The Audi Q8 faces a challenge. Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are some of the most popular cars on the road, mixing space and performance into a neat – albeit large – automotive package. But there’s a bucket-load of competition in the market; everyone from Volvo and Volkswagen to Mercedes and BMW are looking to have the next big SUV hit.
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Thankfully, Audi already has a solid presence in the SUV space – you need only look to the success of the Q2, Q3, Q5 and Q7 to see that. But for 2018 it’s looking to make a splash in the glitzy premium SUV space with the brand-new Q8.
First unveiled in June, Audi touted the Q8 as the flagship car in its SUV range. Designed as the company’s “first premium SUV”, it’s stuffed with a swathe of technological trinkets married with a plush interior and plenty of performance. But touting a premium machine is different from delivering one.
Thankfully, we’ve had the chance to go hands-on with the Audi Q8 before it hits the streets, letting us really see how it performs on the road.
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Audi Q8 design: What does the Q8 look like?
Audi has, historically, taken a leaf from the book of Teutonic design. Instead of opting for striking aesthetics, it picks subtle, clean and efficient stylings. On some levels, the Q8 is no different. While it sticks to these established sensibilities, the German automaker flirts with the edges of the gorgeous Audi R8. The Q8 is slightly more risque, offering more flair than its older sibling – and previous flagship – the Q7.
The Q8 stands apart from the soft curves of previous Q-line models by adopting the more angular stylings of the sportier Q2. Head on, it appears more demanding on the road thanks to an imposing and aggressive grille complete with chrome trim. This, however, also helps it look more modern – almost futuristic – without encroaching into the Lamborghini Urus territory.
Side on the Q8’s sharp lines carve a smooth coupe-like shape out of the car’s body, creating a flow from the bonnet to the boot. It cuts a distinct, sporty silhouette without making it look comically rakish. The look is completed by beefier wheel arches and frameless windows, representing another step along the road for Marc Lichte’s next-generation design language at Audi.
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Once you reach its rear, the sporty aesthetic blends into luxury, aping stylings from Audi’s premium A8 saloon. The Q8 is more angular and striking than the Q7’s backside with a single strip of LEDs cutting through its tailgate and its two big LED brake lights dominating your attention. There are also nine possible colour options, although during my hands-on time Audi showcased the Pure White, metallic Galaxy Blue and metallic Dragon Orange finishes.
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On the inside, Audi continues those same clean, sharp lines without losing the character Audis are known for. It has the build quality and finish every Audi owner would expect, and the addition of black panels and chrome accenting ensure that everything feels premium. This plush design is complemented by the Q8’s generous interior space. Despite being a shade shorter than the Q7, the Q8 has more than enough boot space to compete with other large SUVs and nobody will complain about feeling cramped.
Interestingly, the Q8 is only available in Audi’s sporty S-Line by default. There’s a premium offering under the “Vorsprung” option that, in terms of styling, upgrades the S-Line’s 21-inch rims to a meatier 22-inches. It also adds a swathe of interior technology options too, which brings us onto the Q8’s best bits.
Audi Q8 tech: Driver assistance and interior technology
Audi has always been a leader in advancing in-car technology, alongside the likes of Volvo and Nissan. So, it comes as no surprise that the Q8 is the embodiment of this, and is easily the best on-the-road example of Audi’s technological ethos.
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It first becomes evident that the Q8 is different as it doesn’t even present you with the option of a standard instrument cluster. Your only choice here is Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and, even on the base S-Line model, there’s a smart-looking digital dashboard resting in the centre console.
Constructed from of a pair of touchscreen displays, the centre dashboard is the heart of the Q8’s interior tech. Comprised of a 10.1in touchscreen screen for infotainment functions and an 8.1in display for climate controls and more, Audi has essentially done away with buttons. The lower screen essentially replaces all the switches and buttons you’d usually expect to find and uses handwriting recognition for text entry. Both screens also have haptic feedback to make tapping through menus feel more exact. It’s also worth noting that the Q8 is also compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and throws in wireless charging for good measure.
Ditching all the buttons in favour of touchscreen control may result in a sleek appearance, but it certainly doesn’t make for the easiest way to navigate through menus – and there are a fair few menus here. Audi’s infotainment system may be neat, but it’s not amazingly intuitive. It takes a good few taps to get to various options such as Bluetooth pairing or suspension control and, while voice commands do help and work reasonably well, there’s no real ideal way to navigate through all these menus. Perhaps a rotary dial would have worked just as well.
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The main difference between the £65,040 baseline Q8 S-Line model and a £85,000 Vorsprung Kit-equipped model – aside from the larger rims – is technology. That 20-grand price hike gives you access to a nifty head-up display and a Bang and Olufsen sound system – among some other things here and there.
