Audi Q8 (2019) Launch Review

Audi has joined the Premium SUV Coupe craze with the Q8, which is now available in South Africa. It’s not short on rivals, so how does this model stack up? We sampled the newcomer during its media launch in the Western Cape.

What is it?

The SUV market appears to be the only one that continues to see growth, both locally and internationally. The new Q8 sits right at the top of Audi’s (otherwise ageing) SUV lineup in the local market. It is based on the Q7 and underpinned by the same MLB platform, albeit with slightly different dimensions. The Q8 is shorter and lower but slightly wider – giving it a more muscular presence. It's wheelbase, however, remains the same.

Although based on the Q7, the Q8's proportions are quite different.

In a segment where design is almost everything, this is the first time in South Africa that we get to see what Audis will look like going forward. The grille surround is more defined with different colour options to choose from to suit particular exterior finishes. The quattro blisters above the wheel arches pump up the muscular look around its shoulders and the sloping roofline of the SUV coupe gives it a more pleasing, sporty aesthetic appeal.

The new look is rounded off by Audi’s new HD Matrix lighting system. Those headlamp clusters are as distinctive as ever and leave no doubt as to what’s coming up in your rear-view mirror. They also include locking and unlocking animations to wow onlookers in parking lots.

Own an Audi? Tell us about your experience here

What’s under the bonnet?

Audi SA is introducing just one engine at launch, with a turbodiesel joining the fray around June this year.

The turbopetrol motor adorned with 55 TFSI badging on the rear makes use of a 3.0-litre V6 complete with 250 kW and 500 Nm of torque. Zero to 100 kph is dispatched within 5.9 seconds and Audi claims it will use between 8.9 and 9.1L/100km (spec dependent).  

New rear light animations make the Q8 very distinctive in a crowd.

There’s a fancy 48V electrical system that will take over duty in long coasting scenarios and also fire up the alternator starter, which powers the start/stop system. The start/stop cuts in at 22 kph now, shutting off the engine at every yield sign or traffic circle, frustratingly. Thankfully this alternator starting solution reengages the engine quicker than the competing brands.

I think the turbodiesel derivative may be a better option when it arrives. The petrol is more powerful but lacks that low rpm shove that comes with extra Nm, meaning you have to work the engine a little harder and as a result economy takes a hit.

However, if petrol is your chosen propulsion method, this Audi engine is one of the better performing units on the market, it matches Mercedes-Benz’s GLE450 engine and outmatches the Range Rover Sport V6 and BMW X6 35i units. Undoubtedly, we will see upgraded units from Benz and Bimmer; their new models will be locally introduced in the next 12 months.

New internals

This is the first Audi in SA to feature the new MMI touchscreen system.

Finally, South Africa gets to see the newly designed Audi interior. It’s been on sale in Europe for well over a year and has already been installed on the A8, A7 Sportback and e-tron.

The new interior is dominated by the dual touchscreens in the centre which can be operated through touch, voice input and handwriting (for navigation inputs). The bottom screen deals with climate-related options, as well as pinned shortcuts for destinations. The top screen has all the other functionality and mirrors the design and usability of a Smartphone quite effectively. There’s also haptic and audio feedback to confirm inputs, which is useful.

The system is vastly superior to the rotary knob in the previous MMI system but you do have to deal with grubby fingerprints on your lovely and crisp screens.

The Q8 is solely a 5-seater model and even with the sloping roofline provides good headroom for rear passengers. The rear seats also slide fore and aft for increased luggage space or legroom. The load bay is claimed to hold 605 litres' worth of luggage, but opens up to 1 755 litres with the seats folded down, which is around 300 litres less than the Q7.

Rear occupant space is rather good for an SUV coupe.

The new layout is not without fault and it appears there may be a few teething problems with the build quality, especially across the dashboard. The plastic black insert that spreads across the dash to the passenger side creaks and rattles on touch and when driving on bumpy surfaces. It wasn’t just our test unit either as a few other units exhibited similar rattles.

It is good to drive?

There’s a choice of 3 suspension setups, 1 regular coil spring with adaptive dampers and 2 adaptive air suspensions. The sport air suspension setup just adapts the normal air suspension 1 click further towards sport within the Drive Select system.  

Twenty-inch wheels are standard fitment, but you can option up to 22-inch if you see fit. Our particular model was shod with 21-inch wheels with 45 profile rubber. The ride was commendable on gravel with this setup, even though we only had a brief stint on the rougher surface.

The Q8 has a choice of 3 suspension setups.

On road, the wider track keeps the Q8 steady and planted over bumps and rutted roads. The air suspension also mitigates some of that lean that SUVs have to deal with due to a higher centre of gravity.

The steering is quite heavy and weights up further the more lock you add on. It feels quite artificial, but does the job of making the big Q8 change direction quite rapidly (if needs must). There is also optional 4-wheel steering available, which adds even more stability at high speed, but also makes the big Audi easier to park and turn around. With the system installed, the Q8 has the same turning circle as an A4.

Summed up

The new Q8 gives Audi a car that stands out in a segment that requires originality as well as premium finishes.

It’s been a while since Audi has introduced a new range, as opposed to a new generation of an existing model, on local soil. This is the 1st of many new models to hit our shores this year. Audi SA has also revamped the way customers choose options and bundled obvious extras into upgrade kits. This should take some of the hassle out of speccing a car and the plethora of differently specced vehicles on the 2nd-hand market.

As for the Q8, it certainly looks the part. It’s muscular, sleek and stands out with added glitz from the new LED lights. The petrol engine may not prove as efficient as the upcoming turbodiesel, but it's a competitive powerplant that matches anything the competition can muster.

The new Audi interior is a tech junkie’s pleasuredome. It works as intuitively as your Smartphone while looking stylish and premium. There may be a few creaks and rattles among some of the dash materials, but hopefully, Audi can sort out those issues quickly.

With an entry price of R1.4 million, the Q8 squares up to the Range Rover Sport, at least until the new X6 and GLE/GLE Coupe arrive, the Q8 is certainly the best German offering in the segment right now.

Related content:

Audi Q8 (2019) Specs & Price

Is VW’s Touareg a Bargain Bentley?