To draw attention to the fact that it has an innovative part-electric race car competing at the 2024 Dakar Rally, Audi has launched a special version of its Q8 e-tron EV (electric vehicle) called the edition Dakar. It pays more than just lip service to its racing sibling with increased ground clearance and enhanced off-road ability, but we do wonder if it will be bought for those reasons.
In the metal
Like it or loathe it, the Dakar racer-inspired colour scheme shown here is not mandatory. It's a wrap that'll be available for just 99 cars. Underneath is Mythos Black metallic paint, one of just three hues offered - the others are Siam Beige metallic and Magnetic Grey. The roof rack is standard-fit, as are the widened wheel arch trims, Matrix LED lights and unique treatment of the front 'grille'.
More prominent than all of that, however, are the off-road tyres, increased track widths and a significant 65mm increase in ride height (when the car is in the 'offroad' driving mode).
Unusually, Audi will give every buyer of the Q8 e-tron edition Dakar two sets of wheels and tyres to take home. The car was no doubt designed with the General Grabber AT3 all-terrain tyres in mind, giving the Q8 e-tron significantly more traction off-road on sand, snow and mud. But in reality, not all buyers will use them to the fullest, and in recognition of that perhaps, Audi will also supply a set of sensible five-spoke, 20-inch alloy wheels shod in standard summer tyres.
Unique puddle lights and door sills set the edition Dakar apart before you get in. The cabin features a sporty-looking S line specification including deep sports seats and a chunky three-spoke steering wheel. There's 'Dinamica' microfibre and synthetic leather upholstery and a high level of standard equipment. Buyers can upgrade to the Audi Sport package for red stitching and red-trimmed seatbelts, while all cars feature a new tilt monitor in the infotainment, along with special Dakar-inspired background imagery.
Complementing the roof rack - which comes with a branded bag and straps for attaching accessories, along with a 40kg rating - is a specially-branded boot liner and hard-wearing floor mats.
While I suspect that the off-road tyres are quite noisy at motorway speeds on asphalt, we hadn't the chance to test that theory as all driving of the Q8 e-tron edition Dakar was done off the beaten track, where the chunky treads and big sidewalls were most welcome. The location of the test drive was Oman, so it was dry, dusty and hot. As you can see from the pictures, the terrain was rocky, with a few water splashes (and camels) thrown in for dramatic effect and though the cars coped with the conditions, it wasn't as sanitised an experience as you might expect from such an event. The route was quite tricky in places, with narrow canyon-like descents, while a couple of cars were damaged by rocks.
Selecting the offroad mode was a good idea, not only for the increased ride height, but also to enable the automated hill descent control system. It works well, keeping things under control even when there's a shifting surface under the tyres. We were glad of the extra ground clearance, too as we ventured deep into territory that normal cars could not have.
The electric powertrain makes the accelerator easy to modulate over obstacles and the high-torque output of the electric motors means effortless progress even up steeper inclines. There's plenty of oomph on tap too for when you need to power through deeper sand, for example. Meanwhile, on more open sections of the route lined in a thick gravel-like material, there was space to push on and play with the balance of the car. It's mostly neutral in response, but you can coax the chassis into a satisfying four-wheel power slide if you lift off the accelerator on entry to the corner to shift the weight off the rear wheels, then get back on the power to exit the corner.
In short, we had lots of fun over about two hours of such driving. Any cynicism about the purpose of this car was overridden by enthusiasm for its ability to entertain in such conditions. Of course, few owners will ever have such an off-road playground to experience, unfortunately.
What you get for your money
At the time of writing, production of the Q8 e-tron edition Dakar has only been confirmed for left-hand-drive markets - i.e. not Ireland. That may change if demand is high, but don't hold your breath, especially as Audi charges quite a premium for the Dakar model in the countries it will be sold in. Nonetheless, it comes well-equipped, including the S line interior described above, a feature-rich infotainment system with head-up display and lots more besides. It's a shame some of the options aren't standard fit - such as the Audi Sport interior upgrade and the 'virtual door mirror' camera system.
It was easy to be seduced by the Audi Q8 e-tron edition Dakar in the hot, rocky off-road environment of our test drive in Oman, where it proved to be eminently capable and a real hoot to drive. No doubt some of that fun and capability would transfer over to a muddy off-road course in Ireland, but the reality is that few owners of such cars would ever consider pushing them to their limits. If you're not going to use it as intended, then you're just buying a compromised version of the Q8 e-tron. Some will be willing to do that for the undoubtedly unique image this car of course, and we do hope they find somewhere fun to try it out, too.