► Audi's hot Q8 SUV tested
► 592bhp, 590lb ft, 3.8sec
► Available early 2020
Viktor Underberg, an Audi veteran of 25 years who was recently put in charge of R&D at Audi Sport, is the prototype of a fearless passenger. ‘I am totally convinced of the car´s abilities, but I shall cry out loud should you overestimate your talent or underestimate a corner.’
Roger that, mate – let’s set this thing on fire
With 600 (metric) horses roaming the tight V8 corral and a whopping 800Nm of torque rattling its gates, our master stallion parts Tenerife´s herd of rental car ponies as if it sailed across Lake Genezareth.
Even though the new RS Q8 is all muscle inside, you can specify it so it doesn´t strike onlookers as Hulk Hogan's motorized alter ego (unless you paint it green). It can be fitted with silver 23in mag wheels, plenty of brightwork, grey brake calipers, a body-colour aero kit and LED matrix headlights embedded in dark housings. Even with a Zorro mask big enough to fool the local radar traps and a laser sword to clear the notoriously jammed overtaking lane, the aggro element relayed by the new Audi is far from objectionable.
Equipped with the optional Dynamic Pack Plus, the Q8 on steroids comes with carbon ceramic brakes, quattro sport differential and a deregulated top speed of 190mph, up from 155mph.
How punchy is that V8 in an SUV?
In Tenerife, this remote island five flight hours west of the nearest autobahn, however, the latest creation by the RS power brokers is facing more mundane obstacles like tourists, cyclists, buses, thick fog and enough twisties to kick Pirelli stock up a notch or two.
With Drive Select in Dynamic, overtaking distances shrink to half a dozen car lengths and are more often than not completed in second or third gear. There can however be a split-second delay between lift-off and tip-in before the engine reconnects to the torque surf which peaks between 2200 and 4500rpm. As the 4.0-litre V8 zooms in on its cut-off speed of 7000rpm, a red upshift blitz will in manual mode alert the driver to click in the next act.
Floor the throttle in preparation of a standing start before stepping off the brake, and the quattro system will automatically divert 85 per cent of the twist action to the rear wheels, which squat down a fraction before launching the 2.3 tonner in a rapid 3.8sec from 0-62mph.
Press on, and the RS Q8 reaches 125mph a time warp 9.9sec later, at this stage surging forward in fifth gear. The eight-speed automatic is ambitiously spaced except for the top two ratios which are calibrated to cut revs and save fuel at triple-digit velocities.
It’s a big thing – how does it handle?
Drive Select accesses vehicle dynamics in a somewhat different manner than the Anima and Ego controls unique to the Urus. In addition to selecting one of six fixed programmes, the driver can tweak the individual characteristics of engine, transmission, steering, air suspension, all-wheel steering, sound pattern and air con to three different parameters labelled Comfort, Balanced and Dynamic.
Better still, the two favourite blends of attitudes can be stored and summoned by pushing the RS button on the steering-wheel. Viktor Underberg suggests to bundle the parameters which support a relaxed driving style and allocate them to RS1 while reserving RS2 for the typical preferences of a more aggressive mindset.
In an additional move, one can always switch to the sporty shifting programme by flicking the stubby drive-by-wire gear selector to the left. Should you in contrast feel the itch to leave the beaten track, the lift function duly increases the ground clearance by a useful 90mm. Fears that the show-off wheel and tyre combination might destroy the ride are unfounded: the 295/35ZR23 footwear is vulnerable but neither knobbly nor noisy. While the extra rubber is an obvious bonus on smooth turf, the 23-inchers dislike standing water and deep longitudinal grooves.
Any crucial options?
One extra definitely worth having are the active anti-roll bars which improve the ride in a straight line by decoupling the split stabilizer bars while at the same time reducing roll, yaw and pitch through fast corners. In combination with the pronounced rear torque bias, the quattro sport differential and the rear-wheel steering, the RS Q8 remains flat and composed almost irrespective of radius, surface and speed.
When kicked in the butt, exiting the bend is often accompanied by a faint trace of oversteer, but proper slides only happen on gravel or when ESC is fully deactivated. More than anything, this car loves quick esses and multi-lane roundabouts built halfway up a mild slope.
The brakes could do with more initial bite, less effort under full pressure and a later ABS interaction. The engine comes equipped with an electrically assisted charger to compensate for that dreaded initial turbo lag, but despite this and other mod cons it doesn´t pick up revs eagerly enough from 2500rpm in second and third. The flow is more flawless in Dynamic which encourages faster gear changes, quicker throttle response and more involving steering action – but coasting is a no-go with the chips locked in this setting.
Audi RS Q8: verdict
Excessive? Yes. Powerful? Also yes. There’s a lot to the RS Q8, but we feel like it’s still missing something. Could we envisage an even brawnier RS Q8 Plus?
Absolutely, although probably not before Lamborghini launches the Urus Sport. ‘There´s a thought,’ says Viktor Underberg, smiling broadly. ‘I might relay your suggestion to the guys in product planning.’
Check out our Audi reviews