It would appear that it’s been a funny old year for Audi as I discovered at the launch of their all-new premium SUV, Q8. Despite the release of some true Audi heavy metal (A8, 7 and 6), globally, things are about even and locally, their (as has some others) premium market has cooled somewhat. But fear not my four-ringed brand fans, as not all is what it seems. To start, Audi Sport is up a massive 18% (number one in the world), vast amounts of work has been done with the likes of Vector and Huawei for electrification and connectivity, hydrogen cells have been explored with vigour and next year, their new model release is seemingly relentless. To me, Audi looks to be a resting giant that is beginning to stir and the Q8 is a double shot of espresso.
As its number would suggest, the Q8 sits at the top of Audi’s Q family but not necessarily for the reasons you’d think. First of all, it’s not a seven- (or eight-) seater, so doesn’t carry as many passengers as the current heavyweight SUV, the Q7. However, as it’s 27mm wider than that model, it certainly offers more shoulder room to the second row (and the first for that matter).
It’s not their biggest SUV either, again when versus the Q7, it’s 66mm shorter and 38mm lower too. It’s not the fastest (yet) nor their most efficient model (damn the e-tron). So what makes the Q8 such a pinnacle? Well, I‘m glad you asked.
In short, the Q8 is Audi’s flagship SUV. It’s both a statement of progress (despite the ’80s nod that I’ll get to soon) and an enhancement of their prestigious positioning—it’s all about the 8. Audi’s 8 is the pointy end of the brand, think A and R. It’s their Luxury, Speed and Overachievers family and now they offer the Q.
With the new look ‘mask’ grille, big air inlets, athletic profile, frameless doors and ‘coupelike’ roofline, the Q8 paints a powerful and imposing picture. The wheel arch ‘blisters’ and ‘redlink’ rear tail lighting design comes as a giant lean back to the Audi Quattro’s of the ’80s, yet the chassis it sits on and that 40% of the vehicle is aluminium, is space age. The 12-segment HD headlights and tail-lamps offer up an engaging lightshow and the entire SUV looks ready for action.
Under the bonnet is Audi’s 3L common rail diesel engine mated to an eight-speed box. It offers 210kW and 600Nm of power and torque respectively, will get you from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds and thanks to its 48V and belt-driven engine starter system give you 6.8L/100km fuel efficiency. This is one big, ‘torquey’ devil of an engine, it’s a little laggy off the mark but seems to offer endless amounts of power on the move.
The interior is full of shiny piano blacks and chromes (actually maybe a little too shiny in the afternoon sun), soft cricket or Valcona leather and an intuitive MMI system that’s smarter than me, it’s crazy good. Two big screens offer VAST amounts of personalisable information. Six users and one guest can make up to 400 settings (from seating and entertainment to mood lighting and brightness) that’s 2,800 things for it to remember. The touch screens have haptic and acoustic feedback for acknowledgement and are pinch and zoom, drag and drop, swipe and draw usable—just like your smarty-pants phone.
Enough chat, we headed off to Bracu for an on- and soft-road experience to gives us a peek at what the Q8 is capable of. For the muddy and metal course, we engaged off-road mode and then added an extra bar of height (on the MMI screen) for good measure. In total the Q8 has a height flexibility span of 90mm plus it will squat down an extra 25mm to assist in boot loading. The hefty Q8 flexed its frame, seesawed its wheels, dipped its feet in deep puddles, leaned to its side at 31-degree angles and went up and down slippery grass wearing low profile 22-inch shoes. Not bad at all. It also engages downhill descent mode at the rate you approach the slope, making it safer and more natural.
The day ended with a scenic run back to Auckland city. The Q8 felt poised and secure on the road surface even at higher speeds. The four-wheel steer system that had already proved it’s worth at low speeds manoeuvring around the tight course, now working hard to get me quickly around the corners regardless of the suggested rates.
The Q8 is a welcome addition to the Audi Q SUV and 8 family. Top-to-toe, inside and out it presents a new look and dynamic to brand and certainly is a statement of intent moving forward. With a hint of retro and whole heap of state-of-the-art, the Q8 really is going back to the future.
Words — Dave McLeod