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The Audi Q8 seems late to the big, coupe SUV party. BMW has been selling its swoopy-roofed 4×4, the X6, for ten years and Mercedes-Benz has been touting around the GLE Coupe for a couple of years, too. Even Lamborghini, hardly a company known for SUVs, has beaten Audi to the festivities with its Lamborghini Urus.
However, if the long wait is what has created the Q8’s totally natural and effortless driving characteristics and impressive levels of refinement, then it was worth it. So, you aren’t going to find colossal levels of steering feel, an infinitely adjustable balance or deep levels of interaction within the Audi Q8, but then you wouldn’t really expect to.
Instead, the Audi Q8 feels like a well-developed, cohesive and dependable car. The balance between comfort and control is well judged, performance is ample, the cabin is a wonderful place to spend time and the technology enhances the experience rather than distracts you from driving. The only contentious aspects of the Q8 are its more exuberant styling and whether there’s any real advantage to its size and bulk over an A6 Avant.
In pictures and in isolation, the Q8 looks quite wild. Its concept car-like proportions, its massive grille with its chunky frame and its sleek low roof, thanks to its frameless doors, give it huge impact when you first catch sight of it. However, once out on the road, it isn’t quite as distinctive and it blends in with the surrounding cars almost instantly. Now, depending on what sort of person you are, that could be a good or a bad thing.
The Vorsprung’s big, 22-inch wheels really suit the Q8’s proportions and help it look more like the concept from last year that hinted at the final Q8. It also helps that the Audi Sport wheels, with their deep centres and delicate, trident-shaped spokes, are an appealing design.
The Q8’s party trick is its lights. The columns of LEDs that make up its rear lights and front DLRs animate, creating patterns at all four corners of the car every time you lock and unlock it. It’s totally pointless, but there’s no doubt it adds a sense of occasion whenever you approach the Q8.
Although it’s far from a necessity for the Q8 to be fast, it’s a welcome treat to find that Audi’s new SUV is far from slow. From behind the steering wheel it’s more sprightly than you’d expect from a diesel 4×4, especially one that weighs 2145kg, and that’s reflected in its 0-100kmph time of 6.3sec. The Q8’s top speed is not electronically limited to 249kmph as it doesn’t quite reach that threshold, topping out at 244kmph.
The Q8’s 3-litre V6 puts out 282bhp over a very diesel-like 3500 to 4000rpm rev range. The benefit to being an oil burner is the vast amount of torque it produces; from 2250 to 3250rpm it makes 599Nm.
The Audi Q8’s 3-litre V6 turbo diesel engine is supplemented by a 48-volt belt-driven small electric motor mounted on the front of the engine. Its main use is to aid the diesel engine under load to reduce turbo lag, but it also acts as a starter motor to smooth out the car’s start/stop function and adds charge to the 48V sub-system’s lithium-ion battery.
When it comes to actually reducing lag, though, it’s not entirely successful. Press the throttle below 2500rpm and there is a significant pause before the car responds and eventually surges forward. It isn’t any worse than you would reasonably expect from a diesel SUV, but the promise of less lag from the mild hybrid system and that the Q8’s engine is very responsive above 3000rpm, and the delay you get at low rpm is rather disappointing. As is the 5000rpm red line that the engine won’t rev to; instead the gearbox changes up automatically, whether you’re in manual mode or not, at 4900rpm.
These are the only criticisms of the Q8’s drivetrain, though; its performance is more than adequate, it’s very smooth and refined, its eight-speed automatic gearbox makes almost seamless shifts, the quattro system distributes torque to all four wheels without any fuss, and if you get a hint of noise from the engine it’s actually rather pleasant – not the rattly diesel sound you might have anticipated.
Let’s get it out of the way first: the Q8 is not a thrilling driver’s car, it will not get the adrenalin rushing, you will not be in the slightest bit tempted to explore its limits of grip and you won’t want to tear down a country road. It is not a performance car, it is not an evo car. However, the driving experience is not completely devoid of satisfaction; there is something fulfilling about just how natural the Q8 feels, how easy it is to adapt to and how relaxing it is to pilot.
