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Home > Business > Special

Driving the Audi S8, S6 and S4 Cabrio

Shubhabrata Marmar | December 09, 2006

Sidewalls caressing the cone marking the apex of turn 6, the S8 leaves a faint rubber trail as it accelerates hard over the crest into the inviting downhill sweeper.

Ignore the sharp left  looming (Turn 8), and focus on the suspension as the Audi S8 crests the rise. A quick dab of the throttle and it's drifting. All four wheels slip smoothly into a sideways groove.

Teasing time and tempting fate, the opposite lock comes on late. Late enough to provoke a bigger drift angle, and early enough to hold the angle of the drift intact. This is a nice place to be.

The intake roar of the engine, the gruff hum of the exhaust, the quiet of the cabin, the faint chirp of the tires, a light contrail of tyre smoke and a butch cheesegrater grille that's not quite pointed where it's going...

Welcome to the Audi Paddock Club, a nice way to launch the S models in the Middle East. With the Indian launch also pending, a troupe of Indian auto-journos were also invited to experience the S8, the S6, the S4 and the S4 Cabriolet at Sakhir, Bahrain's sprawling and most impressive F1 circuit.

To dive headlong into the drive, we started with the S8 on the circuit itself, then got bussed to the parking lot where we got a chance to take the S6 and the S4 Cabrio out. Indian launch? Yes! For over Rs 62 lakh (Rs 6.2 million), you can go to the Audi showroom and book an RS4, but if its a little more luxury you want in terms of the S6 or the S8, you will have to hold on. . . but they are on their way.

S8 on an F1 circuit?

The Audi S8 is a fairly simple car in format. What AMG and M are to you know who, S is to Audi. Take one numbers A8, toss in a suitable engine, garnish with aero kit. Result. But, the suitable engine in this case comes from a supercar.

The Lamborghini Gallardo donates its 500 bhp V10 and the S8 uses a slightly detuned 450 bhp version with Audi's FSI (direct fuel injection). What you get is a powerful, 40-valve, 10-pot powerhouse with continuously variable cam timing that peaks at a handy 54 kgm.

But unlike the M/AMG cars, the Audi isn't openly sporty. It feels extremely buttoned down, has a very Audi, very stodgy, very upper-class interior. Instead of the latest lycra-equipped Reebok sweats, it prefers Gucci suits, and you can just about make out the rippling muscles underneath.

Which also describes the power delivery. It's fast but not outrageous. It's loud but not ear-splitting and you'll love it, but it isn't the sort of car you brag about. You buy this so the cognoscenti spot the triple intake under the mother of all cheesegraters and nudge each other -- "that's a Lambo-engined, 450 bhp Audi S8".

While we didn't really get enough laps in (When Is It Ever Enough? -- Ed), I'll say this. You can whisper a conversation inside, then floor it and listen in to a muted roar and then feel the car plunge forward like a basejumper into an unending abyss.

Again, we didn't get the opportunity to hit great speeds (er. . . long story), but it feels like it will pull and gather momentum until global warming melts the caps right off.

Around the 18 corners at Sakhir, it felt composed, showed minimal roll and maximum purpose. For a large car (it's a limousine, for chrissakes!), it's quite handy around the track and if the (skilled) driver was bent on it, I'm confident the S8 would show a fair number of sportier cars a thing or two. Just remember to back off when you spot the whaletail on the M6, okay?

On the road, the S8 should be a laugh. Remove the badges and the frankly scary grille is the only clue you get to the true nature of the refined beast. Ride the torque, use the power now and then, and surprise boy racers with the fairly audible intake rumble when you pass them. This is a great piece of understated kit.

What about the S6?

The S6 feels similar to the S8 in attitude and philosophy. It has the same engine, but about 30 bhp less, is lighter (by 30 kg) and from all reports, the more fun car of the two.

Interiors, intake growl and exhaust note are similar to the S8 and it brakes like a demon. Thanks to its smaller size, the car looks quite a bit sportier than the S8. Having driven the car basically for only three km (it was a brake test loop), I can only say that I'd love more time in the car. And that it brakes great, heh heh.

And the S4 Cabriolet?

This is truly a likeable car. The convertible flatters the chap in the driver's seat, makes all the right moves and is a very, very tactile car. A heck of a lot more feedback, a feeling of greater involvement and the whole aura of a droptop means, that of the three cars, if I had the money, this is the one I would buy.

Under the hood is a non-Lamborghini V8. Displacing 4163cc, Audi's famous V8 gets variable intakes and (inlet) valve timing and says thanks for the gadgetry with 344 bhp and 41 kgm.

We weren't allowed to switch ESP off (two colleagues from the Middle East had trouble avoiding a giant light pole and a wide ditch, respectively), but around a slalom course, the S4 Cabrio felt alive. It was easily the most responsive of the cars we drove, and after the hushed cabins on the S8 (I never even thought of switching the aircon off!), the noise, wind and persona felt great. Which is why I stepped out of the Cabrio only when I absolutely had to.

What about that S8 in the drift?

Oh that. That was one of the instructors showing off. I was in the passenger seat and enjoying it. A truly fun, genuinely hot lap in the S8. The highlight of the trip, even.

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