The Audi S8 and BMW 750i are two of Deutschland’s most formidable exponents of power, status and style. Equipped with every conceivable mod-con and brimming with opulence and refinement, they reside at the top tier of the automotive food chain. However, there’s more to each car than meets the eye. Go on, take a closer look. Yep, those performance-forged physiques are not merely impetuous nuances but rather structural allowances for the vast array of cutting-edge technologies that underpins each car’s faade. But how do you pick a winner in aristocratic company such as this? Well, that’s going to come down to what each limo offers in terms of luxury, dynamic acumen and performance, not forgetting the back seat experience and price.
Parked alongside each other it’s the Audi S8 that looks the most menacing as it projects the steroidal muscularity that epitomises Audi S cars. Painted in Phantom Black, it looks twice as big as the 750i and about ten times as hostile. It’s got massive 20-inch wheels wrapped in 275-section Pirelli rubber, flared arches, bold V8T branding on each front fender and twin double-barrel exhaust pipes there’s nothing understated about this machine. I found myself entranced by its five-metre-long slab-like proportions, circling it repeatedly and taking in every bit of its imperial presence. If it’s this exciting to look at I can only imagine what it’s like to drive.
Hmmm, the 750i looks innocuous by comparison doesn’t it? Save for the 750i badge on the boot there aren’t any real defining elements alluding to the driving experience: instead it follows a more understated Q-car approach. This one comes with Havanna metallic paint not the best shade for showing off its proportions but a regal tinge nonetheless. Other than the 12-spoke 20-inch wheels and the distinctive shoulder line that integrates with the tail-lamps, I’m afraid there’s nothing too alluring about the styling it looks like a regular 7 Series. The only area that shows some semblance of creativity is the rear end, which benefits from two chrome strips and twin exhaust pipes set within a valence.
Belly of the beast
Climb inside the 750i and it’s totally different machine to the one viewed in the parking lot. It’s clearly evident that it has been tailored for ferrying delegates around it’s a first-class ride bar none. There are loads of gadgets on offer too, such as the 10.25-inch instrument cluster that’s rendered entirely in digital. The cluster will change colour and function depending on which drive mode setting has been selected on the Driver Experience Control facility. The materials are lavish and used without remorse: a combination of stitched saddle-brown leather, smooth plastics and burled walnut veneers coat the facia and door panels, while the roof is clad in anthracite Alcantara. The back seat experience offers unparalleled exclusivity and comfort levels with generous head- and legroom. Rear occupants can also enjoy rear-seat entertainment with iDrive controls and personal, seat-mounted LCD screens with TV functionality.
The S8 shares its basic cabin architecture with the A8 upon which it’s based. This means it gets the same facia layout, fluorescent-like LED lighting strips on the ceiling, a centrally-mounted analogue clock and diamond-stitched leather seats. But it’s far racier than the standard car thanks to the generous dollops of veritable carbon fibre panelling, brushed aluminium strips and Alcantara. It all looks fantastic especially from the driver’s perspective, which resembles that of a fighter jet’s cockpit. You’re confronted by a thick-rimmed multi-function steering wheel, a thrust lever-like gear selector and a prominent instrument cluster set upon a LCD digital display. The only options fitted to the S8 are Night Vision, which improves visibility in darker lit areas, a 360-degree camera park assist system and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Hold on to your hats
White knuckles and the clatter of grinding teeth are constant harbingers of the concentration needed to pilot the Audi S8. Yep, it’s that fast. Its burly 4.0-litre V8 engine is breathed upon by two twin-scroll turbochargers helping pump out 382kW and 650Nm of torque strewn evenly across the rev range from 1770-5000rpm. This makes it the most powerful S8 ever made. What happens next is frightening¦Put your foot down, listen to the turbochargers wind up for a moment and prepare to be hit on the chest by a sledgehammer as that massive torque makes its way through the Quattro drivetrain onto all four wheels. The S8 surges forward like a tar-starved savage reeling-in the 100kph marker in just 4.25 seconds and 400m board in 12.23 seconds that’s not much slower than an R8 V10. The inertia-free immediacy to the in-gear shove coaxes your colon into a premature state of peristalsis as the S8 teleports itself from 60-100kph and 80-120kph in 2.05 and 2.73 seconds respectively. Surprisingly though, the S8 can be genial when given the chance. It benefits from cylinder deactivation that shuts the inlet and exhaust valves on cylinders 2, 3, 5 and 8 when the engine is under low load, helping foster better fuel economy we managed to return a read-out of 10.7/100km over our economy test route.
