In creating the new Q8, Audi not only caps off its SUV family with a worthy range-topping model, but offers a different approach to BMW and Mercedes-Benz's coupe-inspired premium SUVs. The Q8 forgoes the dramatic sloping rooflines of the X6 and GLE Coupe in favour of a conventional – but still handsome – package that prioritises luxury over outright performance. Dave Humphreys headed to the Atacama Desert in Chile to sample the newcomer.
The new Audi Q8 cruises into the upper end of the SUV market with a sharp looking exterior design and comes dripping with technology. A mild hybrid system helps fuel economy, while the blown diesel engine delivers enough shove to keep this sharp-handling SUV engaging.
Audi Q8: Highlights
The Q8 builds on the conservative Q7 with a coupe-style roofline and 21- or 22-inch wheels.
As striking as the Atacama Desert in Chile is, even its spectacular scenery couldn’t take away from the design of the new Audi Q8. Succeeding the Q7 at the top of the company’s SUV pile (which now has very few gaps left in it), the Q8 makes up for the seven-seater’s somewhat bland looks. It might not have a coupe roofline like a BMW X6, but frameless doors, a very distinctive nose and nods to historical Audi models make for a more interesting package.
Not only is the Q8 lower than the Q7, but it’s also shorter in length and it’s wider. It’s anything but small though - its size is more noticeable when you see it parked next to something smaller like an Audi Q3. An 8-sided grille is the new face of the Audi SUV family and, depending on your specification choices, can give the car a more dramatic appearance - or less if that’s more to your taste.
The boot is admittedly smaller than the Q7 and the Q8 only comes as a 5-seater.
The Q8 wears 21-inch wheels without them looking oversized for the car. They fill the blistered arches that add to its beefy image, but are also a nod to the original Audi Ur-Quattro. The influence of that iconic car doesn’t end there, as around the back, the lights are joined by a black section that is another hat tip. The rear hatch lifts electrically to reveal 605 litres of boot space (over 250 litres less than the Q7), with the ability to expand to 1 755 litres.
Just like the Audi A8, the Q8 has a dashboard that is almost entirely devoid of physical buttons. The 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is by now a familiar sight in Audi cars, and in the Q8 it gets some aesthetic updates. Better still is the dual screen setup of the centre console, comprising of a 10.1- and 8.6-inch stacked arrangement. The lack of physical buttons for some frequently used items is distracting at first, but the climate control adjustments in the lower screen use haptic feedback to make it easier to use without looking away from the road.
Interior is updated to host the new two-tier centre touchscreen system that debuted on the A8. It works excellently.
Very mild hybrid
Audi is keen to tout its mild hybrid system in the Q8, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t propel the vehicle, instead allowing for extended engine-off moments on the move – up to 40 seconds at motorway cruising speeds. In urban settings and in dense traffic the shutoff – and subsequent restart – of the engine are smoother and quieter than in previous systems.
The 210 kW motor lays on power smoothly and when driven without a great sense of urgency allows you to ride a consistent wave of torque without ever feeling that the 6-cylinder is having to work all that hard. Not even the higher altitude of our test drive had any noticeable impact on performance, although Audi did recommend switching to the Sport mode to maximise responses to driver inputs.
The new 8-sided grille, here in a dark black tint gives the Q8 more presence than the rest of Audi's Q cars.
All Q8s feature the latest 8-speed automatic transmission and the onboard Drive Select function to choose the most suitable setup for the terrain. That mild hybrid powertrain system should help to take the edge off fuel consumption over longer journeys, but the exact details of how much the six-cylinder motor drinks are pending final homologation under the new WLTP protocol (the new fuel consumption standardised test).
If you’re feeling more adventurous and want to hit the trails, the air suspension can lift the Q8 by 90 millimetres for added ground clearance. In more extreme cases the transmission can punt up to 85% of drive to the rear axle or 70% to the front, but for the majority of driving it sticks to a 40:60 front-to-rear split.
For the most part, the ride is compliant, although a drive in a car featuring the Sport version of the air suspension revealed a firmer ride irrespective of the chosen drive setting. Despite that, road noise and other exterior distractions are kept well at bay by the well-insulated cabin.
The new Q8 still has built-in quattro and with air suspension can raise 90 mm if off-roading is required.
Navigating narrower city streets is made easier with optional all-wheel steering. At slower speeds the rears turn up to five degrees counter to the fronts, reducing the turning circle and adding agility. When the speed builds up, the rear wheels work in phase with the fronts to provide more stable turning, like when changing lanes at higher speeds. Audi’s engineers have brought a better sense of feel to the steering of the Q8, something that has been lacking in its other SUV models.
Buyers also get their fair share of driver assistance and safety systems in the Q8, though there has been little mention of when we’ll see the autonomous technology that has already been previewed in the A8 saloon. All the functional systems are present, like parking assist and a neat trailer function that makes reversing incredibly simple.
The LED strip that runs through the rear of the Q8 is a hat-tip to the legendary Ur-Quattro.
The timing of the Q8’s launch couldn’t come at a better time for Audi, with most of its closest rivals now well into their current model cycles, making this seem very fresh-faced. Not only does its design stand out, but buyers will be able to tailor very different looks to suit their tastes, which should give the Q8 broader appeal in the segment.
The driving experience is what we would have expected, with enough engagement to appeal to keener drivers, though there’s certainly room for more potent versions to come. Overall, it is a car that is not lacking in refinement, nor does it leave you wanting for much more.
Indicative pricing isn't yet available as Audi South Africa readies to launch the new Q8 before the end of 2018. Expect it to land at around the R1.3 million mark, matching the BMW X6 xDrive40d and Mercedes-Benz GLE350d Coupe...