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ON RAILS

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Mar 10, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

ON RAILS

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Certainly, America is the land of plenty. To nobody's surprise, we do have a tendency of putting ourselves first. More times than I can remember, I've heard that there is no better place to live. While this might be open to debate amongst some, I personally can't comment on that (being a resident of the union my entire life). One facet we do lack, however, is what Europeans have enjoyed for some time: The bullet train. The allure is grand, be it the TGV, EuroStar Italia, Thayls or the rest. Dynamic performance and looks to match are hard to resist. The bullet trains provide a luxury environment, and effortlessly cruise at speeds that can nearly rival air travel if you factor everything in. Sadly, we have no comparable version on tracks. On the other hand, we do have the sizzling Audi S8.

For the most part, we won't have an ultra high-speed rail transport here anytime soon, so we have to settle on the do-it-yourself variety. The S8 really isn't a step down from anything. The Audi proves to have the goods in virtually every which way. A car like this fits into the super premium segment without too much effort. The price tag alone is enough to qualify for this league. While this is one way to earn entry to this genre, it is just one of many ways the S8 qualifies for this distinction.

Making the grade is an easy do, with a well-received styling job inside and out. Audi has been evolving the shape of its big sedan, splitting the line between classic and avant-garde. The exterior flaunts an even bolder variation on their large sedan. The S8 is big, bad and doesn't contain blatant, trendy hokeyness that haunts some pretenders to the thrown. The Audi does look far less reserved than in years past, but should still look good down the road for many years. When it comes down to design, you either get it, or you don't. If one needs to explain the virtue of the styling here, I think the individual in question simply doesn't get it, nor will they ever. Attempting to teach someone just how sweet the design is can be as futile as convincing somebody chocolate tastes good.

Material and design come together on the interior to create a dramatic surrounding. The suede-textured Alcantara wrapping the massive headliner, the carbon fiber inserts, the metal trim, or perhaps the power-activated speakers that rise from the dash upon ignition are first class touches. Not just because they use these materials, but they use these elements in just the right amount. The use is not over done. The power speakers are a good example. Some aftermarket audio crazies will think that Audi didn't go far enough, but that's just their opinion.

The interior does allow plenty of adjustability for dialing-in the seats to perfection. The adjustability really does blow away the one size fits all mentality. Bi Color Valcona premium leather S8-specific sport seats with color contrasting stitching set this apart from the garden variety A8. Flexibility is what separates good seating from great seating. The S8 offers up 16-way power front driver and passenger seats with four-way power lumbar adjustment, power fore/aft, height, angle and seatback-angle adjustment, power front head restraint & seat belt height adjustment, as well as power upper seatback adjustment for the angle of the top third of both seatbacks. But wait, there's more: Power seat depth adjustment (thigh extender) driver and passenger side (seat foam and upholstery are drawn out, no gap), four memory positions for driver and passenger seat, outside mirrors, head restraint, steering, wheel positions and climate control settings, heated front seats, heated rear seats (available in package), power lumbar adjustment for rear outboard positions (optional), three adjustable head restraints for rear seat, and lastly, concealable center rear headrest. Incredibly, a similarly high level of care given to the seating is shared throughout the entire car.

First class extends beyond the accouterments, the sheer suite like roominess is maybe on par for a luxury car, but this is exceptional for a performance machine.

"Smooth and strong" aptly define the Audi ten-cylinder engine. The company is gaining momentum in racing circles, and fortunately the lord of the rings shares the spirit with their road cars. This motor is a result of the development undertaken by Audi's sibling Lamborghini. This crosspollination of technology is one of the finest examples I have witnessed. It takes nothing away from either company, as Lambo isn't building four-door sedans, and to my knowledge the typical Audi buyer isn't cross-shopping with super exotic sports car brands - or at least not yet. I haven't been able to find a speed at which the big car can't just get up and go without hesitation or enough oomph to sink the occupants into the seat backs. I suppose with 450 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque being generated, this shouldn't be a surprise. Audi manages to use almost every available means of squeezing out that much energy from a relatively nominal size 5.2-liter motor, as our spec sheet (below) states. Perhaps if we had some running room, oh, say on the autobahn, we might find an upper end to the madness, but I doubt it. At speeds more in step with this country's limits, the S8 can achieve 0-60 in a blink. Sub five-second runs can be attained in this measure of brilliance. Those numbers are managed while lugging around 4,586 pounds of weight!

The transmission is in part to thank as well. With over two hundred shift programs in memory, the six-speed Tiptronic automatic has the right shift for every occasion. The Quattro system, as we have found on other Audi models, is still a defining characteristic of this car aiding in all manner of driving. Multi-tasking, the Quattro all wheel drive can add better performance and safety at the same time.

