What are you driving?
Hey, it's yet another gigantic, hulking, diesel-fuelled SUV, crammed full of luxuries and enough optional extras that you could have bought a decent second-hand car just for the cost of the panoramic sunroof. It's here to look mean, crush social democracy and wipe out the ice caps while it's on lunch break.
Well, I guess that's one way of looking at it, and there's no question that if you're seeking out an easy target when it comes to taking umbrage with conspicuous consumption, then the Audi Q8 has a big, fat, 'X' on its back. Taking the same platform as the bigger (but more affordable) Audi Q7, the Q8 ditches the 7's seven-seat layout, adds a lower, sleeker, more aggressively styled body, pinches the super-luxury, high-tech cabin from the Audi A8 and A7, adds a dash of frameless doors and gently simmers over the heat from its big, lusty turbodiesel engine.
It's a rival to the likes of the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLE Coupe in the most direct sense, but peripherally also takes on the likes of the Porsche Cayenne, the Maserati Levante and the Lexus RX 450h.
We should probably hate it for its profligacy, and denounce it for being so overtly capitalist. And yet...
Name its best bits
For a kick-off, it looks fantastic. It's not lithe and sexy, like the Maserati, nor arrestingly ugly, like the distantly-related Bentley Bentayga, but instead is just fabulously, subtly, chiselled and handsome. It's like someone put wheels on Chris Hemsworth (he's so dreamy). It probably helps that our test car came in a predictable shade of dark metallic grey (officially Daytona Grey Pearlescent), which helps to tone down the gaping mouth effect. In brighter colours, the big grille is much more highlighted, and I'm not entirely convinced that it works all that well, but here in grey-ville, all is well. As a bonus, it's vastly, massively, off-in-the-distance-like-three-counties-away better looking than its most direct rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
That goes too for the cabin, which looks and feels terrific, although that does come with the caveat that you can have the same twin-screen layout in other Audis with a much less stratospheric price tag. You probably won't care much, though, as the Q8 gets an awful lot right. The frameless doors add a little touch of theatre to getting in and out, and the seats are so well-appointed that I might just sell up and move in. The three digital displays - Virtual Cockpit instruments and upper-and-lower deck infotainment and HVAC controls - mean that there are hardly any physical buttons inside, which means you get a very clean cabin layout. Oh, and actually there's a fourth digital display - a head-up projector, which more or less renders the Virtual Cockpit display redundant.
It's spacious, too. The Q8 may lose two chairs compared to the Q7, but space in the back seats is of the Club World variety, and there seems to be no degrade in the comfort levels when you swap from the front to the back. The boot's also big, so if you care about all things practical, you'll be well catered for.
The Q8 is also really good fun to drive. Not in the sort of delectable, tactile, driver's-car way that you might be hoping. It's just too big, too hefty and too comfort-oriented for that. The steering is well-weighted, but lacks feel, so you guide the Q8 more with your eyes than your fingertips. Which means that as you approach your first serious corner, you start to think: "I don't think we're going to make it. I don't think we're going to make it. I really don't... I really didn't think we were going to make it!" In the meantime, the Q8 has swept, imperiously, around the turn, demolishing demanding roads like loosely-assembled Lego.
You can switch the adaptive air suspension (standard fit) over to Sport if you think that would help. It lowers the Q8 by some 40mm compared to Comfort mode, and theoretically sharpens up its reflexes, but to be honest it doesn't really matter what mode you pick. Sport, Comfort, Auto, whatever - the Q8 remains flat and unruffled through the corners, and yet rides with a calmness and refinement that would shame many a luxury saloon. So, not dynamic in the traditional sense, but hugely enjoyable in a something-this-big-shouldn't-be-this-good sort of way. It's one of those cars that I don't think you'd ever, ever tire of driving.
The big old diesel engine plays a big part in that. I know, it's hardly fashionable to be flying the diesel flag, but the 3.0-litre V6 really is a remarkable engine. You can (just about) squeeze 40mpg out of it, yet it has the power and thump of something that really ought to be much thirstier. CO2 emissions of 178g/km aren't, perhaps, especially brilliant, but neither are they quite so polar-bear-annihilating as you might have first thought. Oh, and it's as quiet as a summer midnight in Connemara when you're cruising. It bears repeating that the Q8, as a whole, is one of the most refined cars we've driven in a long time.
Anything that bugs you?
There's no getting away from it - despite the cleverness of the twin-screen cabin layout, the controls are fiddly. Audi has given the screen haptic feedback, so that it feels as if you're pressing real buttons, but that's of limited help. You still need to take your eyes off the road too often, for too long.
The Q8 is also big. Like properly bulky, measuring almost two metres across its beam, which makes city centre car parks a bit of a chore, even when making maximum use of the clever 3D surround camera system.
Oh, and it's expensive. Prices don't even start until you're past the €100k mark, and our test car had a well-specced Golf's worth of optional extras. That panoramic roof is €2,597 all on its own. While the Q8 justifies its price tag with its sheer excellence, the fact is that you can get the same basic mechanical parts at a rather lower price point in a Volkswagen Touareg...
And why have you given it this rating?
It would be so easy to dismiss the Q8 as yet another plank in Audi's SUV-all-the-things corporate domination strategy, and easy too to have a go at it simply for being a massive, thirsty, one-per-cent chariot. And yet... It's just too good for that. Too good to look at. Too good to drive. Too good at being refined and all-but-perfectly assembled. I think the word we're reaching for is 'accomplished.'
What do the rest of the team think?
Have to admit it, the Q8 is concept-car-cool to behold. It's the main reason you'll buy it in my opinion. The frameless doors seal the deal, though I'm not a massive fan of the double-deck touchscreen layout. It takes up too much space and, as Neil said, requires you to take your eyes off the road. Nonetheless, this is a feelgood car to drive around in, which is a lot more than you can say about most SUVs of this size.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor
The Q8 does a superb job of blending what feels like proper SUV luxury with a good-looking package without leaving out the fun-to-drive element. The mild hybrid system is a bit pointless given how infrequently it operates, but nevertheless the Q8 can swallow up vast distances with sublime ease.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor