Road test: Audi Q8 SUV 'fastback'

By Ged Bulmer, April 30 2019
Road test: Audi Q8 SUV 'fastback'

What we’re driving: Audi Q8 55 TFSI quattro tiptronic 

What it costs: RRP $128,900 (as tested, $138,850)

Why we’re driving it: The Q8 is the latest addition to Audi’s expanding Q range, joining the existing Q2, Q3, Q5 and Q7 models.

Despite is alpha-numeric nomenclature suggesting this is the next size up from a Q7, it’s actually designed to complement the latter seven-seat version, by offering similar performance and interior space in a big five-seat coupe-crossover body style.

The Q8’s styling also represents the new face of Audi’s Q family of models, so expect to see these cues cascade down into other models in the near future.

What it costs: Unusually in these days of multiple powertrains in practically every model range, the Q8 is available with just a single engine and transmission, plus the usual array of Audi options which can push the price well north of it $128,900 RRP.

Our test car came equipped with around $10k of optional extras, chief among which is the ‘dynamic steering package’ which adds $4500 but improves low speed manoeuvrability and high-speed dynamics, thanks to all-wheel steer.

On the outside

The Q8 follows the recent trend to tall-bodied fastback SUVs established by the likes of the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. It’s not an overly practical body style and does nothing that a Q7 can’t do – except look sexy, which is entirely the point.

From the side view it’s all about the Q8’s coupe-style roofline, which slopes back from the windscreen to is raked D-pillars in a sporty athletic sweep. Up front, its powerful visage is dominated by a distinctive octagonal grille, flanked by stylised LED headlights up high, and gaping air inlets down low.

Under the bonnet

As its name doesn’t exactly suggest, the Q8 55 TFSI quattro is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol V6, punching out a V8-rivalling 250kW and 500Nm. The drivetrain also features an integrated 48-volt mild hybrid assistance system, designed to work in tandem with the standard stop-start system to get the big 2265kg unit off the mark.

The turbo V6 mates to Audi’s slick eight-speed automatic and puts its power down via a quattro all-wheel drive system and massive 21-inch wheels. The combo fires the Q8 from 0-100km/h in a respectable 5.9 seconds, which by way of comparison is about on a par with Audi’s S1 quattro hot hatch.

The engine is sewing machine smooth and instantly responsive, the turbo adding plenty of muscle to its delivery.

Peak torque arrives at just 2900rpm and hangs in all the way to 5300rpm, but despite this the Q8 doesn’t feel quite so quick off the mark. This no doubt has everything to do with car’s hefty kerb weight, and to get it to hustle you need to select the sportiest ‘dynamic’ drive mode before you mash the throttle.

On the inside

Audi has set the standard for its German prestige rivals in the interior design stakes in recent years and the Q8 is no exception.

Our test car’s combination of polished dark oak, piano-gloss black, high-quality Valcona leather and strategically placed bursts of brushed-alloy, combined to make it a decidedly upmarket and comfortable environment.

Far from feeling like the well-cosseted interior of a gentlemen’s club, however, the Q8’s hi-tech dash and console ensure the interior looks and feels absolutely state of the art.

Ahead of the driver is Audi’s 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, a configurable digital instrument display that allows you to expand or reduce the speedo and tachometer size while projecting a high-quality sat-nav image into the space between.

The cabin is bisected by a wide centre console, which flows up into two hi-resolution touchscreens; the upper 10.1-inch unit controlling the car’s infotainment system; the lower 8.6-inch unit controlling climate and other comfort features.

It’s all very hi-tech and while it seems intimidating at first, the system is fairly intuitive, providing audible and haptic feedback as you access the various menus. There are a few gripes, to be sure but it serves the purpose of minimizing the number of switches and buttons the driver needs to engage with.

One of the few remaining switches enables selection of the Q8’s seven different suspension and powertrain modes; tweaking the electronically controlled dampers and the engine-mapping depending on whether you want to cruise in comfort mode, or have a crack in dynamic mode.

On the road

The Q8 feels superbly well planted in bends, its massive 285/45R21 tyres and Audi’s proven quattro all-wheel drive system creating a sense of almost unshakeable grip.

Despite its bulk it holds up impressively well in corners, maintaining a resolutely flat stance and refusing to keel over, even despite severe provocation.

But all that rubber and electronic traction trickery can’t entirely deny physics, and after several quick strafes through a favourite piece of road the Q8’s front brakes were sending tell-tale smoke signals.

So while this big Audi can certainly handle the tight stuff, it’s open flowing conditions where the Q8 is most at home. Here, on such sinuous roads and with its suspension set to ‘dynamic’ it threads corners with an insouciant air.

In summary

Think of it as a Q7 with more tech, more flair and two less seats – or as an SUV that’s more about personality than practicality – and you pretty much have it nailed. 

Ged Bulmer

Executive Traveller motoring correspondent Ged Bulmer is one of Australia's most respected motoring experts and a former editor of Wheels, Motor, WhichCar and CarsGuide

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