Blurring the frosty German landscape at an indicated 270 kph (168 mph) in a 2007 Audi S8 proved an exercise in noise. Not road or wind noise, mind you, but rather a grating clatter courtesy of AC/DC and the S8's optional $7800, 1100-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, whose 14 aluminum-grille-covered speakers glitter the cabin.
Underhood, however, is where the real wattage lies. Borrowed from the Lamborghini Gallardo and tweaked just right, the S8's 5.2-liter V-10 engine is an aluminum jewel that weighs in at just 485 pounds--44 pounds less than the M5's V-10--yet produces 450 horses and 398 pound-feet. From Gallardo to S8, the V-10 has undergone myriad modifications, most notable a bump from 4961 to 5204 cc and the implementation of direct fuel injection. Power dips 63 ponies compared with the Lambo V-10, but torque rises 22 pound-feet. Other alterations include a higher compression ratio--12.5:1 compared with 11.0:1--and a less frenetic 7000-rpm redline, compared with the Lambo's 8100. Mated to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the S8's V-10 matches the pony total of another Audi monster, the 6.0-liter W-12.
Out on the autobahn, the S8 rumbles much like its W-12 brethren, delivering the kind of endless power that appears to build gradually until you realize 100 kph (62 mph) can be eclipsed in about the time it takes to count one hand's fingers, and 250 kph (155 mph) seems the ideal pace to set the cruise control. Keeping a leash on that power are carbon-ceramic brake discs, which will be a post-release option; initial S8s will get steel discs. The ride, even hampered by 35-series Pirellis and the firmest "dynamic" air-suspension setting, feels taut, yet supple enough for jaunts to the theater.
With the V-10 generating no more horsepower than the W-12, why opt for the S8? Audi says a well-equipped S8 will sticker for under $100,000, which is a sizeable discount compared with the $120,610 W-12. The S8 is far sportier than the W-12, with its standard 20-inch wheels, 5.1-inch-shorter wheelbase, a ride height lowered by 0.8 inch, a stiffer adaptive air suspension, quicker steering, and a rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Plus, the S8 gets Audi's sexy S treatment, which includes aluminum-look side-mirror housings, an integrated trunklid spoiler, four oval exhaust tips, LED daytime-running lights, and a prominent grille with chrome-like vertical struts. The treatment pours over inside, where carbon fiber and brushed-aluminum inlays beautify the dash, console, and doors; light-gray S gauges relay pertinent info; and Valcona leather adorns the standard two-tone sport seats.