The Audi Q8 doesn't just crown the company's SUV range, it showcases a new look that's edgier than the Q7 while delivering a tech-laden package that should worry the likes of the BMW X6 and Range Rover Sport. We've driven it.
In the metal
Whether you see the new Audi Q8 on the street or approaching in your rear-view mirror, one thing you can't miss is that bold front design. You're looking at the new face of Audi's Q cars, so expect to see more iterations of it trickle down through the rest of the SUV line-up in time to come. Nonetheless, the Q8 is more than just a five-seat version of the Q7. It has a lower roofline, but doesn't use the coupe-like roofline that both BMW and Mercedes-Benz apply to their more established offerings. Not only is the Q8 lower and 66mm shorter than the Q7, it's also wider, by 27mm. Add to that its 21-inch wheels and you have an SUV that exudes presence.
There's plenty of Audi's heritage in the exterior when you look closer. Its designer, Frank Lamberty, also penned the original Audi R8 and worked on the second generation A5. The blistered wheel arches are a nod to the original Ur-Quattro as is the black element that links the rear lights. In addition to that new take on the 'singleframe grille', the Q8 offers a choice of surrounds, in dark grey or a higher contrast black, while new HD Matrix LED headlights represent the company's latest illumination technology. The main beam resides in the lower section and its pop-out washer behind the black panel that meets the grille.
When it comes to the interior, Audi once more shows its strength in design, merging the latest in touchscreen technology with a fine example of minimalism. Physical buttons are few and far between in the cabin, with only the most frequently used appearing, such as that for the stereo volume. Everything else is accessed through two touchscreen displays - a 10.1-inch item up top and a 8.6-inch screen below - the latter serving as access for the climate and seating controls. They're very responsive and become more intuitive to use over time. The now familiar 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display in front of the driver complements the ultra-modern interior and has come in for some minor graphical updates.
The rest of the cabin is superbly executed. Pull open the frameless doors and ease yourself into the supportive seats; the soft-close doors pull themselves electrically shut to ensconce you into what seems like a hermetically sealed luxurious future. This is how modern car interiors ought to look. At night it's even more impressive with fine strips of LED ambient lighting giving your eyes a treat while setting the ambience. There is still plenty of substance to all this on a practical level. By only providing five seats and not succumbing to the temptation to give it a dramatic sloping roofline, the passengers in the rear of the Q8 have good levels of space. There's certainly enough room for an adult to sit in either of the outer seats with a tall passenger up front. Behind them is a boot measuring 605 litres that can grow to 1,755 litres when needed.
Like its flagship saloon, the A8, Audi equips all Q8s with a mild hybrid system (making it a Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle, or MHEV), which uses a battery mounted in the rear with a 48-volt electrical system to help reduce fuel consumption. It works at speeds between 55- and 160km/h, switching off the engine for periods of up to 40 seconds. During this time the battery powers the ancillary systems and a belt alternator starter seamlessly restarts the engine once some throttle is applied.
The turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel engine provides ample levels of performance, with plenty of torque to boot. It has that deep rumble that we're used to hearing from more powerful large capacity diesel engines, but it remains hushed for the most part. Being Audi's range-topping SUV, it is also an exercise in refinement, so there's plenty of sound insulation to keep cabin noise levels suppressed. Even on those 21-inch wheels, there isn't the degree of road noise coming through that you might expect.
All Q8 models ride on adaptive air suspension, though it forgoes the active anti-roll bar setup that features in the sportier Audi SQ7 and other Volkswagen Group models such as the Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne. With a lower centre of gravity than those, and springs that feel stiff enough, it's no less a car for not having them. At 2,145kg, only the BMW X6 is lighter amongst its rivals. You do still feel that weight at times, but the optional all-wheel steering helps give the car some extra agility, especially at lower speeds where the rear wheels turn as much as five degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts to reduce the turning distance.
Helping the Q8 to power out of corners with minimal fuss is the signature quattro all-wheel-drive transmission, paired as standard with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox. Up to 70 per cent of power can be sent to the front axle or, or up to 85 per cent to the rear. Toggling through the Drive Select function sets the Q8 up to your preferred driving style and in Sport mode it hunkers down and makes you work a little harder at the steering wheel. We'd still like if there was just that bit more feedback through the wheel in the regular driving modes, but overall the Q8 feels a bit more alive than some of Audi's other models.
What you get for your money
The Audi Q8 will have a starting price of €103,050 when it goes on sale later in 2018. The standard equipment grade is S line, which includes 21-inch alloy wheels and the 'sport' version of the adaptive air suspension. All Q8 models will get HD Matrix LED headlights with LED rear light units featuring lighting animation and dynamic indicators, while rear privacy glass adds to the car's image.
On the interior, all Q8s come with the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster and the Audi phone box with wireless charging for Qi-enabled devices. There is Valcona leather upholstery and the rear seat bench plus, while up front there are electrically adjustable and heated sports seats with driver memory function. The rear hatch is also electrically operated. The Q8 will be available with numerous driver assistance systems, while lane assist and the latest Navigation Plus will be standard.
Arguably, the arrival of the Audi Q8 marks a watershed moment for the German brand. It is more practical than many of its competitors while retaining a great driving experience. The fact that it comes loaded with technology, wrapped up in a fantastic design, adds to its appeal. It's just the car we've been waiting for from Audi.