Audi Q8: Lord of the Four-Ring fellowship
Soon after the New Year’s Eve balloons had deflated and the crates of celebratory empties were dispatched safely to the bottle-bank, I spent a week with Audi’s new Q8 SUV, and made a few, rather favourable notes…
By Wayne Gorrett
With new models arriving seemingly on a weekly basis, today’s SUV buyers are confronted with a sea of clone-like mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong…I like a good, solid SUV as much as anyone else, but when they come along as good as Audi’s latest Q8 flagship, they tend to have me at ‘hello’.
The new Q8 wears bullish, low-slung styling and offers a very plush interior of a standard not too far removed from that in the A8 executive saloon.
The spacious five-seat Q8 shares Audi’s MLB Evo platform with the slightly larger seven-seat Q7, and both share the same engines and most of their under-skin mechanicals.
The Q8’s interior takes inspiration from Audi’s luxury A8 executive saloon. The new dashboard wears a combination of smooth, sharp looking piano black plastics and brushed metals and feels thoroughly modern.
One’s attention is immediately drawn to the new and sharp-looking ‘MMI Touch’ dual-screen infotainment system. A 10-inch display sits within the wide dashboard, with a secondary 8.6-inch touchscreen right above the centre console for audio and climate control adjustments. Unfortunately, there are no manual buttons or knobs for the more intuitive functions. I’m not a fan of touchscreens – mainly for reasons of safety, and don’t get me started on those fingerprints…
In front of the driver, the 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ digital dials are standard fit and are as simple to use and configure. For me, 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.
Bearing in mind there is no row three in the Q8, cargo space is 605 litres compared with Q7’s 770 litres. Overall luggage area with row two lowered 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.
Just the two trim grades are offered on the new Q8: S-Line and Vorsprung. However, as you might expect of its flagship SUV status, there is an indulgent selection of standard equipment and both 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.
Step up to Vorsprung trim, however, and the toy box includes 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.
At launch, just the one power plant is offered – a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel delivering a healthy 286hp and 600Nm. Dubbed the 50 TDI in Audi’s new but pointless labelling system, power-to-road transfer is by Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system, via an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox. A smaller 231hp (45 TDI) diesel and a 3.0-litre (55 TFSI) petrol engine are expected to become available soon.
The 50 TDI’s generous torque ensures strong, muscular performance from low revs that keeps life easy – particularly when towing a large family caravan or double horsebox. When applying a greater degree of pressure on the accelerator from say a T-junction, response results in urgent, rocket-like acceleration, which may catch out the unaware. That said, the quattro drive keeps the Q8 tidy and safe.
By and large, the gearbox slips through changes with the kind of smoothness expected from a luxury saloon, let alone a large SUV.
Aiding the Q8’s fuel consumption is a mild hybrid system that uses a 48-volt battery in the rear of the vehicle. When 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 alone powers all on-board systems. The engine then restarts seamlessly once you press the accelerator.
The all-new Audi Q8 enjoys structural similarities with the extraordinary Lamborghini Urus – but, that’s about where the similarities end as the Q8 offers little of the Italian SUV’s lust for attacking corners.
That’s not what the Q8 is about, though. Understandably, the Audi is a far more accomplished, effortless cruiser than its rather manic Italian cousin and urban and intercity prowess is of more importance to most Q8 customers than cornering composure.
One of the Q8’s most appreciated attributes is its quietness and overall cabin refinement at cruising speed. There's barely a murmur of wind noise thanks to 'acoustic' glazing as the diesel hums effortlessly away in the background.
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 are exposed by a steering set-up that provides little tactile feel or physical feedback from the oversized rubber below.
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 ilk, 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.
The Q8 has yet to be crash tested by the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP). 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.
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 Audi Q8 initially appears to be a finely-sliced niche along with its more compact Q2 stablemate, but rest assured, it’s a very capable SUV and far more practical than its coupé-like appearance might initially suggest. The drive is sublime and the plush interior is a luxurious place to spend considerable amounts of time. The raft of tech 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, quicker than you can say Ran…oops, no…better not.
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Test week stats:
* Miles driven: 472 mixed
* Ave speed: 33mph
* Ave mpg: 35.9
* Duration: 14:26hrs