No matter what they do or don’t do, some things just draw a crowd.
Take the ‘stealth bomber’. Yes, it’s ultimately capable of doing what it says on the proverbial tin, which may understandably anger some folk, but as a sheer feat of engineering and technology, it’s an eye-catcher and gets plenty of jaws dropping – rather like the Audi Q8.
As supersized SUV-coupe crossovers go, Audi’s new flagship is aesthetically much more resolved than its established rivals and has a welcome whiff of hatchback about it. Open-mouthed Darth Vader at the front meets muscular shoulders and hips filled with Vorsprung trim’s 22-inch ferris wheels, while the rear light-bar and spoiler complete the Q8’s form in a somewhat futuristic and highly desirable way.
Its low-slung coupe roofline is designed to make it appear lower and sleeker than the 7-seater Q7, and while the Audi Q8 is 66mm shorter, it’s actually 27mm wider and certainly fills rear-view mirrors. It’s a stunning car externally and conveys having been designed purposefully as a luxury car on stilts sporting gym gear rather than an after-thought that looks like someone’s just given a Q7 the hedge-trimmer treatment at the rear. HD matrix LED headlights come as standard and in the test car’s Daytona Grey paint, the Audi Q8 will look the part wherever it’s parked. Turning up late to the luxury SUV-coupe crossover party has paid off for Audi.
The Audi Q8 Vorsprung is equally breath-taking inside, the brilliant Virtual Cockpit digital instrument screen behind the steering wheel complemented by two central touchscreens that drip class even if they are fingerprint magnets and even if haptic feedback isn’t exactly the safest way of operating climate and other functions on the move. The upper screen is home to all the infotainment stuff along with the fantastic Google Earth sat nav, while the lower screen controls ancillary settings like the heated front and rear seats, and acts as the easel for attempting to scrawl destinations and contact names using Audi’s very cool MMI Touch Response system. Even the tactile panel for controlling the sidelights and headlights looks highly sophisticated, as does the gear selector.
The diamond-stitched and quilted Valcona leather Super Sport seats are as beautiful to behold as they are sumptuous and supportive to sit in, and the heated rear seats enjoy their own gorgeous ventilation touchscreen and electric window blinds.
Other cabin highlights include Audi phonebox wireless smartphone charging, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a Bang & Olufsen audio system, LED ambient lighting that automatically changes colour, powered soft-closing doors, a head-up display, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and Wi-Fi/LTE connectivity. The absence of USB-C ports in such a cutting-edge car is a trifle odd, the nets on the seat-backs aren’t as good as proper pockets, and a few additional storage cubbies wouldn’t go amiss, but the Q8 Vorsprung is otherwise a complete pamper-fest.
Just shy of 3m in length, the 5-seat Q8 is slightly shorter than the 7-seat Q7 but boasts the longest wheelbase in its niche class and is ridiculously spacious inside, belying its raked roofline. The rear seats slide, fold, recline and enjoy a palatial amount of space, but the middle seat is only really suitable for a child or anyone who doesn’t mind breathing in while straddling their legs over the transmission tunnel.
Boot space of 605 litres is pretty good and beats the BMW X6’s 580 litres but isn’t quite as commodious as the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe’s 650 litre cargo space, and can’t match the Q7’s 770 litres. The sloping coupe roofline may not impede passenger space but it renders the long and shallow boot less practical for carrying taller items like washing machines or Saint Bernard dogs, and there’s a lip to negotiate. Air suspension with a 65mm kneeling function comes to the rescue for arthritic pets, struggling parents or hikers in need of a perch for donning walking boots or eating their sandwiches from, though.
With 286PS, 600Nm/442lb ft torque and a 62mph acceleration time of 6.3 seconds from its 3.0-litre V6 diesel powerplant, the Q8 50 TDI packs enough punch to satiate most people, but there’s no throaty exhaust drama to be had, even in Dynamic mode. Audi’s newcomer does everything asked of it, though, from pottering and point-to-point dashes, to motorway cruising and navigating farm tracks, and the ride even on 22-inch rims is remarkably composed. There’s a modicum of wind noise from the door mirrors at times, but road and tyre noise are virtually non-existent.
In Efficiency, Comfort and Normal driving modes, the Q8 wafts along every bit like a jacked-up limousine, acceleration is smooth and linear, and the car’s refinement continues at A-road and motorway speeds, only let down by a touch of what feels like turbo lag plus some occasional jerkiness and dithering from the dual-clutch, 8-cog ‘automatic’ S-tronic gearbox.
Under the skin, the Q8 50 TDI has a nifty 48V ‘mild hybrid’ electrical system that really does work and provides a commendable boost to the hefty car’s fuel economy. It enables the Q8 50 TDI to coast with the engine switched off for impressively long periods, to recover power during braking, and rely on the start-stop system more heavily, reducing consumption and boosting economy to the extent where achieving over 40mpg is easily feasible through driving sensibly, giving you a tank range of around 650 miles from this whopping cross-continental cruiser. It’s also by far the greenest in the group with CO2 emissions of 178g/km, for which Audi really does deserve a pat on the back. In an automotive version of First Dates, the engine and car’s overall personality would certainly send out those ‘keeper’ vibes.
Dynamic mode unsurprisingly sharpens up the throttle response and also drops the suspension by 40mm to enable the Q8 to be pitched around bends more confidently without a whiff of body roll, but the steering doesn’t convey dollops of feel and feedback. Placing the chamfered Audi isn’t quite as easy as its linear and even loftier Q7 sibling, but the Q8 has a wraparound feel and isn’t intimidating, while the excellent all-wheel steering setup aids manoeuvrability.
Few people will venture far off the beaten track in their Q8s, but versions with air suspension come with Off-road mode as well as standard Allroad, and the short overhangs plus the usual gubbins like hill descent control provide some confidence-boosters for those who dare to tackle, or more probably get lost on, challenging terrain.
Priced from around £63,000, Audi’s new luxury SUV-coupe crossover is slightly pricier to buy than the older X6, and costs from around the same as the Mercedes GLE Coupe, while Vorsprung guise as tested weighs in at over £82,000 but comes with all the toys. Monthly car leasing payments for the Q8 are currently higher than for its established rivals, but the Audi is likely to prove more economical to run, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
The Audi Q8 has the most cohesive shape in the luxury SUV-coupe class and features an even more impressive interior, rich with technology and providing oodles of space. In 50 TDI guise, power is plentiful albeit without any drama, the handling although not exciting is an engineering triumph and belies the car’s sheer proportions, and Audi’s 48V mild hybrid drivetrain really is impressive at reducing trips to the pump. It’s a hugely attractive luxury SUV-coupe crossover that walks the talk.