After driving the Audi the BMW feels almost docile. Make no mistake, it’s still properly quick it just isn’t able to evoke the same sense of sphincter-clenching acceleration as the M5 with which it shares its 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbocharged engine, let alone the Audi. However, bear in mind the 750i produces 52kW less than the S8 while the torque figure of 650Nm is equalled. Regardless of mode, the 750i lacks the immediacy and throttle response of the S8 and subsequently fails to match its acceleration figures. Put to the test, the 750i managed only a 5.2sec 0-100kph sprint and 13.36sec quarter-mile time but did put in a better showing in the tractability tests, covering 60-100kph in 2.5 seconds and 80-120kph in 2.91. It’s a light drinker, too, thanks to Eco Pro mode. Along with auto stop-start and brake energy regeneration technology, Eco Pro features a coasting function that decouples the engine from the transmission for more economical cruising between 50-160km/h. Over the same 80km test route the 750i managed to better the S8 with a 10.4/100km return.
Track and field
Let’s be honest here, neither of these two limos are natural track athletes, but don’t let their elongated proportions deceive you. The S8 is surprisingly balanced for a car of its size and weight. I repeatedly had to remind myself I was driving a five-metre-plus saloon such was the S8’s ability to mask its dimensions. The secret to the S8’s athleticism lies not only in the adeptness of its Quattro drivetrain and sports differential but also its adaptive air suspension that helps keep weight transfer to a minimum in cornering situations. Grip is in abundance, which instils the driver with the confidence to get onto the throttle earlier and use the massive reserves of torque to pull it out of the corner. But it’s not all point and squirt the S8 struggles through tighter and narrower transitions and doesn’t feel as compliant as the BMW over abrasive road surfaces.
From the moment you pitch the 750i through a corner it feels cumbersome and more so under heavy braking. It neither corners nor changes direction as naturally as the S8, which is surprising considering our test unit came fitted with the optional Dynamic Drive (body roll stabilisation) and Integral Active Steering (IAS). That said, it is easier to manoeuvre around town and in tighter confines than the Audi due to its shorter length and the rear-steer functionality of the IAS. The 750i trumps the S8 for ride comfort with standard self-levelling air suspension that smoothes out every little niggle, bump and imperfection, even in its sportiest setting.
It wasn’t easy picking a winner here because, although chief rivals, both cars offer vastly different driving experiences. But it’s ultimately going to come down to personal choice, specific customer requirements and pricing. If incognito motoring is what you’re after look no further than the BMW 750i as it offers a lavish limo experience that caters directly for rear passengers with the driver role playing second fiddle. Yes, you can argue that the 7 Series range lacks a performance variant but that’s just a matter of cranking up the total output of the 4.4-litre V8¦ I mean, if the M5 makes 412kW and 680Nm with the same engine configuration, it can’t be that difficult can it? The 750i is ultimately let down by its pricing. This particular vehicle will set you back R1557004 (R300000 of which comes from optional extras). For that kind of money you would expect a chauffeur to come standard! Even the base price of R1248000 is pricier than the Audi S8, which costs R1219500.
The S8 is a driver’s car through and through. Not only can it transport a brace of VIPs with consummate ease, it can also hold its own against the current crop of supercars. The S8 wasn’t designed exclusively for passengers: oh no, it was also designed with drivers in mind. That said, the Audi S8 wins as in this company it’s the ultimate driver’s limo.