2023 Audi Q8 e-tron first drive review
Quattro was born in rallying, we are reminded by Audi India’s head of product planning as he begins to enthusiastically dish out the updates on the facelifted e-tron – more range, more power, more lighting drama, tighter suspension, the new 2-D Audi logo and of course the new Q8 suffix. Rallying though sticks in my head, particularly since I go up to my room to find the Dakar RS Q e-tron scale model beside my pillow, and you won’t fault me for sniffing out some trails the next day to see if there’s any substance to the claim. The result is what you see on this page. Stick the Q8 e-tron into off-road mode, switch off ESP, carry a bit more speed than is prudent through a gravel corner, punch the throttle harder than is prudent, and the tail will step out needing some lovely opposite lock. In fact the instant torque makes it easier to liberate traction from the rear tyres, the instant torque demands quicker reactions, and you can get it to power oversteer more dramatically than, say, the regular ICE Q8. For a wee bit you can even pretend to be on the Dakar, until you and me both realise the inappropriateness of sliding a 2.6-tonne luxury electric SUV, and silently return to the road. Manifesting our inner Carlos Sainz will probably have to wait until we get the SQ8 e-tron with its tri-motor setup (two on the rear axle for more slidey-ness), but for now India gets the 50 and 55 e-trons in both SUV and Sportback body style.
What you see here is the 55 with the Sportback body style and the optional ‘black styling plus’ package. Everything that’s not in the body colour is dressed up in gloss black – grille, bumpers, side sills, window frames, roof rails, even the Audi logo on the boot – and the net effect, particularly in a bright shade, is damn sweet. The overall styling has been sharpened over the outgoing e-tron particularly around the nose with a sportier bumper, blanked out grille with movable elements that open when the electric components need cooling, new (and flat) 2-D Audi logo that’s framed by a light bar, digital matrix LEDs with more detailing and lighting patterns, an air curtain under those headlamps, and cooler-looking 21-inch wheels. On the inside, not much has changed and it’s a familiarly high-quality Audi environment with the three digital screens setup and, surprisingly, no wireless CarPlay. But you can now option front seat massagers.
More to the point, especially for an electric car, is that there is now a larger battery pack. Advances in cell chemistry and technology means Audi can now squeeze in 20 per cent more lithium-ion batteries into the same space and bumping up the 55’s battery pack to 114kW. The 50 gets the outgoing 55’s 95kWh battery pack and that bumps up range to 505km on the WLTP cycle. The 55 has 32 per cent more range at 600km for the more aerodynamic Sportback. With 400 volt tech the 114kWh battery pack juices up from 0 to 80 per cent in 31 minutes (28 minutes on the 50) and can ultra-rapid charge at speeds of up to 170kW (150kW on the 50). Boosting efficiency is the regenerative braking that can now cover more than 90 per cent of all deceleration requirements. The electric motors now use 14 instead of 12 coils which generates more torque when needed or lowers electrical consumption when cruising. The front motor even disengages while cruising to improve efficiency.
As for performance power has gone up to 402bhp on the 55 and along with 664Nm of torque 0-100kmph is expectedly brisk taking a tenth of a second less at 5.6 seconds. The power delivery is well judged and while there isn’t a neck-snapping, launch-control, take-off from start, the mid-range is wonderfully fat and sumptuous making rapid highway progress surprisingly effortless. Quick overtakes need barely a flex of the right foot, you don’t even have to mash the throttle all the way to the firewall, and the rate at which it builds – and even masks speeds – makes it amongst the fastest ways to cover highway miles. Making it even better on the highways is the tighter suspension that delivers a 10 per cent reduction in pitch and roll, which in turns results in better body control and less pitch and vertical movements. On undulating and wavy highways it makes the Q8 e-tron feel more stable and comfortable for occupants with less of the floating movement that creates that sense of uneasiness in the pit of your stomach. Comfort remains one of the most impressive aspects of the Q8 e-tron, delivering the best ride quality amongst any electric car this side of the i7. And you can raise the suspension by 50mm over the standard 176mm ground clearance to traverse nasty terrain making this the only EV that will follow an equivalent ICE even when the road turns to no road. Sharp ruts though can catch out the air suspension, otherwise the comfort and the sense of isolation delivers a properly expensive luxury car feel.
Handling is aided by tweaks to the entire suite of chassis control systems — ESC, electronic chassis platform, adaptive air suspension, and steering. The steering ratio is more direct with 10 per cent faster steering input and 10 per cent reduction in steering angle. Steering weight has been increased by 20 per cent to improve steering feel and there’s a 10 per cent increase in responsiveness that improves steering precision. Audi claims there’s no second guessing your steering input, and on the road you notice far fewer steering corrections – this is something that makes it even better for passengers as the driver won’t fidget with the steering.
Take the wheel yourself, gun it through a series of corners and you notice an abundance of grip. Exiting corners, the traction is immense and of course the faster computing power of electric vehicles means you don’t ever feel any ESP intervention – all the intervention happens before the event and things feel noticeably smoother, less hectic and less on-the-limit edgy. With quattro and the sheer weight, all 2.5 tonnes of it, the SUV generates impressive grip even on wet roads but you also do feel the weight, especially when attacking undulating corners where it can run out of suspension travel.
Audi also claims the ESC intervention has been slackened so that, on the limit, the Q8 e-tron feels a little free and thus a bit more sporty. On tarmac you need to be flying through at rather serious speeds to notice any slip on the rear axle but, on the trail that we started this story, on you can abuse the freedom the revised ESC setup offers, exploit the tighter handling and steering, make the tail swing a bit, and send it like Sainz.