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In terms of driver assistant technology, you’ve got the rather pedestrian parking sensors and cameras for reversing and manoeuvring, adaptive cruise control, slow speed traffic assist and proximity alerts. Audi noted that the Q8’s driver aids now classify the car as level 2 autonomous, meaning you can now cruise along the motorway and let the Q8 monitor your speed, braking and lane positioning – as well as parking the car for you once you reach your destination.
All-in-all, with all bells and whistles added on, the Q8 is easily one of the most tech-stuffed cars Audi offers.
Audi Q8 performance: What engine options are there?
At launch, the Q8 is only available with a six-cylinder 3.0-litre TDI engine. This delivers 282bhp and 600Nm of torque, helping accelerate the Q8 from 0 to 62mph in 6.3 seconds. As with the Audi A8, the Q8’s engine incorporates mild (MHEV) hybrid technology too. A smaller, less powerful 3.0-litre TDI (282bhp) and a 3.0-litre TFSI petrol engine (335bhp) will follow early next year.
The Q8’s MHEV uses a 48V lithium-ion battery and a «belt alternator starter», allowing the Q8 to coast between 34 and 99mph with the engine switched off, restarting seamlessly when extra power is needed. Its battery recharges during deceleration and Audi says the system as a whole can reduce fuel consumption by up to 4mpg.
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You’ve also got engine shut-off for start-stop driving to help keep CO2 emissions down. Like with most of Audi’s cars with this feature, it’s pretty seamless and should still mean you’re quick off the mark from standstill.
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Just like the Audi A8, the Q8 can also be specified with Audi’s all-wheel steering system. This allows the car to steer the rear wheels by up to 5-degrees, helping you manoeuvre in tight spaces more efficiently at slow speeds and change lanes more securely on motorways and dual carriageways.
Audi Q8 driving: How does it handle?
For a big SUV, the Q8 is no slouch. This is thanks not only to its powerful engine under the bonnet but also to its core construction of aluminium and hot-form steel. Bury the throttle in the floor and the Q8 delivers a pleasing surge of power, allowing for more than just nippy overtaking.
Despite this impressive acceleration, the Q8 isn’t a performance SUV in the same vein as the F-Pace or the Range Rover Sport SVR. Instead, Audi is aiming for luxury. This isn’t speed that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, instead it’s speed made for comfortable cruising on country roads or long motorway journeys. Taking it on empty rural roads through tight English villages certainly provides a thrill, but the Q8 hunkers to the road, remaining fairly flat when cornering and providing plush air suspension when in Comfort mode.
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The all-wheel steering means the Q8’s large size actually feels rather manageable on narrower roads and when things open up the Q8 is more than ready to stretch its legs. Be warned though, without a little dabbling in the steering options, some may find the Q8 a little too light to the touch and lacking when tackling bends at speed.
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In Dynamic mode things switch up. The Q8 has more weight and feels responsive to more slight touches. There’s still a distinct lack of feel and feedback, but that’s somewhat expected as many other of VW Group cars have a similar issue. Dynamic also adapts suspension and drivetrain, firming it up for tighter cornering and improving throttle responsiveness at the expense of comfort.
These changes make the Q8 more exciting to drive, but you’re still not going to be throwing this thing around like you would a hot hatch or sports coupe. Then again, Audi hasn’t built the Q8 for that in mind, it’s an SUV aimed at the executive-class of car owner who wants a tech-filled SUV with enough performance to keep rivals at bay.
Audi Q8: UK price and availability
Audi’s new flagship SUV was always going to be pricey. The base model – which is actually an S-Line model – starts at £65,040 on the road. That price tag comes without a lot of the tech bells and whistles that make the Q8 so special, so if you want all of those expect to pay at least another £20,000.
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At its base price point, the Audi Q8 is locking horns with the likes of the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne. It’s arguable that they hold the more desirable badges, but if you’re willing to spring for the Vorsprung model at £83,040 on the road you won’t find a better tech proposition in an SUV.
Whether or not UK buyers flock to the Q8 remains to be seen. There are plenty of other performance SUVs out there, but there’s a clear appeal of Audi’s SUV range with the Q3 and Q5 and Q7 all being incredibly popular cars for the automobile manufacturer. With the Q8, those wanting a more kitted out, and more edgy, version of the Q7 have something to opt for.
You can currently register your interest in the Audi Q8 and spec one up if it takes your fancy.
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Audi Q8 early verdict:
Audi really needed to deliver on the Q8 to make it a success, and that’s exactly what it did.
The Q8’s mixture of refined styling, performance and technology – as well as plenty of space and practical elements – makes it a desirable SUV. That’s providing you’re willing to pay the price for some of its best features; all-wheel steering, driver assistant tech, and the premium Bang and Olufsen sound system, for example.
Sure, it doesn’t offer the most dynamic performance and handling, and those looking for a truly sporty SUV should look elsewhere. But, if you want unfussy luxury and effortless style, married with top-tech chops, the Audi Q8 definitely delivers. And, with the competition it faces in this market, that’s definitely a good thing.