JUST when you thought Audi couldn’t stretch its range any further, along comes the Q8, an answer to a question no one really was asking.
Like spilt water spreading to fill every crevice, Audi is working its way towards critical mass by taking a rolling pin to its line-up and spreading it wafer-thin.
The German firm says the Q8 is a car for buyers who want the elegance of a luxury coupe and the convenience of a large SUV — but quite how many of those buyers exist remains to be seen.
Based on the firm’s range-topping Q7 SUV, the Q8 is shorter both in height and length, but wider, and debuts the new ‘face of the Q family’ with a bold and imposing grille.
Audi is targeting buyers of the BMW X6 and Mercedes Benz GLE here, which means the Q8 has to stand out from the crowd. With looks dominated by that new nose and swooping body lines, it cuts a fine figure in the tough SUV-coupe class.
WHAT’S UNDER THE BONNET?
Audi has employed some clever technical tricks to increase efficiency. A mild hybrid system (MHEV) uses a large battery to increase the amount of time the engine can use its start-stop system, and even allows it to completely shut down and coast at speeds between 55kph-160kph.
At launch, just one engine will be available, a 3.0-litre diesel badged 50 TDI. This offers 286bhp and 600Nm of torque and is able to propel the Q8 to 100kph in under 6.5 seconds and on to a top speed of more than 230kph. Fuel economy and emissions have yet to be revealed. A less powerful 3.0-litre diesel and a 3.0-litre petrol will join the range later this year.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Our test route was thousands of metres above sea level in the Atacama mountains in Chile, where we struggled to breathe, and so too did the Audi engines. That said, despite some wheezing, the high-powered 3.0-litre diesel model we tested performed well, albeit with some unusual audible rattling.
The steering felt weightier than you’d expect in an Audi SUV, and on the smaller wheeled option with air-suspension cranked up to comfort, it coped well with the rutted roads that crossed the South American deserts. Its dynamic ability was hard to fathom on these arrow straight highways, but on the few bends we did tackle there was little body roll.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Unless you’re in the market for a large coupe SUV, chances are something like the Q8 won’t appeal. However, Audi has done a great job of making a sloping roofed off-roader look handsome — it’s far more attractive than the awkward BMW X6 and that’s likely to ultimately win it attention.
WHAT’S IT LIKE INSIDE?
Inside, the smart twin-screen set-up first seen on the A8 has been implemented. It splits heating and car controls to the lower display and entertainment to the top. It’s minutely adjustable and a real joy to use. Haptic feedback, that makes it feel like you’re pressing a physical button rather than a touchscreen, makes it easy to work with on the move, and the controls are intuitive.
Especially clever is the latest natural language voice control, which lets you say things like, ‘I’m hungry’, or, ‘I need fuel’, and the system will pull up nearby restaurants or petrol stations. The sat-nav can learn your regular routes too — even if you haven’t added them to the system — and will warn you of unusual traffic issues on your commute.
The dash swoops around the driver and passenger in coupe-car style and the multi-adjustable seats are very comfy. The interior materials look and feel luxurious too, but our test car’s centre console did squeak a little too much for a brand new car.
WHAT’S THE SPEC LIKE?
The S line specification includes LED headlights, 21-inch alloy wheels and adaptive sport air suspension as standard. A reversing camera, phone charging box, ambient lighting, powered tailgate and Keyless-Go are some of the other highlights also included.
A high-end Vorsprung specification will be made available shortly after launch which adds huge 22-inch alloys, sportier (and heated) seats, a head-up display, more leather, panoramic glass sunroof, and power door closure, among many other niceties.
In a market of — frankly, quite ugly — large SUV coupes, the Audi Q8 stands out as a bit of a looker. The whopping new grille takes some getting used to, but it helps it cut a dramatic figure on the road.
Although it’ll appeal to limited numbers of buyers, the Q8 is a compelling package that’s enjoyable to drive, comfortable and packed with usable and useful technology.
Audi might be spreading its range rather thinly these days, but this could well be yet another niche it’s filled rather successfully indeed.
It rivals the BMW X6, Mercedes Benz GLE and Maserati Levante.