By Wayne Gorrett, Reviews Editor
The Q8 is a luxurious yet sporty flagship for Audi’s expansive and talented range of SUVs and it delivers expressive styling and an ultra-modern interior, not dissimilar to that deployed in the A8 executive saloon and the A7 fastback.
Designed to be a sportier accompaniment to the company’s other large SUV, the seven-seat Q7, the five-seat Q8 has a much more aggressive look. Both cars ride on the same ‘MLBevo’ platform and also share the same engines and majority of mechanicals.
Is the Q8 a worthy addition to Audi’s premium SUV line-up? Soon after the balloons of new year’s eve had deflated, I spent a week with the Dragon Orange land yacht (KL18 DHM) and scribbled a few notes…
While the all-new Q8 sits at the top of Audi’s SUV range in terms of flag-waving prestige, it is in fact a little smaller than the Q7 on which it’s based.
Considering that the differences between the two are mostly cosmetic, it's quite impressive just how different the boxier Q7 and coupé-like Q8 appear. The first visual of the Q8 you’ll likely notice is the much wider and lower interpretation of the brand's signature 'single frame' grille, with big air intakes beneath and aggressively slim LED headlights.
The sides of the Q8 are also distinctive and have been treated to the same sporty design cues as other coupés in the Audi range, with distinct wheel arch flares that draw influence from the Audi Quattro sports car that established so brutally the brand's four-wheel-drive credentials in rallying.
Other touches around the exterior are equally alluring such as the narrow A- and B-pillars that improve visibility and, along with the frameless windows (yet further homage to the famous Quattro of the ‘80s). There's a bold roof spoiler, too, as well as full-width rear lights like those of the range-topping Audi A8. S line cars (as tested) feature 21-inch wheels that do an admirable job of filling the Q8's huge wheel arches.
The interior borrows heavily from the design of Audi’s super-luxury A8 saloon. The new dashboard wears a combination of smooth, sharp looking piano black plastics and brushed metals and feels thoroughly modern.
The aesthetic centres around a new and sharp-looking MMI Touch dual-screen infotainment system, again found elsewhere in the upper reaches of Audi’s trim range. A main 10.1-inch display sits within the wide dashboard, with a secondary 8.6-inch screen right above the centre console for functions like the radio and climate control. There are no manual buttons or knobs for the more intuitive functions. Now, a moment while I position my soapbox…
I have, on many occasions, written that removing intuitive and tactile controls from the dashboard in favour of visually clutter-free touch-screens isn’t necessarily a good thing, as they are fiddly and frankly dangerous to use on the move – not to mention the irritating array of greasy fingerprints that constantly need to be wiped away – in a Jon Richardson OCD kind of way, you understand.
The 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ digital dials are standard fit, too, and are as simple to use and configure as always. It remains the clearest digital instrument setup currently available on the market.
As for interior practicality, passenger space doesn’t really take too much of a knock compared to the squared-off Q7. There’s plenty of room up front for driver and passenger and even rear occupants aren’t penalised too much by the sloping rear end.
However, cargo space is reduced to 605 litres with all seats in place compared with the Q7’s 770 litres, and there is no third row like you’ll find in the Q7. Overall cargo space with rear seats flat is also compromised at 1,755 litres, compared to the Q7’s 1,955 litres and there is a slightly awkward tall lip to access the boot.
Trim grades and equipment
Available in base S Line and top-end Vorsprung trim grades, the Audi Q8 comes with an indulgent selection of standard equipment no matter which variant you go for. Indeed, all models benefit from air-suspension, cruise control, a virtual cockpit with MMI Navigation Plus, leather-clad furniture and trim, HD Matrix LED headlights and mild-hybrid technology which helps reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Upgrade to Vorsprung trim, however, and the toy box deepens to include goodies such as a head-up display, automatic parking, adaptive cruise control and a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system plus a host of additional driver assistance systems all included in the price.
Engine and transmission
At the moment, just the one power plant is offered – and it’s a goodie – a 286hp / 600Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel unit (dubbed the 50 TDI) which is standard with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox and Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system.
A smaller 231hp (45 TDI) diesel and a 3.0-litre (55 TFSI) petrol engine are expected to become available soon.
