muscular and altogether more responsive.On light throttle loads in third gear or higher there are no telltale signs apart from a digital read-outwithin the instrument binnacle that the new engine’s advanced electronic management system haschosen to close down the inlet and exhaust valves of cylinders 2, 3, 5 and 8 in the interests of fuelsaving and lower emissions.The operation of the cylinder deactivation system on the pre-production prototype we drove wasabsolutely seamless, both from a mechanical and acoustic standpoint. This perception is achieved,in part, by what Audi calls active noise cancellation – a system used to suppress the typical hum andwhat the German car maker describes as other intrusive acoustic elements of the engine whenrunning in four-cylinder mode.With added throttle, the delivery is uncannily smooth and extremely linear across a wide range of revs. There’s no discernible turbocharger lag of any kind, just a compelling and boundless seam of energy all the way from the 800rpm idle all the way to the 6500rpm cut-out point. And to top it alloff, there’s a lovely deep burble through the exhaust that grows in intensity as you pile the revs on.In lower gears, a combination of the new engine’s heady torque loading and the latest iteration of Audi’s Torsen four-wheel-drive system provides for rabid straight-line speed, as evidenced byAudi’s official 0-62mph time of just 4.2sec – or 0.9sec faster than the old S8. Considering itsrelatively small capacity by performance car standards, its in-gear performance is extraordinary.Where the big Audi really excels is on damp roads. Big applications of throttle out of slow cornersfail to upset its composure, even in the wet. As an all-season proposition, it is going to take some beating.Audi has also tweaked its eight-speed automatic gearbox with alterations to the torque converter and a new electronics package. It shifts with great conviction, both on light loads and wide openthrottle, while offering stop/start and brake energy recuperation functions that helps the new S8achieve a 6.3mpg improvement in combined cycle consumption at 27.7mpg.
Should I buy one?
Definitive judgment will come when we get to put a production version the new S8 through its paces on more familiar blacktop later this year. For the time being, however, the pre-production prototype driven here suggests the S8 may have finally come of age. More miles are needed todiscover whether our concerns about the synthetic feel of its steering are justified. But we’ll be verysurprised if our impressions of improved ride quality aren’t felt on British roads. The new modelfeels much more settled, even on the optional 21-inch wheels and giant 265/35 R21 Pirelli P-Zerotyres fitted.
Greg KableAudi S8
Price: tba;Top speed: 155mph;0-62mph: 4.2sec;Economy: 27.7mpg;CO2: 237g/km;Kerb weight: 1975kg;Engine type, cc: V8, 3993cc, twin turbo, petrol;