The Numbers

4.0L TFSI V8, quattro, 382kW, 650Nm, 0-100km/h in 4.1secs, 250km/h max, 9.6L/100km

The Topgear Verdict

Very luxe and very fast, the S8 is for people who want to have it all... but don't want to show it off.

2014 Audi S8

So what is it?

The full-strength big brother to the luxo A8. The whole A8 range has just gone through a mid-cycle refresh, with new treats like swanky and clever matrix headlights that isolate LEDs to avoid dazzling other drivers, night vision that can spot animals and pedestrians sneaking out to make a mess of your grille, and – wait for it – massage functions for the front seat. When the current generation A8 launched in Australia in 2010, Audi Australia didn’t bother to bring out the S8, thinking demand would be too small. But customer demand has been enough – probably no more a handful a year, but at $280,000 a pop, that’s a tasty wedge of folding stuff – that for this mid-cycle switch-up, the new S8 is now on the menu.

Why should I care?

If you don’t own a mining company or a casino, you probably don’t. But Audi is calling the S8 “the ultimate in sports luxury”, and they might have a point. It’s undeniably a luxury ride – did we mention front massage seats? Oh baby – but the S8 is also packing a turbocharged 4.0L V8 that spins off 382kW and 650Nm of torque, and goes like stink. The stink, in this case, being money.

What’s new about it?

The exterior’s been restyled – new bonnet lines, new front grille and bumper, new exhausts and rear bumper, new window frames – to look a bit more sporty than the last model. There’s more tech inside and out, including those LED matrix headlights which really are very clever. And the Audi Space Frame, made almost completely from aluminium, is lighter than before, so all the new A8s are both faster and have better fuel economy.

What’s it like to drive fast?

For a plus-size luxury limo, this thing can really move. Like zero to 100 in 4.1 seconds – that’s faster than anything else in its class. It pulls away from the line more like a supercar than a limo, and with 650Nm fed through the incredibly smooth-changing 8-speed tiptronic ’box and the reliable-as-gravity quattro system, overtaking anything anytime is the work of but a moment.

But it’s not a hoon mobile – that V8 isn’t especially loud or theatrical, and there’s nary a hint of chirping tyres even when you give it a pasting. In fact, it’s a lot like being in a business class plane seat – this isn’t really made to show off, it’s simply made to transport rich people large distances quickly and in comfort. In its native Germany, with its superfast autobahns, it’s probably a better option for switching cities than hopping a jet.

You can configure the electric steering to comfort or dynamic, but in comfort mode, the steering is so light that you start getting strangely contradictory sensations – in corners, there’s no missing the sensation of a big (over five metres!) and heavy (almost two tonnes!) behemoth under your bum, but the steering feels you’re steering a cloud of helium.

The suspension copes well with undulating roads, but when the surface gets choppy and coarse, an unexpected amount of vibration comes up into the cabin, and on crappy rural roads, there’s a bit of road noise from the massive 21-inch wheels – it’s been designed for silky German roads, not our special blend of rocks-and-tar. But overall, it’s a very quiet, dignified, rarefied atmosphere inside the S8.

And driving home from the office in peak hour?

When not taking off like a Cape Canaveral launch, the S8 reverts to simply being a very plush ride with oodles of fruit for both the driver and passengers: head-up display, digital TV, electric sunblinds for the rear seats, active lane, side assist and park assist systems, and a voice-activated Google search function, so you can tell it to find you a pizza joint on the way home – plus the sat nav has Google Earth imagery, so you can drive around your street seeing which of your neighbours has a pool.

How much would I have to pay for one? And is it worth the coin?

Without ticking any option boxes, you’re looking at $279,000. If, like the car we tested, you include the Bang & Olufsen sound system ($14,500 – oof!) and the rear-seat entertainment package ($9900), then you pretty quickly get over the $300k mark. But if want to travel in high-speed luxury and not have anyone notice, then this is the car for you. It’s not a footballer’s whip – it’s not for attention seekers or celebrity wannabes. It’s for CEOs who would rather the paparazzi didn’t even notice they were there.

Would you take an S8 or an S63?

The S63 is almost as fast – almost – and about as well appointed inside, but it’s flashier – it looks meaner and more aggressive, the engine note is louder and more meat-eating, and it looks more distinctive than the regular S Class. The S8 looks less different from a regular A8, which is good if, as we say, you’re not looking to attract attention. You’d also keep about $100k in your pocket if you chose the Audi.

Driven: May 01, 2014