Initially, however, the steering seems too light. When guiding such a vast car – the Q8 is 96mm wider than a Mercedes-Benz S-class and 16mm longer than a Land Rover Discovery – you often want the steering weight to be meaty and to reflect the car’s mass. Instead the Q8 requires city car levels of effort to turn the wheel and, what’s more, the Vorsprung with a rear-wheel-steer system is hyper alert to your inputs around most corners. But without resorting to the different driver modes, where you can increase the steering weight, you become accustomed to the light steering, how easy it is to operate and how responsive it is, very quickly.
The rest of the car requires very little familiarisation, it’s all so instinctive. There’s none of the side-to-side wobble that’s so common on cars with air suspension and the chassis keeps the body under control so, despite its large dimensions, it’s easy to place the Q8 accurately. There’s never any need to worry about grip, either, in true Audi quattro fashion.
Such tight control and limited body roll hasn’t had a detrimental effect on the car’s comfort. The Q8 rides in a very luxurious manner with the suspension smoothing out many of the road’s imperfections, the stiff shell resisting any annoying quivers or shakes, and the soft seats cosseting you from anything the chassis can’t deal with alone.
The 21-inch wheels on the Vorsprung Edition also make very little difference to the way the car rides. Unlike the SQ7 Vorsprung, where the 21-inch wheels make it very harsh, the Q8 has taller sidewalls and the only noticeable change over the S-line car is at higher speeds on rough roads where it starts to get a little more bouncy.
There’s no doubt about it, the Q8 has many physical attributes that mark it out as a luxury car – plush leather seats, a cavalcade of technology, shiny interior materials – but in reality none of those things are what make it feel luxurious. Even the comfortable and refined way in which it rides is only partly what makes it feel so premium, because, in reality, the ease at which you can navigate any sort of road with absolute confidence and minimal fuss is what makes this car so relaxing to drive. That’s true luxury.
We’re often quite enamoured with modern Audi interiors thanks to their clean design, quality materials and usable, well-integrated technology like the Virtual Cockpit. However, compared to its other SUVs – the Q7 and Q5 – the Q8 is another leap forward in design and technology. The main change is the addition of another touchscreen that sits ahead of the gear selector and reduces the need for a lot of physical buttons.
Two touchscreens could add an unwelcome level of complexity and frustration, while the reduction in easy-to-identify-and-press buttons could add dangerous levels of distraction. However, the lower screen is customisable so you can add shortcuts to all the functions you use most frequently, making basic functions incredibly easy. There’s also an audible and haptic signal every time you select something on either screen, and although not a replacement for a real button, the feedback really does mean you can spend less time focussing on the screens.
As well as the greater amount of tech, software and screens, the interior still looks as clean, fuss-free, modern and appealing as other Audi models, while the materials and finish are just as high-quality as ever.
Rather than starting with SE or Sport trim levels, like most of the Audi range, the Q8 comes straight in in S-line, usually a top spec trim. The S-line cars start at GBP 65,040 and come with 21-inch wheels, adaptive dampers and air suspension, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, a mild hybrid system and, as you’d expect, four-wheel drive.
There is a higher-specification Q8, called the Vorsprung – this new trim line, that debuted on the SQ7 in the UK, will be Audi’s top-level trim on its premium models. As standard, the Q8 Vorsprung comes with even bigger wheels than the S-line (22-inch in diameter), heated rear seats, all-wheel steering, a panoramic sunroof, Alcantara head lining and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. However, the Vorsprung is significantly more expensive as it starts at GBP 83,040. Currently, there is only one engine available in the Q8, no matter what trim you select: a 3-litre turbocharged diesel V6 with 282bhp. That, somehow, means it’s called a 50 TDI in Audi’s new, baffling naming convention.
The bastion of the SUV coupe segment, the BMW X6, in xDrive30d specification, takes the fight to the new Q8. At GBP 63,825 the BMW is slightly cheaper than the Audi, and with the help of 309bhp from its 3-litre in-line six it’s faster to 100kmph, too. The BMW hits the target speed in 5.8sec compared to the Audi’s 6.3sec.
The only diesel version of the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, the 350d in Night Edition Trim, is comparable on price with the Audi and the BMW at GBP 63,860, and it too has a turbocharged six-cylinder. But with 254bhp and a 0-100kmph time of 7.0sec, it’s the slowest of the three.
Away from the three main premium German manufacturers, there aren’t such obvious rivals. The Range Rover Sport doesn’t have the same pumped-up coupe-looks as the Q8, it’s more of a conventional SUV, but at GBP 67,500 and with 302bhp from its 3-litre diesel V6 it’s comparable on paper.