The Q8’s generous torque ensures strong, muscular performance from low revs that keeps life easy. Apply a more meaningful degree of pressure on the accelerator pedal results in rocket-like acceleration. All that torque helps in the towing department, too.
However, it’s the Q8’s gearbox that hampers how responsive the car feels. Demand a sudden burst of acceleration say, when pulling out of a junction, and the gearbox takes a second or so to figure out what it wants to do, and then another second or so to actually do it.
The combined delay results in an alarming feeling of not a lot happening while it inches gently forward into traffic, followed by an enormous burst of white-knuckle thrust as you stare terrified at the traffic bearing down on you from both directions. That most unwelcome characteristic alone prevented an overall award of a full five stars.
Otherwise, the gearbox slips through changes with the kind of smoothness you would expect from a luxury car. Aiding fuel consumption is a mild hybrid system that uses a 48-volt battery in the rear of the vehicle. When the Q8 is coasting at speeds between 34 and 99mph, it enables the combustion engine to shut off for periods of up to 40 seconds while the battery powers the on-board systems. The engine then restarts seamlessly once you press the accelerator.
Ride and handling
Thanks to transferable technologies that exist throughout the VW Group, the all-new Audi Q8 enjoys structural similarities with the extraordinary Lamborghini Urus. However, that’s about where other similarities end as the Q8 offers little of the Italian SUV’s lust for attacking corners.
Still, that’s not what the Q8 is about. Understandably, the Audi is a far more accomplished, effortless cruiser than its restless Italian cousin and urban and intercity prowess is of more importance to most Q8 customers than cornering composure.
Probably one of the Q8’s most appreciated attributes is its quietness and overall cabin refinement at speed. There's barely a murmur of wind noise thanks to 'acoustic' glazing as the (diesel, don’t forget) engine hums effortlessly away in the background.
It is clear that the Q8 is a sportier variant of the Q7 and shares an ability to cover major distances with ease and, thanks to standard-fit air suspension deals with all but the worst road surfaces. The fact that it does so while displaying noticeably more agility than the Q7 in the corners is an impressive feat.
However, those keen to experience the car’s V6 power through a series of B-road twisties will be left wanting as the Q8's dynamic limitations become instantly evident by a steering set-up that provides little tactile feel or physical feedback from the oversized rubber below. But, running out of grip will be most unlikely thanks to the remarkable quattro all-wheel drive system.
The Q8’s adaptive air suspension can adjust the vehicle’s ride height by up to 90mm using the drive select function. Placing the vehicle in its lowest setting reduces body roll and gives the Q8 a sportier feel, while switching it to the highest allows greater off-road capability.
Like many cars of this type, the Q8 is unlikely to venture any further off-road than a gravelly track or green lane. Nevertheless, the car comes with hill-descent control which automatically maintains the vehicle’s speed up to 18mph on descents greater than 6%. To be sure that, for the majority of drivers, the Q8 will have more than enough off-road ability, should the need or desire arise.
Offered either as an option or as standard on the Q8 is a selection of 39 hi-tech driver assist systems. There’s Audi’s Pre-Sense with autonomous emergency braking, to the front camera enabling traffic sign recognition, the Q8’s electronic wizardry is designed to provide a safer, more relaxing all-round drive for its occupants.
The Q8 has yet to be safety / crash tested by Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme). However, if the Q8 matches the Q7's performance – as we expect it should, considering the technical similarities – it'll earn the full five stars.
Undoubtedly my best week with any test car in quite some time, the Audi Q8 initially feels like a finely-sliced niche along with its more compact Q2 stablemate and BMW’s X2 and X6. But rest assured, it’s a very capable SUV and far more practical than its coupé-like appearance might initially suggest.
In terms of styling and sheer size, the new Audi may be a tad intimidating but you can deflect the entire aesthetic with a careful choice of exterior colour – like the striking ‘Dragon Orange’ of the test car, for instance!
The interior is a fantastic place to spend considerable amounts of time and the technology is executed in a way that makes you feel like this is definitely a class-leader in terms of electronic wizardry.
Would I get one? Sure…and a lot quicker than you can say Range Rover Sport.
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