► Audi’s Q8 SUV flagship driven
► Shorter, wider and lower than the Q7
► Is this the ultimate coupe-SUV cross?
The Audi Q8 is – the German brand points out – the crown jewel of its vast and talented range of SUVs. An Audi A8 off-roader, if you will.
And yet, the actual design concept of the Q8 – a big, premium SUV combined with coupe lines – is anything but new, having been applied to rivals such as the BMW X6 over a decade ago.
Since then, Mercedes-Benz has added the GLE Coupe to its range, meaning all three of the usual suspects now have a horse to back in this niche sector of the market. Oh, and let’s not forget the Range Rover Sport.
Is Audi’s self-proclaimed flagship SUV worthy of its title? Read on to find out.
Be honest, how different is it to a Q7?
It’s only going to be a matter of time before someone asks that question – and with good reason. Both cars sit on the same MLBevo platform and also share the same engines and majority of mechanicals.
Yet to look at, the differences in styling are profound. Lower and wider than the Q7, it’s vastly shorter front overhang and chamfered-off rear roofline give the Q8 a more squat, lithe appearance that does away with the slightly frumpy lines of its sister car.
There’s plenty of detail too, with the frameless doors, horizontal rear light strip and (in what is either a stroke of design genius or tasteless rip-off of an icon) blisters over the rear wheelarches resembling those on the original Audi Quattro.
However, it’s not until you climb aboard that the biggest difference becomes apparent.
Ah yes, you’re going to tell us about the cabin aren’t you?
Sure am. Although, not to spoil the surprise, but if you’ve ever sat in a current generation Audi A6, A7 or A8, you’ll have seen it before. Granted, it’s not identical, but the design and layout is broadly the same, with the two primary screens dominating the centre console, plus the now commonplace Virtual Cockpit.
Festooned in swathe of high quality wood and leather, the Q8’s interior loses nothing to its saloon siblings and really moves the game on when compared with the ageing cabins of both the X6 and GLE Coupe.
The upper (10.1-inch in diameter, takes care of media, sat-nav and in-car connectivity) and lower (8.6-inch, responsible for climate control and many driver assistance options) touchscreen displays do away with the Q7’s rotary dial control method – a decision that some may find disappointing.
Yet, as touchscreens go, these really some of the best in the business. Boasting crisp, bright graphics and quick responses, each display does that rare thing in a luxury car of adding to the experience rather than taking away from it.
And the tech?
Where do I start? Regardless of trim level – S-Line or top-spec Vorsprung – the Q8 comes packed with toys including standard fit matrix LED headlights with animation, Virtual Cockpit and air-suspension (the base Q7 makes do with regular suspension and adaptive dampers).
It’s not until you delve into the top-level Vorsprung car’s spec that the really good stuff becomes apparent, mind. A head-up display, panoramic glass sunroof automatic parking and a sonorous Bang & Olufsen premium sound system all come as standard and help make the Q8 feel every bit the A8 on – admittedly not very tall – stilts.
There’s also a grand total of 39 different driver assistance systems – available in three packages (Parking, City and Tour) – that are designed to help the driver navigate their way on long endless motorways, dark country lanes or those uncomfortably tight inner-city garages.
Audi’s set of cutting-edge laser scanners and long to mid-range radars also make a return in the form of the pre-sense autonomous safety kit, designed to ensure that the Q8’s carefully sculpted design (and the occupants within it) stays the same shape as when it left the factory.
Is it any sharper to drive than the Q7?
It is. With much of the additional sharpness coming from a quicker steering rack and lower overall height. Whereas the Q7 is a capable, but ultimately rather cumbersome beast, the Q8 feels noticeably more agile and positive despite its 2.1-tonne kerbweight (almost 100kg heavier than the Q7).
Happily, though, the Q8 appears to have lost little of the Q7’s wafting ability. The air suspension – even when connected to ginormous 22-inch wheels – deals with all but the worst potholes and bumps with aplomb, only occasionally becoming unsettled as the suspension fails to react in time to large ruts in the road. Still, the cabin remains well isolated at all times.
As such, all-round refinement is excellent aside from a squeak of wind noise from wing mirrors (a trait shared with the A8 Saloon). Both the 55 TFSI petrol (on sale from early 2019) and 50 TDI that we drove were whisper quiet when cruising, only making themselves known under heavy load – which they were frequently subjected to…
See, the Q8 press launch was held in the Atacama desert, where the lower atmospheric pressure means engines run at a power deficit. Even so, we experienced nothing to suggest either the 282bhp 3.0-litre TDI (50 TDI) or 335bhp 3.0-litre TFSI (55 TFSI) will struggle with the Q8’s heft back in the UK. The jury is out, however, for the upcoming 45 TDI that we didn’t get a chance to sample.
Of the two we did, the diesel still makes the most sense thanks to its lower fuel consumption and vast reserves of torque. Power comes in from low down in the rev range and caresses the Q8 up to motorway speeds without every seeming to break sweat. From then on, it sits at barely above idle and crushes the miles with unerring competence.
And that sloping roofline, can I fit people in the back with it?
Headroom in the rear is reasonable, although six-footers may find their hair picks up static from the roof thanks to the snug fit. Legroom is far more generous and is akin to what you get in the back of an A8, while four-zone climate control and heated outer rear seats help keep those in the back satisfied.
Meanwhile, bootspace is 605 litres with all five seats in place, and 1,755 litres with the back row folded down. Competitive with the GLE Coupe and X6, it’s around 170 litres less than what you get in the back of a Q7 in five-seat mode.
Audi Q8: verdict
As a first-time entry into the large coupe-SUV market, Audi has done a typically sound job. The Q8 is surprisingly sharp to drive for a 2.1-tonne SUV, comfort levels are excellent and the cabin puts older rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, BMW X6 – and, if we’re honest, the Range Rover Sport – to shame.
However, on the subject of that lovely cabin, there really is little else to separate the Q8 from its Q7 sibling. Sure, the former is that bit sharper to drive but is that what you really want from an SUV? And, if the Q8 is to be Audi’s flagship SUV, is it right that it’s only a cabin refit away from the lesser, cheaper Q7?