMW, there is just the 4.4-liter V8 760i xDrive that comes with 536 hp. So if you want the best performance in the class, it's the S8 by a long shot. AMG does have a 791-hp S63 Hybrid on the way, but it will cost a lot more than the Audi.
The S8 is buttery smooth in normal driving but can dial up excitement when requested. This car doesn't shout and bark like an AMG car, but there is a nice, throaty rumble from the V8. We wouldn't mind if Audi brought back the S8 Plus as a sportier option with more aggressive transmission mapping and a louder exhaust. Even in Dynamic mode, the gearbox prioritizes smooth shifts over quick changes, meaning the S8 can sometimes feel caught off guard.
Though the S8 stands out as a driver's car, it's also great as a limousine. Our tester came equipped with an optional $6,000 Predictive Air Suspension. The car can read the road ahead and respond before even reaching a bump, virtually erasing them from being felt. We can honestly say that no car at this price level exhibits such a comfortable ride. We feel that the S8 belongs at the same table as Rolls-Royce in this regard. And, when it's time for thrilling driving, the air suspension can nearly eliminate body roll and even prevent passengers from getting motion sickness.
The suspension serves additional functions like quickly lifting the car for easier egress and ingress, a trick it can achieve using the engine's 48-volt mild-hybrid system. We've never seen a car lift up so quickly, which it can also do in the event of a t-bone collision to protect occupants. It's an expensive option, but there is no way we'd recommend an S8 without the Predictive Air Suspension.
Audi gets points for exterior styling, thrilling driving feel, and excellent suspension, but the S8's cabin feels a little less than special. Aside from some standard carbon fiber, there's very little to set it apart from an average A6 or Q8 in terms of layout. All of the materials feel premium and well screwed together, but the 7 Series and S-Class are far more extravagant with larger screens, flashier ambient lighting, and more interesting seat design and materials. Some may prefer the understated, unfussy cabin, but others will feel it's not keeping up with the times. That's not to say it's anything less than premium, though.
Back seat comfort and luxury pale in comparison to what BMW and Mercedes offer, at least on our tester without either of the optional Rear Seat Comfort Packages. Audi offers adjustable rear seats with heating/ventilation/massage, just like its German rivals, but this particular car was fairly basic with only stationary heated seats. We'd love to sample the $5,900 four-seat option with a built-in console and tray tables, but the basic S8 back seat is nothing to gawk over. That being said, it does offer a whopping 44.3 inches of legroom, which is more than the 7 Series or S-Class has.
The Audi S8 starts at $120,500, but options can easily pull it above $150,000. Our tester was equipped with a few packages, bringing the price to around $138,000. But if we were buying an S8, we'd add Bang & Olufsen audio ($5,900) and one of the Rear Seat Comfort packages ($4,200-$5,900). The S8 starts at a more expensive MSRP than its closest current competitors - the Mercedes S 580 starts at $117,700, but an S 580 Executive Line can be more expensive than the S8 if you tick every option box. The BMW 760i xDrive costs even less to start with at $116,400, but you could max it out close to $150k with every option ticked, including premium paint colors and the finest leathers.
Both the BMW and Mercedes have more over-the-top interiors than the S8, but neither can match the Audi on performance. It's the best driver's car of the bunch and arguably the best-looking. If you value the driving experience over sheer elegance, the S8 might win you over.
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