Travelogue: 2013 Audi S8
The Audi S8, 2013 edition, moved around the track smoothly and efficiently, like a knife cutting into an oozing wedge of farm-fresh cheese. It steered without hitch, taking the turns with flawless deliberation. Inside the luxurious leather-stitched cabin, Audi’s unique sonic-reduction technology masked the skidding tires until they were nothing more than the delightful squealing of a litter of acorn-fed piglets. Outside, the Spanish sky was stark and cloudy, the hills around the track wheat-yellow. The car braked quickly and parked on a diagonal dime, with maximum grace.
I sat in a Munich hotel room wearing only my boxer briefs, watching the car do all this on a YouTube promotional video. In fewer than 24 hours, I was supposed to get into a similar Audi S8 in Spain for a “first drive” around the Circuito de Navarre, a Formula One racetrack that opened in 2010. I felt very nervous; I didn’t know how to drive on a racetrack. An Indy driver had just died in a fiery and horrific crash. Didn’t the Audi people see that footage? Shouldn’t caution rule the day? But maybe they hadn’t. Just look at their S8 on YouTube, going so fast and taking those turns so close, skidding to a stop like it’s finishing a victory lap. The car has 520 horsepower. No one uses that much horsepower, except for movie spies.
The newest version of the S8, which will likely cost around $115,000 when it appears in the U.S. in the summer of 2012, has an all-new twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. With a stiffer suspension than the A8, it’s extremely high performance, a real “driver’s car.” But it isn’t technically a racing vehicle. It’s an executive-class sedan designed for commuting and weekend drives. Audi decided to deploy it on a track, a company PR guy told me, “to show what it can do.”
German car executives often pick Spain for testing because there are open roads and a long sport-driving season. Spain brings to mind warmth and leisure and hot-shot driving. But the thought of Spain, which I’d always wanted to visit, suddenly filled me with terror.
That morning, I’d arrived in Munich and had immediately gone to a co-ed public bathhouse, on purpose and by design. I’d walked more than three miles to get there because I didn’t want to spend money on a cab. Then I’d gone to a public market and eaten