Audi’s S products from the early 2000s are a conundrum for me. I think the S6 Avant is neat, but I don’t love it. I think the S4 is neat, but I don’t love it. Even the mighty RS4 should capture all of my attention – but it doesn’t. I can’t quite pinpoint what it is about these cars that I find lacking, but collectively they all fall short for me.
But the S8? I love the S8. And for the same reason that I can’t quite identify what’s missing from the other models, I’m at a loss to fully quantify what it is I find so perfect about the D2. But it is just about perfect; arguably the best looking big-body Audi made to date, and though newer cars have far more power, when it came to the early 2000s this was the punchy package you wanted if you liked to drive rather than be chauffeured.
Unlike some other early 2000s big executives, the S8 still looks the boss today. Mean, low and long, it is remarkably fresh despite the design being the best part of 20 years old. Yet they remain some of the best values out there. Find a good one, and you’ll have class, speed and style which defy the price you paid:
Only a week ago, I looked at a great example of an Audi S8. Granted, it was not perfect; but, the maintenance and ownership ticked the right boxes for proper consideration. Still, the unique Cashmere Pearl paint coupled with the Ecru interior weren’t most people’s favorite, nor were the C6 Speedline wheels the best match for the design. Does the cost of ownership mean you have to accept a good maintenance history at the expense of the color you want? Not necessarily, as witnessed by this Brilliant Black 2001:
Like more than a few Audi fans, my love affair with the S8 now spans 20 years since it first ‘shoved’ its way into my imagination via the thriller Ronin. It still seems to have set the bar for the most epic and reasonably realistic car chase movies out there, though Bullitt gets more attention and notoriety. That the S8 then came to the U.S. three years later made the dream more of a potential reality. Unfortunately, the S8 stickered for $78,000; approximately $76,000 more than my typical budget for Audis. It might have been geographically closer, but ownership was still a long way off.
Thanks to depreciation in the luxury market, though, over the past two decades these mega-S models have come tantalizingly closer to a price point that I can afford. But I’ve owned cheap executive Audis before a few times, and…well, it’s seldom a great idea. As the addage goes, ‘there’s nothing more expensive than a cheap (insert brand name here)’, and that certainly can apply to the S8. So while it’s very tempting to
briefly consider repeatedly look at that $2,000 example on my local Craigslist, the logical side of me says the one to get is one that’s been gone through. One, perhaps, just like this Cashmere Gray Metallic example:
The D2 Audi S8 is no stranger to these pages, as it’s one of my favorite designs from Ingolstadt – and considering my devotion to the brand, that’s actually saying something. So it’s no surprise that here I come with another. But this one tests my love of the model in several ways. First, it’s one of my least favorite color combinations on the S8. Light Silver Metallic over black, while classically understated and perhaps in keeping with the model’s character, is just plain boring considering some of the beautiful tones offered on the short production run. The mileage isn’t super low, either – while not the highest I’ve seen, with 138,000 miles on the odometer this is no spring chicken. It shows in several condition issues; worn seats, slightly scruffy bumper covers, and a few tack-ons like the rear spoiler and Brembo caliper stickers that are a little too boy-racer for the model. Though OEM wheels, the TT RS stock also seem out of place here to me.
So I really shouldn’t like this car, right?
If you follow these pages, it goes without saying that I’m a pretty strong Ingolstadt devotee. My first car was an Audi 4000CS quattro and since then I’ve owned an astounding 9 models along the way. But that doesn’t mean I buy everything from the company hook, line and sinker. Indeed, I’ve been less than impressed with many of the newer models. Sure, sometimes they look slick, go like stink or are really pretty inside. But would I want to own one? In most cases, no – outside of a few very select models, I don’t really desire to own much post ‘Y2K’.
One exception to that rule – and it’s literally and figuratively a huge exception – is the S8. Everything about this car was just spot on to me. In an age when increasingly the offerings from the competition were unattractive and overly complicated, the S8 was to me the last of the great original quattros. It was an analog offering in a digital age; simple, blunt force from a 360 horsepower V8 in front driving all the wheels with a luxurious driver-oriented cockpit. Sure, there were plenty of computers. Probably there are too many. But compared to the new luxo-suites? The D2 seems downright cart-like. And the proportions of the car were just perfect; lowered, menacing stance, huge yet delicate-appearing wheels, just the right amount of bling, yet an understated car which easily fades into the background. So even though I’m still probably a long way from ownership, I often find myself dreaming about being behind the wheel of one.
The pool of candidates that remain is beginning to dwindle; the newest of the D2 S8s is on the verge of being 15 years old and parts are already getting hard to source. As a result, if you want to get into one of these cars, you’ll want to find the best one available.
Here it is.
The Audi S8. Still, this car ranks as one of my favorite automotive designs from the company, from the 1990s and 2000s – heck, maybe even overall. While I’m not a huge sedan fan in general, there was just something so right about the proportions and presence of the D2 S8. Did it help that it was in a movie I also loved? Sure, without a doubt. But even without that aspect I think this car, and specifically the 2003 model year, are my favorite U.S. bound Audi.
