As part of its mid-life update, the Audi e-tron has been bestowed with rather more than just the usual grille and headlights. With a growing electric car range, the erstwhile e-tron is now known as the Q8 e-tron, in a bid to differentiate it from, say, the Q4 e-tron or the RS e-tron GT. But does the new name and updated look, help to make the Q8 e-tron a better car than before, or is it losing ground to its constantly improving rivals?
In the metal
Although the Q8 e-tron's name might be new, the body is not. This is more or less the same car as the old Audi e-tron SUV, albeit with a few choice tweaks to the front end. It even comes with the same choice of body styles, with the conventional SUV tested here joined by the more aerodynamic, fastback-inspired Sportback model.
If you want to tell the difference between the old e-tron and the new Q8 e-tron, then, the place to start is the nose. Audi has replaced the old car's grille with a new front panel, and some versions get a light bar that spans the gap between the headlights. There's a new, flat Audi logo, too, while the bumpers have been restyled to improve the car's aerodynamic performance. New 'active' slats in the front have also been added, while there are new intakes that create 'air curtains' down the sides of the car. As a result, Audi claims the new Sportback's drag coefficient has fallen from 0.26 to 0.24, making the car more efficient.
But while the Q8 e-tron is reasonably easy to differentiate from its predecessor from the outside, the interiors are much more closely aligned. Look closely and you might spot the altered steering wheel design, but otherwise there isn't much to see. Not that customers are likely to have a problem with that. For those upgrading it's all welcome familiarity, and for those new to the car it's still a brilliantly solid and spacious interior.
As before, the materials used are great, and they're all stuck together with remarkable fastidiousness. The sense of solidity is only increased by the design - which features big, chunky shapes - and the overall size of the interior.
It's high-tech, too, inheriting the same two-screen infotainment system as the old e-tron and the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which steadfastly refuses to show its age. Admittedly, the touchscreens aren't quite as impressive as the instrument display (the lower screen's haptic feedback is unnecessary and odd), but the tech all looks modern enough and works reasonably well, even if we would prefer physical switchgear for the climate control.
Less convincing are the digital door mirrors offered on high-end models, which display the image 'seen' by cameras in the door panel. The idea is to provide the same field of vision with less drag, but the system doesn't work that brilliantly. You can't move your head to change what you can see, and that makes manoeuvring harder than it otherwise would be, while there's a tiny bit of lag in the display. And if we're being cynical, it's just something to go wrong - particularly when the car gets a bit older.
But while we may not be enamoured with the Q8 e-tron's door mirrors, we can't fault the space available in the cabin. The front seats feel light and airy, while the back seats offer more than enough legroom for adults to get comfortable. Headroom is ample, too, and the Sportback only offers fractionally less space. You won't have any trouble fitting four adults in there no matter which body shape you pick.
Boot space is equally impressive, with both cars supplementing their sizeable boots with a 62-litre 'frunk' under the bonnet. It isn't huge, but it's big enough for charging cables or a few wet items you'd rather not keep in the boot. But you probably won't need that extra space because the Q8 e-tron's luggage bay is every bit as large as that of the old e-tron. That means you get a 569-litre load space in the back of the SUV, while the Sportback only cuts that to 528 litres. While it's true that the Sportback's boot is a less practical shape than the numbers suggest, it still gives owners plenty of space to work with.
As before, Audi is giving Q8 e-tron customers a choice of powertrains, although all provide sensible range, all-wheel drive and decent performance. They all have bigger batteries than before, too, while Audi's aerodynamic upgrades have helped to give the Q8 e-tron more competitive range than its predecessor.
The cheapest option is still the '50', which uses two electric motors (one on each axle) to produce an ample 340hp. Those motors are fed by a new battery pack, which offers 89kWh of usable capacity, and that gives the car an official range of around 450km on a single charge. Opt for the more aerodynamic Sportback and that figure increases a little.
However, buyers will likely be more drawn to the '55' model we tested, which gets 408hp from its two motors and an even larger battery with 106kWh of usable capacity. With this powertrain, the Q8 e-tron is not only brisk in a straight line - 0-100km/h takes 5.6 seconds - but the official numbers suggest it'll cover more than 500km on a single charge. In the real world, of course, that figure might fall slightly, but our test suggested most drivers will be able to achieve more than 400km between charges without having to try especially hard.
But range is far from the only advantage of the '55' model's bigger battery. Whereas the 50 can charge at up to 150kW on a suitable DC charger, the 55 gets 170kW charging that enables it to top up the battery from 10 to 80 per cent in 31 minutes - assuming you can find a charging point that's up to the job. Admittedly, that's quite the caveat, and the 50 will manage the same feat in 28 minutes, but the 55 can offer you more range in much the same timeframe, adding up to 118km of official range every 10 minutes at maximum DC charge speed.
The same battery and charging system is also applied to the range-topping SQ8 e-tron, but that car produces its 503hp using three motors (two at the back and one at the front) and there's a predictable impact on efficiency. Still, it achieves similar range to the 50 on the official test, and it should obtain similar real-world figures - assuming you can stay away from an accelerator pedal that's capable of taking the car from 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
But there's more to driving than range and performance, and Audi is clearly well aware of that. There's no hiding the Q8 e-tron's weight and bulk - this is a big car - but the air suspension system means it rides remarkably well over most road surfaces. Sharper potholes will be felt, especially at lower speeds, but most lumps and bumps are soaked up impressively well.
Despite the comfort, though, the Q8 e-tron doesn't feel as though it's too loose or floaty. There's plenty of grip and stability, which makes it easy to drive at speed, even if it isn't especially agile in fast corners. Audi claims it has improved the steering, which is quite heavy, but it still doesn't feel especially sporty. It certainly never nudges into the realms of interesting, but it does provide a very stable and pleasant driving experience.
That's partly because it's just so refined. Of course, we expect electric cars to be pretty quiet - there's no engine rattling away behind the dashboard - but the Q8 e-tron is strikingly hushed, letting little in the way of road or wind noise permeate into the cabin.
What you get for your money
The Q8 e-tron range starts at €86,400, which puts the Audi somewhere between the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the Jaguar I-Pace in terms of pricing. That entry-level price, however, pays for the basic Advance model with the smaller battery and less powerful motors, while the Sport and S line versions cost €90,005 and €95,895, respectively. If you want the '55' version, prices start at €96,900 and rise to more than €106,000.
Every Q8 e-tron is well equipped, though. Twin touchscreens, leather upholstery and the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster are all standard, along with 19-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable front seats and a power-operated tailgate. You get a reversing camera and parking sensors, too.
The new Audi Q8 e-tron is, in many ways, faultless. Now the range has improved, it's more convincing than the old e-tron, and it compares more favourably with its key rivals. If we're really nit-picking, we might say the competence takes it to the edge of boring, but customers will want the easy life when they're paying around €100,000. Perhaps it isn't the dream car for enthusiasts, but for everyone else buying in this price bracket the Q8 e-tron is a very easy car to recommend.