The combination of all these parts is marvelous. Cars this big aren't supposed to behave this well. Ah, but trains aren't suppose to move like bullets either, or do they. Maybe we have just set our sites too low for far too long. The agility of the S8 is not just a measurement on the skidpad and slalom, it is manifested in the secure and confident feeling that this product offers. On a romp down to San Diego County, I am constantly looking over my shoulder. While it isn't out of the ordinary for traveling just a bit faster than the normal flow, but in some of the more remote parts of the freeway the average speed is exceptionally brisk. The Audi S8 naturally feels so competent that even fast speeds feel too slow. So if the surrounding cars are moving well beyond what most should be, then the S8 is doing, well, let's just say rather rapidly. Indeed, this is where the Lamborghini connection really is hard to escape. Somewhere in the far reaches of my brain, it doesn't feel like I'm driving a big Audi sedan. Those synapses are closing the gap between all the wrong sensory info if I wish to keep a clean driving record.

The big machine comes complete with the best goodies one can buy for the money. Front and rear acoustic parking assist, and a video display in the dash mounted display. This new-for-2007 system is similar to the one found in the Q7, providing a projected trajectory coinciding with the input from the steering. Keyless entry and go is all too simple. Power door closers help in those last couple of inches. Sunshades abound in the rear isolating the sides and rear from any excessive torching from holes in the ozone. The list of standard fare just about covers all possible desires.

The field of cars that exhibit the class and moves that the S8 does is indeed a very small group. At this point it comes down to personal preferences. Small distractions that catch my attention are few, but the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system, while very good, doesn't have the bass extension and authority I expect. Also, the fit of the carbon fiber interior trim pieces, like on the lid to the ashtray did have larger gaps than most of the other interior parts. Amazingly, that's it. This is getting rather difficult to find fault with.

As far as those high speed trains go, this has it all over those mass people movers. The S8 allows for travel at your schedule, similar high velocity runs, point A to point B direct routes. Best of all, while the Audi might feel like it rides on rails, it doesn't. If ever there was a perfect blend of elegance and indulgence in driving, this could be it.

Driving enthusiasts, inquire within - no training required!

SIDEBAR COMMENT

Large luxury sedans are not my cup of tea. Luxurious these may be, but most seem geared for the Geritol generation. That's certainly not the case with the Audi S8. It's the first luxury sedan I genuinely lust after. Of course, this is not your father's luxury sedan. The old S8 was the star of the classic car chase thriller, Ronin . The new S8 sports a Lamborghini V10, bored out and fitted with Audi's direct injection (FSI) system. This translates to 450 horses propelling the aluminum Space Frame body from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds(!). And it's not just about going fast. This car provides plenty of eye and ear candy - from the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system, to the Christmas tree-like illumination upon unlocking the doors, to the jewel-like fit and finish inside and out. Even the ride is pretty remarkable, given the ultra-low profile tires strapped to those wicked double-dime wheels. This is a rolling work of art - and an exceptionally high performing one at that. - Roy Nakano

SUMMARY JUDGEMENT

Another stellar achievement by the fastest growing company in high-end sport sedans.

Find more on the S8 at www.audiusa.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $92,000

Engine type: Aluminum ten cylinder V90 degrees spark-ignition FSI gasoline direct injection Arrangement

EPA mileage estimates City / Highway: 15 / 21

Horsepower: 450 hp @7000 rpm Torque: 398 lb.-ft @3500 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / all-wheel drive

Transmission type: 6-speed Tiptronic transmission with DSP

Suspension: Front: Air suspension (with S specific sport tuning) Struts at all four wheels, four driver-activated suspension settings (Dynamic, Standard, Lift, and Automatic), Four link suspension, double upper and lower wishbones, anti-roll bar Rear: Air suspension (with S specific sport tuning) Struts at all four wheels, four driver-activated suspension settings (Dynamic, Standard, Lift, and Automatic), Self-tracking trapezoidal link, wishbone, anti-roll bar

Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 20x9J alloy, 265/35 R20 99Y XL Pirelli P Zero Rear: 20x9J alloy, 265/35 R20 99Y XL Pirelli

Brakes: Front: Ventilated discs, 2 piston calipers - 385 mm diameters Rear: Ventilated discs, 1 piston caliper - 335 mm diameters

Dual circuit brake system with diagonal split, ABS, Electronic Brake pressure Distribution and Electronic Stabilization Program; tandem brake booster, hydraulic brake assist, brake servo

Overall length: 115.9" Overall width (mirrors ex.): 74.7" (mirrors inc.): 79.8"Overall height: 56.1"Curb weight: 4,586 lbs

0-60 mph: 4.9 Top Speed: 155 mph (electronically limited)

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