I especially like the 2003 model year because of the limited Audi Exclusive package. Special colors and interiors were fit to the car, along with updated “RS” design wheels. Limited to only 100 copies each. my favorite for the past decade and a half has been the Avus Silver Pearl with Burgundy interior and I think I’ve pointed that out…well, more than a few times. However, at nearly 15 years old, these cars are far from new and we’re deep into a territory were plenty of neglected examples are coming to market. As a result, rather than just find one in the color you want, with the D2 S8 in today’s market condition and history needs to trump other considerations like location and color.
Astute readers will have noticed that I don’t tend to write up many Audis. To be honest, I’m really more of a Mercedes/BMW guy and there aren’t that many cars from Ingolstadt that get me going. However, there are a few exceptions. I’ve always thought very highly of the B6 platform S4, the B7 RS4 and the D2 S8, the car that famously had a starring role in Ronin alongside an E34 M5. It should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of this generation S8: I like conservatively styled uber-sedans that conceal their power beneath restrained exteriors. Costing nearly $100k new depending on how they were specced, these cars now show up on the used market for between $5 and $15k depending on condition and miles. Of course, these were technologically advanced cars for their day with lots of expensive-to-replace components. So if you’re in the market for a bit of late 90s German stealthiness, condition and maintenance history matter the most.
In many ways, to me the D2 S8 is the last of the great 1980s Audis. But wait, you say – it wasn’t built in the 1980s. It may have shared little design with the original Quattro other than the drivetrain layout and the Vier Ringe on the grill, but at its heart the S8 was the culmination of the mission of the original car – to cover ground at high speed in a luxurious 4-seater regardless of the weather conditions. Now, truth told newer Audis are bigger, badder and faster. Some even look better, though not many in my eyes. They have more technology, power and luxury than ever. So, it would be natural to say that they, too, accomplish the mission of the Quattro – and they do. But, the essence of what was Audi somehow was lost along the way. The D2 S8 didn’t sell in great numbers, but that wasn’t because it was the most expensive option and it certainly wasn’t because it was unattractive or slow. Perhaps it lacked the raw driver connection of cars like the contemporary E39 M5 and the physical grunt of the AMG E55 and S55 models. But as an all around package, the S8 is surely one of the best Audis produced. It’s quick, driver oriented, supremely comfortable, all-weather capable and even (dare I say) reliable relative to other VAG packages. It’s not so tech-heavy that it feels outdated the moment you step in the cabin; rather, it feels like the most up-to-date version of the C4 chassis and that’s generally a good thing. It sounds great, too, thanks to the silky smooth V8 under the hood. The only downside is that with low residuals, locating a really nice one any day of the week is not nearly as easy as finding a clean M5:
I have to say that as much of an Audi fanatic as I am, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the brand. Perhaps it is their departure from their 1980s and 1990s “screw you, we’re going to build the car WE want to make rather than the car YOU want to buy” manufacturing, but the reality is that early model did not work for sales. Instead, Audi has been forced to go more mainstream in the U.S., and as a result I find myself paying significantly less attention to the new models. I used to wait with eager anticipation for the next upgrade, and I remember literally uttering “whoa” when I first heard about the C4 S6 Plus. Manufactured by quattro GmbH, the turned up V8 produced over 320 horsepower and was mated through a 6-speed manual to all four wheels. Of course, it was also available as an Avant, and so it pretty much made my day for the next decade. I still love the C4 S6 Plus more than any other period Audi, including the RS2.
So, you’d think I would have been ear to the rail when last year Audi launched a Plus version of the S8. But I completely missed it. I wasn’t paying attention. I mean, the regular S8 was already pretty bonkers and can outrun Audi’s own supercar R8. A 4,700 lb sedan is now capable of running 0-60 in under 4 seconds, unrestricted can push 190 mph – yet it’s not just brute force, as with giant tires and ceramic brakes they can out turn and out stop most great 1990s sports cars. So why did Audi need a Plus? There’s a market for these super-sedans, that’s why, and in the midst of the horsepower war between the four manufactures, the S8 Plus is Audi’s “Big Stick”. Horsepower is up 85 (!!!) to 605 and 0-60 crumbles in 3.3 seconds. Insanity? Well, better not look at the sticker price on these fully loaded missiles from Ingolstadt, then…
Sometimes it’s not what a car is that I find interesting, but where. From Porsche 924s that appear at random second-hand dealers in the ‘hood to a S-Class Mercedes-Benz trade in at a Nissan dealer, a fish out of water always is worth a head scratching double take. Finding a 2001 Audi S8 for sale isn’t a hugely unusual event, though their numbers are beginning to thin. That it would be selected in a rare color also isn’t massively abnormal, though today’s Melange Metallic example is a very infrequently seen color. On top of the color is the very low mileage, as few of the S8s you’ll come across today have much less than 100,000 miles on them – never mind only half that amount, as this one does. But to see this mint condition oddity residing in a sea of Ford F150s at a dealer named “Truck and Van Country” is…well, strange. This dealer has ONE foreign car in its inventory, and that one foreign car is the best condition Audi S8 I’ve seen in a long time: