In Part I of the D2 Audi S8 story, we covered the foundations of the A8 as Audi attempted a do-over after the V8 Quattro. Today we’re all about S8.
Coinciding with the development of the new 4.2-liter V8, Audi introduced the high-performance S8 to Europe in 1996. All examples were equipped with the 4.2, which was tuned to offer 335 horsepower over the standard car’s 300. 60 miles per hour arrived in 6.2 seconds, down to the Quattro all-wheel drive and the S8’s scant weight of 3,814 pounds. The lightness paid dividends over competition like the BMW 740i, which by comparison weighed between 4,255 and 4,553 pounds.
The S8’s looks were mostly about a sleeper style of performance. Exterior changes for the S8 were minimal and included some badging and special Avus wheels shared with other Audi S models. Inside, the S8 featured a three-spoke sports steering wheel with shift buttons, special gauges, and dark stained walnut trim. Alcantara seat inserts (shown below) were an option, but not often selected. S8 was updated with an increase in power for 1999, up to 364 horses courtesy of an additional valve in each cylinder. New power lessened the time to 60: 5.6 seconds. A visual rework in 2000 modernized the look of the headlamps and swapped the ribbed vertical seat stitching for a horizontal design.
The A8 and S8 remained unchanged for the latter part of their run and ended production after the 2003 model year. 2004 saw the debut of the D3 A/S8, which was in effect the genesis of the big grille design Audi uses to this day. The S8 established Audi as a performance sedan player, and the only large European performance sedan to offer all-wheel drive. It was also a star of the movie Ronin, where it performed some acrobatic stunts not entirely possible with an all-wheel-drive car.
On a personal note, I owned a 2000 A8L from 2009 to 2011, and I can tell you it was a superb car. The 4.2 was an excellent engine with plenty of power and torque and was matched very well to the five-speed auto. Driving around in mixed commuting usage, I’d often see an average of 23 miles per gallon. The handling was excellent, the seats very comfortable, and the fit and finish fantastic. I sold it in 2011 due to some (apparently unfounded) transmission concerns and got a 2001 GS 430 instead. An elderly couple bought the A8 after they saw it parked on the side of the road for sale, and thought it was a Buick. That car continues its life in southeastern Indiana today in daily driver use and has somewhere north of 200,000 miles on it. But it doesn’t look this good anymore.
Today’s Rare Ride is in spectacular condition, and since 2001 has accumulated just over 28,000 miles. In a taupe color with parchment leather, it asks for a full $25,000.