There was a time when you could have a car that was either physically massive or offered massive performance, but rarely both. But for a while now you’ve had your choice of super-saloons and few are as super as the Audi S8.
This is the car that has it all; a massively powerful V8, four-wheel drive to get that power down, serious luxury and an aluminium body to keep things as light as possible. Not that the S8 is a featherweight, as it tips the scales at 1750kg. Engineered regardless of cost, the Audi S8 is one of the few cars that can make it look as though Mercedes skimped when developing the S-Class. It may not be the last word in driving pleasure, but if you want serious pace with astonishing comfort and refinement the S8 can come up with the goods.
So whether you’re recreating scenes from Ronin, carrying the family or you want a ridiculously unlikely track day car, the S8 will be happy to deliver. Servicing and fuel costs can be high though and if you drive like you stole it you can expect to spend plenty on brakes and tyres. But if you’re going to blow some cash on a car, we can’t think of many candidates more suitable than an Audi S8.
Which one to buy?
As you can see from the model history, there was extra equipment and power from 1999, while the run-out car (from 2002) is the most lavish of all S8s. But with so few of these cars sold and very few available to buy at any one time, the reality is that unless you’re prepared to bide your time you’ll probably have to settle for the first really good S8 that you can find. Low values and high running costs mean a lot of these cars aren’t as loved as they ought to be, so don’t assume neglected S8s don’t exist.
In terms of spec the later cars with the five-valve heads are the ones to go for as they have an improved torque curve, extra power and they’re more efficient too. Virtually all S8s came with a five-speed automatic gearbox; it was all that was offered on the pre-facelift cars, but from 1999 a six-speed manual was optional, which cut the claimed 0-62mph time to just 5.4 seconds. With so much torque on tap the auto works rather well, but if you prefer three pedals to play with, be prepared to wait for something to crop up.
Because these cars are so usable, they tended to be bought by business users who weren’t afraid to rack up big mileages. As a result you’re unlikely to find a low-mileage example, but that shouldn’t matter because as long as they’re looked after, these cars will just keep racking up the miles without complaint.
Performance and specs
Audi S8 quattro
Engine 4172cc, eight-cylinder
Power 360bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque 317lb ft @ 3400rpm
Top speed 155mph
Fuel consumption 20mpg
Gearbox Five-speed auto/Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Because the bodyshell is made of aluminium you don’t need to worry about corrosion, but that shouldn’t be an issue on a car of this age anyway. What’s more of an issue is if the car has been crunched, because repairing an alloy-bodied car is a far more specialist proposition than an equivalent steel body.
• The V8 is strong but the camshafts are driven by belts rather than chains. These belts should be replaced every 90,000 miles according to Audi, but every 60,000 is a better idea. Either way, do it every five or six years, just to be safe.
• There’s a seal in the gearbox, where the propshaft goes in. Visible between the two catalytic converters, this seal often fails. Replacement is straightforward but fiddly.
• The rear diff can also suffer from leaky seals, so look for evidence of lubricant weeping and having splashed onto the surrounding diff mount. Again, replacement isn’t especially difficult but it is fiddly.
• With drive going to all four wheels there’s a CV joint at each corner. The rubber gaiters for these perish then tear, quickly leading to the CV joint being wrecked.
• All S8s came packed with equipment, including a raft of electrical items that can play up. The head rests are a weakness while the heated seats can be unreliable too. Bear in mind that someone must be sitting in the seat for the seat heater to come on though.
• The boot is huge so there’s masses of carrying capacity. As you’d expect, the cabin is equally cavernous, although the rear seats are designed to carry two rather than three.
1997: The S8 is introduced with a 340bhp 4.2-litre V8. It’s based on the A8 4.2 quattro but with 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension and unique instrumentation.
1999: A facelift brings five-valve heads and variable valve timing to boost power to 360bhp, restyled headlights, grille and bumpers, extra airbags and standard navigation.
2002: The run out Special Edition features polished 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights, electric rear blind, more leather-covered surfaces and a BOSE sound system with TV. Available in Avus Silver, Misano Red, Ebony Black or Aqua Blue.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
It’s hard to believe, but rough and ready 180,000-mile examples start from just £1500 today, but the bills can certainly add up to more than this if you’re not careful. Healthier and later cars can be had from £2500-£4500, while the very best examples change hands for £6000.
Words: Richard Dredge