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Audi S8 (D3) | The Brave Pill

Is this week's bargain barge a perfect (V)10?

By Mike Duff / Saturday, December 07, 2019

While we sometimes like to send the good ship Brave Pill off toward icebergs and unusual adventures, much of our work is done in our format's home waters: celebrating big, bargey, inexpensive and leggier offerings, with a preference for those with ridiculously large engines. This week's Audi S8 is one that puts a tick against all of those boxes, while also offering a dangerous amount of the attractive risk that every Pill must share. Can you look at a car with both a V10 engine and a seven grand price tag and not hear a roulette wheel spinning?

While this isn't the first member of the D3-generation A8 clan to have featured here, it is a much braver choice than the 4.2 TDI we ran back in April, not least given the remarkable speed with which the V10 engine drains its 90-litre tank, plus the possibility of the sort of bills that trigger awkward conversations with bank managers. Yet the potential reward is also much higher given what is on offer here: a luxury limo with performance not far short of a supercar.

Autobahnstormer might be a tired expression, but it's one that perfectly sums up this S8's mission and the effortless way in which it delivers speed. Shortly after it was introduced I was sent collect one from Audi HQ in Ingolstadt with instructions to make a rendezvous with a contemporary BMW M5 somewhere near Frankfurt, a twin test inspired by the fact both had V10 engines. The traffic gods were smiling: the A9 and A3 Autobahns were quiet and largely free of the grinding roadworks that normally ding average journey times in Deutschland. 320km was dispatched in just over two hours - an average of more or less 100mph - with several derestricted stretches being empty enough to confirm that the S8's alleged 155mph limiter didn't seem to be there. The journey was as stress-free as it would have been in a private jet, the Audi's cabin staying whisper quiet at a cruising speed that would have earned me a room with bars across the view pretty much anywhere else in the world.

Of course, once the S8 actually met the M5 it was found to be some way short of the athleticism of the rear-driver on twistier roads, and lost the comparison accordingly. But when the time came to take it back home I was thoroughly glad to be in the D3 rather than the louder and much less relaxed BMW. I suspect that few potential S8 customers would even have regarded the M5 as a legitimate alternative.

Yet despite having an engine that was related to the one in the Lamborghini Gallardo - if nothing like as closely as the pub bore would assure you it was - the S8 always struggled to find buyers in the UK. Even by the buttoned-down standards of its era it was too conservative, Q even by Q car standards, and was soon suffering from depreciation that bordered on the terrifying. Early buyers quickly learned that even the V10's insatiable appetite for 98-RON and servicing invoices was a much smaller expense than the disappearing value of the big Audi's collapsing residuals. It cost £70,000 before options when launched in 2006, and there were cars kicking about for under £25,000 two years later.

Anybody who bought in at that point would have enjoyed a far more gentle residual glide path, but even as values for the E60 M5 - and turbocharged V10 Audi RS6 - have stopped falling and even started to climb, the S8 remains in the basement; it's worth no more than the much less advanced C6-generation Audi S6 which uses the same engine. Our Pill appears to be the least expensive D3 S8 currently on sale in the UK. Indeed, grenade-spec Volkswagen TDIs aside, it is pretty much the cheapest V10 engined car.

Of course, the market is factoring in a significant degree of risk with any car like this, and the S8 is never going to be cheap to keep in fine fettle. Routine maintenance is bad enough. The engine's size and location means it needs to be lowered to change all of the spark plugs - the thick end of £1,000 from a main dealer - and the Audi's size and weight means that brakes, tyres and suspension components often live short, miserable lives. But it has also developed a reputation for several other weaknesses, including prone-to-fail starter motors that require the whole engine to be removed to replace them; there is also a small oil pump seal that is known to let go with similar effect. The six-speed autobox should also get regular fluid changes that many will have missed.

But there are still good ones out there, with plenty having been maintained with little regard for cost by fastidious owners. There is no mention of service history in the advert for our Pill, but the fact it has clocked up such an odometer reading - often averaging 20,000 a year during its earlier life according to the MOT history - is evidence that somebody has been prepared to swallow some sizeable bills. Nor does the DVLA history report anything too scary in recent years, there was an oil leak back in 2015 - cam cover gaskets are known to weep onto the exhausts - but the fact this hasn't been mentioned again suggests it has been fixed.

One mixed blessing is the presence of carbon-ceramic brakes on our Pill. These were an expensive option when the car was new and deliver huge retardation without fade, but they will be punishingly expensive to replace when they do wear out. Potential buyers should probably take a depth gauge along when they inspect this one. On the plus side, this car also comes with a private plate that will be perfect for any S8 enthusiasts who regularly frequent the Speed, Plod and the Law forum.

Nobody buys a car like this in expectation of low-cost, trouble-free transport; adventure is guaranteed, and some of it will be expensive. But for the sheer quantity of performance on offer it's hard not to see the rose rather than the thorns.


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