First drive review
First drive reviewAudi Q8

Audi Q8 First drive review

E-tron, new A8, new Q3, new A7, plenty of RS cars, an all-petrol line-up — 2020 will be an action-packed year for Audi India and it kicks off with the Q8

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about Audi in recent months, it’s because there has been nothing to talk about — no new cars, no new SUVs, no new plans, nothing of note really. That’s set to change. “We want to get back into the consideration set,” says Balbir Singh Dhillon, the new head of Audi India before adding, “there’s no way to go but up”. And it all starts with this, the Q8 that will launch in India on January 15 of the new year.

Audi India’s Q8 Game planActually it has already started, Balbir reminds me, with the new A6. And he dispossessed me of the notion that it stands zero chance against the long-wheelbase E-Class, pointing out that the A6 is already growing volumes for the brand. He is riding shotgun with me in the Q8 on our first drive in Dubai, though the pictures are through a desert in another part of the world — somebody forgot to tell the multiple photographers spilling out of their multiple Q7s that Indian magazines require dynamic images! Anyway, the hundred static images of the Q8 with camels in the desert does remind me of the Q7 — we first sampled it in Dubai in 2006, and that was the beginning of Audi’s assault on India that, in short order, would take them to the top of the charts. Bollywood, cricketers, influencers in the days before Instagram, all drove Audis and all rocked up at Audi parties. It was the cool, young, hip brand to hang with. That’s the vibe Audi India needs, what the Q8 is tasked with bringing back. And though the Q8 will never do Q7 kind of volumes, it will be Audi India’s brand shaper in the days to come.

Volumes are an important thing to talk about. The Q8 will be nearly double the price of the Q7 at around `1.5 crore. It will be brought in limited numbers so that Audi India and their dealers can begin transitioning away from discounting and pushing volumes to pulling in customers. Audi India is going to encourage personalisation — colours, interior trim, wheel sizes, better sound setups, Matrix LED lighting, the works. Dealers will, of course, have stock cars that you can drive out immediately but Balbir wants to, as far as possible, ensure that no two (or realistically, three) Q8s look the same. You will have to be patient though, for 4-5 months for your personalised Q8 to arrive from Germany — there are no plans to assemble it in India, hence that sticker price.

What you don’t have an option on is the powertrain. No diesels! In fact, come April 2020 Audi India will not have a single diesel engine in their entire line-up. What you get with the Q8 is the 3-litre turbo-V6 petrol with a 48V mild-hybrid system that is badged 55 TFSI in Audi’s bizarrely complicated engine nomenclature. It puts out 335bhp and that’s good for a 0-100kmph time of 5.9 seconds. Which brings me to the question you’re probably asking— where does the Q8 slot in alongside the Q7, Urus and Cayenne, all four based on the VW Group MLB-Evo platform? Actually the Bentley Bentayga is on the same underpinnings but let’s not go there.

Audi Tech ExplainedThe Q8 isn’t the Urus killer, not for now at least. It does remind me a lot of the Urus, especially the side profile, frameless doors and interior architecture — and you could even call it the more affordable Urus — but the task of properly taking on the Urus will be assigned to the Q8 RS that will come later in 2020. As for the Cayenne, it sits on the shorter wheelbase MLB-Evo and, being a Porsche, is more athletic and driver-oriented. The Q8 defaults to a more relaxed and effortless driving experience as I discover on the UAE’s smooth highways heading to the, erm, Love Lake. 335bhp doesn’t deliver the absurdly hard acceleration in the manner of a Cayenne Turbo but in all honesty you never really ask for, nor require, more. It stays ahead of all the V8 Patrols and Land Cruisers and sounds adequately growly while keeping in step with the G 63 AMGs that is to the Emirates what Maruti is to India. The 48-volt system drives a small electric motor at the front of the engine and its main purpose is to torque-fill, add more bottom- end grunt and quicken the response while chasing Bentleys and Lamborghinis. The electric motor also acts as the starter, smoothening out the start/stop and also shutting down the engine while coasting between 60 and 160kmph. And of course the brakes regenerate to charge the lithium-ion battery.

Q8 Drive and HandlingSwap LHD for RHD and the Q8 I’m driving in Dubai is what will come to India, except for maybe the 22- inch wheels on the Vorsprung-spec which, in normal course, I’d strongly suggest you stay away from. Except, on the dirt tracks around the Love Lake the Q8 still rides well and doesn’t feel uncomfortably firm. 40-profile is a relatively tall sidewall for the 22-inch tyres and they soak in the ruts and ripples surprisingly well, so much so that I’d remind you to opt for the tyre insurance and splurge on the Audi Sport wheels with their deep centres and delicate, trident-shaped spokes. It says a lot of the dynamic character of the Q8 that you just jump in and drive it very fast — you do not have to learn the car; it’s all very natural. The stiff chassis delivers very good body control and the Vorsprung-spec has rear-wheel steering that delivers even more heightened agility. The steering is light and, as expected, devoid of much feel but the weighting is actually well judged making it very easy to drive the Q8. And of course with quattro there’s always enough grip in reserve, even when there’s sand billowing across the road.What the air suspension doesn’t soak up the seats do. These aren’t sports car-aping hard shells — they’re big, supportive and cushy and seven hours later I stepped out of the Q8 feeling fresher than one who had just two hours of sleep on the flight into Dubai has any right to be.

Sirish Chandran (@SirishChandran)Also check out the Thrill of Driving Podcast

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