► Facelifted Audi Q8 driven
► Choice of V6 petrol and diesel
► Very modest set of updates
Audi describes the Q8 as the pinnacle of its SUV range. But if that were really the case – and the firm was not, perhaps, preoccupied with dragging its electric vehicles into some kind of state of relevance – you’d expect a little more effort to be put into this midlife facelift. Especially if it has any ambitions at all of troubling those endless best SUV lists.
For when one of the first slides of the press conference presentation is about the availability of three new colours and the next one covers the five new alloy wheel designs, well, there’s a definite sense that finding anything to talk about was a problem.
This isn’t quite all there is to the updated version of what is essentially a more expensive, five-seater Audi Q7 with a swept-back roofline. But it’s alarmingly close. Keep reading to find out why you should buy a Porsche Cayenne Coupe instead.
Pros: Lots of legroom in the back, big boot, funky daytime running light shenanigans
Cons: Poor ride, loose body control, funky lights offer limited customisation
We’ve covered the paint (Sakhir Gold, Chili Red and Ascari Blue are the new options) and mentioned the wheels (up to an outrageous 23 inches in diameter), so we should probably also mention the three new interior inlays, and that contrasting stitching is now a standard feature.
If this hasn’t got you palpitating, don’t worry – there’s also a new set of front and rear bumpers, and a revised single-frame grille that houses the new ‘2D’ Audi logo.
Either side of that you’ll find a set of narrowed headlights. These are intended to make the car look wider, helped by shifting the daytime running lights up to the leading edge of the bonnet. If you’re thinking width hardly seemed like something the Q8 was lacking, you’re not the only one.
Go for the top-whack Vorsprung spec and you get the new HD matrix LED headlights. Which means, in addition to ultra-adaptive illumination, a laser module for extended high-beam and the ability to pick between four DRL patterns. Which sounds quite interesting until you realise Audi varies this by simply switching quite sizable elements on and off.
New ‘digital OLED’ rear lamps accompany those fancy-ish fronts, and also offer four daytime running patterns. But you can’t even mix and match between fore and aft; Audi has decided which matches which for you.
This is all a far cry from the sort of totally customisable nonsense Chinese brands such as HiPhi are up to, and feels a bit like Audi has already lost a game it probably shouldn’t even be playing. Still, a proximity sensor that makes the rear lamps brighter when a vehicle closes within two metres while you’re stationary might at least prevent you getting rear-ended.
What are the specs?
If you’ve got to the end of the above and were wondering why we haven’t mentioned any engineering changes the answer is easy: there aren’t any.
So, as before, the standard Audi Q8 comes with a choice of 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol 55 TFSI or 282bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel 50 TDI, both equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s also an SQ8 with a V8, but we’ve covered that in a separate Audi SQ8 review. A facelifted RS Q8 arrives in 2024.
Despite the times, UK buyers historically agree that the TDI is the one to buy – pre-facelift at least, this was the most popular model. With a socking 442lb ft it substantially outmuscles the 369lb ft petrol, and gels much more successfully with the automatic gearbox.
So although the TFSI is quicker on paper – 0-62mph in 5.6sec rather than 6.1 – the TDI feels far more resolved in the real world. It also offers an at least vaguely palatable 34.9mpg and 213g/km CO2 in its most parsimonious spec, compared with the 27.2mpg and 235g/km best of the petrol.
There are updated plug-in hybrid versions of the Q8 on the way, but we have a creeping suspicion that’s going to prove too little, too late.
How does it drive?
The petrol we tried suffered with a lazy gearbox and felt overwhelmed by the Q8’s dimensions and 2.1-tonne mass. Sure, if you plant your foot and are prepared to wait a moment it will provide a pretty solid amount of forward thrust, but eventually you are also going to have to deal with a corner.
At which point, no matter what setting you’ve applied to the standard-fit air suspension, the Q8 starts to feel like it’s going to trip over itself. There’s just too much body movement without the active anti-roll system available on the SQ8 and, even with the commendably subtle rear-wheel steering, only a limited sense of agility.
You might be inclined to forgive this if the ride was any good and Audi had consciously decided to make the standard Q8 into some kind of continent-conquering GT. But it’s instead a rather depressing blend of lolloping and brittle, sending jolts through the cabin where bumps are encountered while taking too long to bring the resulting ripples under control.
The 22-inch alloys of the test cars can’t have helped, and it has to be said Audi bravely provided us with some very challenging surfaces; it might actually be better in the UK. Yet the SQ8 on 23s felt more comfortable, thanks to its firmer suspension’s tighter responses.
You could argue for leeway given the Q8’s size and weight, but this is more of a symptom than an excuse. And besides, the latest Cayenne E-Hybrids are heavier still but offer a more comfortable ride and a far, far better driving experience – a way more extensive midlife refresh of that inhouse rival including new two-chamber air suspension has only extended Porsche’s lead in this area.
What about the interior?
Aside from the new inlays and contrast stitching there are no other interior updates to report. Which means that you do get plenty of room inside – rear legroom is especially impressive – and some fundamentally impeccable build quality. That said, it is mildly hysterical that the paddleshifters on the back of the steering wheel are the same, cheap-feeling plastic items you get on a basic A3.
Worse, it also still features a dual-screen-based infotainment and climate control system that requires a substantial prod to operate instead of the gentle touch almost every other rival employs. This is distracting and difficult to deal with on the move, compounding the way the lack of physical buttons prevents you from creating any muscle memory.
You’ll have to really like the rest of the package to put up with this. We hesitate to mention that pesky Cayenne again, but the interior update of that is much more extensive.
Before you buy (trims and rivals)
These standard Q8 models come in a choice of S line, Black Edition and Vorsprung variants. Black Edition is historically the most popular in the UK; S line is already generously equipped, but we can understand the appeal of the blacked-out exterior trimmings, and the jump in cost to Vorsprung is nearly 20 grand.
You do get a hell of a lot more kit for that – including the HD matrix headlights, panoramic roof, head-up display, Bang and Olufsen hifi, all-wheel steering, and a stack of extra safety equipment – but you’ll also have to put up with the 22s. So we’d suggest any budget over Black Edition is spent on choice options instead; Audi bundles some attractive goodies into Packs, but you may want to be more discerning than that.
While the Cayenne Coupe isn’t as roomy in the back, it’s in an entirely different league when it comes to comfort and dynamics. And if you can put aside the need for a swooping roofline, the regular Cayenne SUV drives just as well as the Coupe and is significantly cheaper than the Q8, too.
Prefer something outside of the Volkswagen Group? Then there’s always the Range Rover Sport – or the Range Rover Velar if you’re doubling-down on sleek – while BMW will accommodate you with a choice of models ranging from the X5 through to the X7 via the obvious X6, though in this case we’d seriously consider the iX EV.
It’s as if the Audi Q8 isn’t quite in touch with reality. If it were a big, comfy cruiser it might make a little more sense, lending some additional appeal to the spacious interior and dashing visual signature.
But instead of refining the driving experience as a challenge or an alternative to some increasingly tough opposition, Audi has instead delivered a gimmicky lighting upgrade and revised colour palette. Surely not even the existing customers will think this is enough.
Specs below are for the Audi Q8 50 TDI