Gangster. It used to be a word associated with groups of machine-gun-toting hoodlums and bootleggers. Of course it still is, but nowadays a variation on it - gangsta - can be used to describe anything that looks a bit tough, like it could do away with its enemies in a heartbeat. And the new Audi S8 - this S8 in fact - definitely looks a bit gangsta. It's low, wide, means business, and if you see one in your rear-view mirror you'd better get out of the way pretty quickly.
After recently sampling the S7 (and loving it), I knew its big brother would be a seriously fast piece of kit. But I wasn't expecting to fall for it in the same way because it's not really my sort of car. It's huge, for starters, and I like a car that shrinks around me and feels focused and nimble. How could a saloon car the size of a house be able to provide its driver with anything like an entertaining experience?
The previous S8 was a bit of a hooligan, with a Lamborghini V10 providing the firepower, but as with most things Audi these days, downsizing is now the name of the game and there's a twin-turbo, 4.0L V8 in its place. Not that its performance has in any way diminished, with a (limited) 250kph top speed, a 0-to-100 dash in 4.2 seconds and power and torque rated at 520hp and 650Nm respectively. Make no mistake, the latest S8 has nothing to be ashamed of in the league tables of crazy-powered big saloons.
My initial journeys in this bruiser consist of the grinding daily commute to and from the office in Abu Dhabi from my home in Dubai. And no matter how I personally rate any car in my possession, I'm always interested in hearing the opinions of any passengers that happen to be along for the ride. The two ladies in question happen to be seriously impressed by the S7. Words such as "smooth", "refined", "silent" and "luxurious" are readily proffered, along with other unrepeatable phrases once I mash the throttle - something that has to be experienced at least once when there's this much grunt.
They're quite right, too, because the S8 is monumentally refined. Wind noise is practically non-existence, even at speed, thanks to the car's double glazing. It's extremely comfortable, with a well-judged adaptive air suspension setup that smothers rough surfaces yet never feels soft or wallowy. It feels composed and planted, at least on the straight ahead, and it's definitely luxurious, with a cabin that's easily one of the best crafted from any current manufacturer.
Try as I might, there's nothing to find that irks or bothers me about this behemoth. There's nothing I am left wanting for, nothing that I feel is missing, and I find myself warming to its physical dimensions, too. Because when there are more than two people in a vehicle, it's nice to hear positivity, rather than complaints, coming from the rear quarters. As an executive express machine, the S8 is definitely gangsta, inasmuch as it could take on practically all comers and obliterate them in an instant.
Once I've jettisoned my passengers, however, the S8 does eventually start to reveal the occasional flaw in its makeup. On long, fast and sweeping corners, it feels peerless in its ability to keep flat and true to my inputs, but on slower, tighter bends it cannot disguise its sheer bulk. There is grip aplenty, thanks to Audi's quattro four-wheel-drive system, but it feels much more weighty up front, and I feel the onslaught of dreaded understeer threatening to commandeer proceedings. It's at this point the S8 loses points to rivals like the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, which feels more alive through the twisties.
No, the S8 is a fine, luxurious and incredibly fast way of getting from A to B, especially if those points happen to be from one end of a country to another and you're sticking to motorways or wide main roads. If I had to choose any car in which to make a mad dash across Europe, this would be it.
The technology within its cabin, which can be so confusing in other cars, is intuitive and never gets in the way of the act of driving, and this is one aspect of its cars that Audi has always managed to get right. As a standard car, the S8 comes absolutely packed with kit, making it a viable alternative to a highly specced A8, retailing as it does at Dh470,000. This test car has been fitted with night vision, a rear seat entertainment package, a solar sunroof, television reception and a whole load of other lovely stuff, weighing in at Dh557,800. And I'd say that is getting dangerously high.
However, unless BMW decides to launch an M7, this is about as good as it gets when it comes to large, high performance saloons, and it comes highly recommended.
Price, base/as tested Dh470,000/Dh557,800
Engine 4.0L, twin-turbo V8
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Power 520hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque 650Nm @ 1,700rpm
Fuel economy, combined 10.1L/100km