Progress report: 2001 Audi S8 vs 2021 Audi S8
Movie stars age better than normal folk. The S8 proves movie *cars* age better, too
Woah, it’s the S8 from that car chase…
Yep. It’s apparently impossible to discuss the first-generation of Audi S8 – the ‘D2’ S8, model code geeks – without also referencing the film it played a starring role in. So we’ll try, likely in vain, to avoid that trap in order to let the car speak for itself. Albeit alongside its modern-day namesake, the fourth-gen, ‘D5’ S8. The S8 badge first appeared in 1996, with 20 years separating our two examples here.
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With quite a power gap too, I imagine.
Natürlich. Both hook up V8 engines to all four wheels, the D2 using a 364bhp naturally aspirated 4.2-litre, the D5 a 563bhp twin-turbo 4.0-litre familiar from any hi-po VW Group SUV you care to name. The difference in torque is greater still, the more modern car’s 590lb ft knocking on for twice its forebear’s 317lb ft.
Both have an electronically limited 155mph top speed, but the newer car’s 3.8secs 0-62mph sprint is little more than half the older car’s 6.6secs. Huge strides in gearbox tech can probably be thanked for at least two of the seconds splitting them.Advertisement - Page continues below
Didn’t the S8 once have a V10?
There have been four eras of S8, all but one of them using an eight-cylinder powertrain. The exception being the second-gen D3, produced between 2006 and 2010. It strikes a power and performance balance between the nameplate’s bookends rather sweetly, producing just shy of 450bhp and hitting 62mph in a cat’s whisker over five seconds. Audi’s biggest sports saloon has utilised twin-turbo V8 power since 2012 and the arrival of the D4.
How has the original aged?
With the grace of Paul Rudd. Look at him closely and I’m sure you’ll eventually find a wrinkle or a bit of silver in his stubble, much as you’ll spot the D2’s hilariously low-res sat nav or guffaw at its pale wood trim if you focus too hard on its detailing. But placing yourself in its sumptuous driver’s seat you realise how similarly this pair’s interiors are laid out. The spiffing ergonomics and feelgood atmosphere of an Audi cabin date back further than you might think.
And how does it drive?
Just like its modern forebear, at least in some regards. Slot the selector of its five-speed automatic into Drive and you’ll pull away in the same silky-smooth manner as the eight-speed D5. Both have the potential for impolite acceleration but encourage a polite way of travel. Whatever the movies tell you.
Even with that old gearbox?
It goes without saying the difference in shift speeds between the two autos are ‘marked’. And yet I’d say the older transmission doesn’t disgrace itself; in D it can be hesitant, but in S it hangs onto gears pretty gamely as you accelerate and drops them reasonably keenly on the way down. Better yet, there are actual paddleshifters – of sorts – on the steering wheel, a little rocker switch on either side with both up and down at the tip of each of your thumbs, a la early Porsche PDK. Only way less offensive here.Advertisement - Page continues below
What about in corners?
The older S8 handles smartly, fulfilling neither of the worn fast Audi clichés (rigid ride, much understeer) by just getting about its business neatly, all underscored by a delightful eight-cylinder bassline. With no turbos, the nat-asp engine needs working hard for big speedo numbers where the D5 ladles them on without a thought. Though it’s worth remembering the S8 was Audi’s flagship at the turn of the century – its most powerful and expensive car.
But the S8 is no longer top dog?
Nope, allowing it room to soften and become more of a limo. There’s tonnes more space in the back than the D2 – which would pale in comparison to a modern Octavia – and while four-wheel steering lends the D5 some notable agility in corners, it’s not trying to be a loud, lairy AMG rival, however smart its dynamics. It’s as whisper-quiet as an EV when you’re not pushing on, with electric perhaps its natural next step.Advertisement - Page continues below
An electric S8? Sacrilege!
I’d argue not. As welcome as its V8 backing vocals are, many of the S8’s smartest tricks would be equally impressive if they were provided by batteries, as proven by Audi’s current performance flagship, the awesome RS e-tron GT. It packs in over 600bhp and is only too happy to be thrown around at implausible angles, so we've nowt to worry about. Save for it making for a hushed chase scene…
2001 Audi S8
4172cc V8, AWD, five-speed automatic
364bhp, 317lb ft
0-62mph in 6.6secs, 155mph
2021 Audi S8
3996cc V8 twin-turbo, AWD, eight-speed automatic
563bhp, 590lb ft
0-62mph in 3.8secs, 155mph