It was mid-week when an email rolled into my inbox with an invite from Audi to a film premiere – with a twist. Details were scarce, but the promise of a ‘surprise’ new model and a loan vehicle to take home ensured an RSVP was returned in double time.
From the title of this article, it will come as no surprise to hear this new model was in fact the Q8; with the unveiling complemented superbly by a live orchestra.
Where the Q8 fits In
The Q8 is the first of a new breed of SUV for Audi. Rather than following the design language (and incremental size increases) of the existing Q3 to Q7 line-up, the Q8 goes it alone. If the Q7 is Audi’s utilitarian SUV, the Q8 is its sporty, luxury cousin. Gone is the function-first, boxy shape; instead replaced with slender lines, frameless doors and a more streamlined shape.
In the words of Audi; The aim is to bring together the ‘elegance of a four-door luxury coupé and the practical talents of a large SUV’.
Put the Q8 back-to-back with the Q7 and there’s no question who would win in a beauty contest.
The styling and refinement goes beyond the exterior too, with the cabin receiving tech and design cues galore from Audi’s flagship A8. Time to dig a little deeper.
First impressions of the Q8 were whilst exiting London’s superb BFI theatre late at night ideal timing it turned out for the Q8 to unleash its signature piece, with the head & tail lights animating Knight Rider-style to reveal the car upon unlocking.
Frontward the Q8 carries over and pumps up the enormous front grill of the A8, with its girth now surely offering competition to numerous whale species. Nevertheless, with svelte curves around the headlights and strong lines running across the bonnet and wings, it somehow manages to carry an air of grace about it.
The Q8’s best angles are round the back though, where the high rake of the rear windscreen reduces its apparent bulk and the light strip running across its midriff comes into its own. Complimented either side by Glacier white paint on our test model, what can only be described as a red light-bar runs the full width of the rear, with angular, LED ‘slats’ adding a bit of extra meat at the outer edges. The four rings sit centrally, with twin (fake, sadly) tailpipes rounding off the lower edges.
Standing the Q8 next to an ‘ordinary’ SUV, it’s clear that Audi’s efforts to make the car sportier have resulted in a lot of additional rake/lean of the upper surfaces. This means that, despite its footprint being similar, the cross-section size towards the top of the vehicle is a fair bit smaller than its brethren. This really tells when you look at the boot size – nearly 200 litres smaller than a Q7 and Range Rover Sport at 605 litres (although that still compares favourably with BMW’s X6 at 480 litres).
Although the slightly tighter cabin is noticeable when sitting in the vehicle, it does little to dampen the spacious feel. There’s plenty of headroom, and the sheer width of the vehicle means that the distance to passengers is enough to make even popcorn sharing a real issue.
Visually, the cabin’s a real masterpiece; it carries over the same design language & infotainment system debuted on the A8 – a fantastic myriad of touchscreens and haptic feedback that should satisfy even the nerdiest of tech heads.
Similarly, to the exterior, Audi has gone a bit wild with the lighting experience inside the cabin, creating something that wouldn’t look out of place in a Star Trek scene. The optional lighting pack (£275) adds surface and seam lighting galore, with almost endless customisation available to tailor the cabin just the way you like it.
The seats are quite sporty, offer excellent support and are generally comfortable – although they’re not quite on the same level as an A8. In the rear, passengers get plenty of leg room and a little seat adjustability, with only positive feedback heard from occupants during testing.
Then we get to the best bit; the sound system. Three tiers are offered on the Q8 Audi’s basic system, then two upgrades; a B&O premium system for £1150 and a 3D advanced system for £6400. Our test car came fitted with the middle ground Premium system, although on first listening we did mistake it for the £6400 system. Whether it’s the larger cabin, clever speaker placement or just the quality of the system – listening to music in the Q8 was a dream and far surpassed expectations. Bravo Audi and B&O.
On The Road
First impressions of the Q8 on the road were; ‘woah, this is vast’. Moving from a mid-sized family estate, the Q8 takes a bit of getting used to, although the higher seating position and good visibility are an instant plus. Manoeuvring such a large vehicle is aided massively by all the in-car tech, with the 3D camera (£750 option) mapping the surrounding environment remarkably accurately – tight spots no longer seem so tight!
Adaptive cruise and all the usual trimmings are present, including my personal favourite feature on Audis; their Matrix LED headlights. Unusually, these come fitted as standard, making night-time driving a joy. Cabin noise in incredibly low – partly aided by the acoustic glazing (£550), although in truth so little of it appears to be coming from the road I wonder how necessary this really is.
Point the Q8 at some corners and it doesn’t shy away – the chassis is nice and stiff, giving very little body roll and inspiring a decent level of confidence through the steering – a feat for a car tipping the scales at just over 2 tonnes. Running across the bumpy stuff this chassis stiffness does create a ride slightly harsher than you’d expect. It’s perhaps a difficult compromise for Audi in this strange sector of the market, to choose a level of comfort vs sporting ability on such a vehicle; although adaptive dampers as seen on numerous modern cars would be right at home here.
The drivetrain on test was the ‘50’ TDI variant – a 286PS V6 TDI with mild hybrid functions married to an 8-Speed automatic ‘box. In a nutshell, this drivetrain and the Q8 are a match made in heaven. The diesel motor is silky smooth, offers plenty of low-end grunt and the almost endless selection of gears ensures the Q8 can really get a wriggle on, then operate in total silence once up to speed. The economy is the only concern, with low 30s seen throughout testing; I guess even Audi’s engine nerds can’t work wonders on a car this big.
It’s safe to say that whilst the up-sizing of cars has been a trend for a while, the trend for making ‘sporty’ SUV’s hasn’t been around so long, but is certainly here to stay. Although Audi is a little behind their German compatriots in this market – both the Mercedes GLE and BMW X6 have been around for a while, I think Audi’s design is the boldest. They’ve also done something very un-Audi, and that’s laden the base model with numerous features usually reserved for the optional extra tick sheet. As a result, despite Audi’s starting price being a few thousand more than the BMW or Merc, it still represents good value (it’s also a smidge cheaper than the Range Rover Sport).
The Q8 is a very relaxing car to drive, with superb creature comforts and technology galore. The ride is perhaps a little firm, but it does mean it avoids feeling lazy on the road – Audi has certainly nailed their ambition for making this feel sporty and responsive. Fuel economy aside, I struggled to find anything I disliked about the Q8 during my time; if you’re in the SUV market, the Q8 is well worth a look.
Thank you to Audi UK for providing our review vehicle. Price as tested: £76,990