Audi S8 (D2): PH Heroes


Blue and white, with brick and timber cladding. That's the colour of the boathouse at Hereford. Well, it's the colour of a boathouse at Hereford, at least - the Hereford Rowing Club, to be precise. And that's probably about as close as it gets in terms of actually answering the famous question posed by Sam to Spence in the film Ronin, with a view to outing him as the fraud that he was.

Of course, to any car enthusiast worth their salt, that line isn't the only thing Ronin is famous for. It's also famous for the car chases in some fabulous bits of European tin -an E34 BMW, a Citroen XM, Peugeots 406 and 605, and a W116 Merc. But the car we tend to associate with the film most readily is, of course, the Audi S8.

That's probably because the original, D2 S8 was an unutterably cool car. The A8 on which it was based had already caused a bit of a stir when it was launched, partly because it was the first mass-market production car with an aluminium chassis, but mainly as a result of its urbane good looks. So when Audi deigned to throw a further 40hp in the direction of the 300hp 32v 4.2-litre V8 lodged under its nose to create the S8, the result was a car that combined unmatched discretion with the sort of pace that could allow it to hang onto the coattails of a Ferrari 355 - the ultimate luxury Q car in other words, and one that became an instant object of desire after its cinematic debut.


Today, parked up among more modern machinery full of fussy swage lines and creases, the clean, crisp S8 looks even better. The example we have here is a post-facelift model, though frankly, you'd be hard-pushed to spot the differences compared with the original. Under the bonnet, mind you, power had risen to 360hp courtesy of a new 40v head, resulting in a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds - and while that might not sound earth-shattering, let's not forget that this was through a slusher of an automatic gearbox.

That gearbox, as you'd expect, is a bit of an obstruction to spirited driving. You can still work with it, by using the wrong-way-round Tiptronic side of the stick - or the buttons on the steering wheel, should you prefer - to change up or down a second or so earlier to anticipate the change, but every now and again you're denied the desired response, so it isn't an ideal solution. But then, ever 't'were thus with these old Tiptronic shifters.


Thankfully, it doesn't really matter too much which gear you're in, because there's power and torque aplenty from that thumping V8. Even by today's standards the S8 feels properly quick, shoving you in the back no matter where in the rev range you decide to clog it. It isn't just a torque monster, though; it revs out magnificently - peak power doesn't come until 7,000rpm - and as the needle sweeps around toward the red line, the engine note changes from a muted V8 woofle into something quite different: a hard-edged snarl that's most reminiscent, bizarrely, of an American muscle car with the volume turned down a smidge.

When you arrive at your first bend, the S8 surprises. True, it's better suited to big sweepers than niggling B-roads thanks to its size, and the slightly numb steering means it isn't exactly brimming with involvement. But it makes up for this with remarkable composure and balance; body roll is almost non-existent - quite a feat in a car so big - while grip and traction are momentous. You can hurl the S8 in at daft speeds, should you wish to, confident that its nose will bite, and that you can then pile on the power and allow the Quattro system to hook up and spear you out the other side. That being the case, its feedback deficiency becomes less of an issue.


Only some seriously daft steering and throttle combinations will send the S8 out of shape, and even then, you'll only get gentle and progressive understeer, although even this comes more in the form of a subtle lateral drift you can use to wash out to the outside of a bend as you leave the corner, than a nose that ploughs on unpleasantly when you don't want it to. Of course, if you're seeking tail-out hooliganism, you'll have to look elsewhere, but be in no doubt: the S8 isn't only capable of putting a smile on your face in a straight line.

Inside, the S8 still feels like the £55,000-odd - more than £85,000 in today's money - car it was when new. There's leather everywhere, of course, as well as slivers and slabs of real wood as far as the eye can see, and everything still feels as solid in this 155,000-mile example as the day it was built. No less than nine air vents pepper the fascia, while dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and - in this example at least - even a TV mean it doesn't feel behind the times. Of course, the nav's graphics are delightfully old-fashioned, although the way the screen swivels and tilts for better visibility is a feature some modern cars could learn from.


What to make of the S8, then? It is a sublime autobahn bruiser - that much is a given. Yes, the ride is firmer than is ideal, but you can live with it, especially given how sublimely comfy the seats are. And on a straight road, its combination of sheer muscle and aural excitement is deeply addictive. Yet in corners, while the S8 lacks the poise of an M5, it doesn't disgrace itself - far from it, in fact, with the sort of accessible all-weather ability that's made fast Audis so popular for so long. It still feels terrifically luxurious inside, too.

Today, you can pick up a decent example for a little over five grand. Given what it does, that makes the S8 a sensational bargain. In our eyes, it's also deserving of far more recognition in its own right than simply as the star of one of the best film car chases of all time. Buy one now, before you find you can't any more.

SPECIFICATION - AUDI S8

Engine: 4,172cc V8 petrol
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 360@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 317@3,400rpm
0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,750kg
MPG: 20.3
CO2: 334g/km
On sale: 1996-2002
Price new: £54,760 (2002)
Price now: from £5,000














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Comments (75) Join the discussion on the forum

  • sidesauce 20 Dec 2018

    'Tis a handsome beast indeed...

  • jakeb 20 Dec 2018

    Martin Brundle had one of these in about 98. He filmed an intro sequence for "Great Escapes" on the farm. I asked him what he thought of the S8 (it looked pretty cool to me) and he said...

    "Bit of a Q-car, others have done it better"

    Still quite fancy one.

  • Augustus Windsock 20 Dec 2018

    Currently doing battle with my ‘wheaty-bangs’ over breakfast so I may be wrong, but weren’t the A8/S8 known for having chocolate gearboxes (that cost a kidney or two to repair)?
    And I recollect my friend buying one of these for under £2k a couple of years ago (possibly with aforementioned) dodgy gearbox) that had a solar sunroof (seem to remember it had small panels inset that powered the cars ventilation when the ignition was off on hot days)
    Must admit, if I could find one that was in good nick and had the gearbox etc sorted then I’d snap it up....

  • Amanitin 20 Dec 2018

    If you want one of these for motorway cruising you are better off with the regular 4.2. Taller gears and more comfortable ride.

  • wsurfa 20 Dec 2018

    Amanitin said:
    If you want one of these for motorway cruising you are better off with the regular 4.2. Taller gears and more comfortable ride.
    I've had both and preferred the S8 in all situations

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