Audi Q8: Driven

Although you and I might look at a BMW X6 and wonder 'why?', if we worked in the product planning department at a rival premium car-maker such as Audi, 'wow' might be nearer the mark. Not because we'd have been caught in the tractor beam of the BMW's staggering kerbside allure, obviously. You don't need warp nacelles to escape that one.

No - you simply have to doff your cap to any manufacturer who's first to a profitable niche, and cleans up to the tune of nearly half-a-million units over ten years as a result. Believe it or not, the X6 has been a bit of a smash hit. Puzzling, isn't it?

It's perhaps less puzzling, in light of that success, that some of BMW's opponents have launched X6 rivals since 2008, in an attempt to steal a bit of extra-juicy 'sports utility coupe' pie. Audi's the latest, having just introduced its new top-of-the-range Q-car SUV: the Q8. Which used to be an unusually pricey place to buy your four-star, didn't it? Well, now it's an SUV-cum-GT-four-door.

The Q8 is, of course, another of those large VW Group SUVs. Its sister car, the Q7, was the first big 4x4 to adopt the group's 'MLB-Evo' platform in 2015, but there have been no fewer than four others to use it since (Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne, VW Touareg, Lamborghini Urus). And that's not counting the Audi Q5, which uses 'MLB-Evo' too.

Should we allow that fact to detract from the Q8's desirability, given how differently sister brands can apply the same model platforms these days? Maybe not; but perhaps the platform doesn't matter so much in this case. Because the fact that the Q8 looks so much like the Urus, at least from certain angles, will be the main reason people have that deja-vu moment when they first lay eyes on it.

Audi isn't coy about the particularly close relationship between the Q8 and Urus, by the way. The VW Group politics defining who made which decision and why will likely remain unknown to us; but according to designer Frank Lamberty, Audi set out on the Q8 project first - and if they hadn't "there's no way the Urus could ever have existed."

The Q8 is marginally shorter than a Q7, with a lower, swoopier roofline - but one of Audi's design departure points for the car was to do more than simply reprofile the Q7's silhouette. And so the Q8 gets frameless doors; a lower bonnet and wider singleframe grille than the Q7; wider front and rear wings, complete with what Audi calls 'quattro blisters' (inspired by those of the 1980s Sport Quattro homologation special) above the arches; and a 'faster' (read more steeply raked) rear windscreen.

Though it sounds like a lot of effort to have gone to, I'm not sure it looks like it. To my eyes a Q2 is a more distinctive and better-looking car than this. I'm sure few would object to the look of the Q8 in the same way they might have to the original X6 a decade ago; it's nice enough. It's just not brilliant to look at. It's another Russian doll Audi SUV, dare I suggest it.

On the inside, however, the Q8 looks and feels particularly plush and expensive. Over and above the perceived quality standard of a Q7 (not shabby), the Q8 adds a load more satin chrome and 'piano' black trim, and manages to deploy the latter in a way that isn't too vulnerable to fingerprints and dirty smudges.

But what distinguishes the Q8's cabin principally are the double-decker touchscreens of Audi's new 'MMI Touch' infotainment system to be found on the car's centre stack, as seen in the A8, A7 and the recent A6. I'm not the biggest fan of touchscreens in cars, but I found them fairly easy to use and low on distraction factor.

Passenger space is good: there's no third row of seats, of course, but there's plenty of room for taller adults in the second one, with headroom feeling lightly trimmed but not in particularly short supply. And boot space is a very healthy 600-odd litres.

And what of the driving? Does the Q8 struggle to set itself apart from the Q7 on the road, as well as elsewhere? The short answer's yes, for now - allowing for the fact that there's only one engine on offer until the beginning of 2019, and even then things don't get much more interesting.

Audi's launching the Q8 with its familiar 286 horsepower 3.0-litre '50 TDI' diesel lump, which is coupled to the extra-large lithium-ion battery, engine starter-generator and 48-volt electrical system of its mild hybrid powertrain. Next year there'll be a 340-horse '55 TFSI' V6 petrol and a 231hp '45 TDI' diesel on offer as well - but as yet there's no sign of the sort of engine that might lift a cultured but becalmed performance level to greater and more exciting heights.

And they're heights the Q8 could certainly do with hitting. As it stands, I dare say you'd be a touch underwhelmed to have given up a Porsche Cayenne, or a more expensive Range Rover Sport or BMW X6, for this car. That diesel engine's fine - torquey, smooth, remarkably quiet, and good for a very reasonable turn of speed. But it lacks a bit of richness and star quality - and I think Q8 owners will probably expect some of that.

The Q8's chassis, meanwhile (sports-tuned air springs and centre diff-based torque-vectoring four-wheel drive both standard; four-wheel steering optional; active anti-roll bars absent) is more firmly sprung than a Q7's, and feels it regardless of your selected drive mode. 'Comfort' mode still offers nicely cushioned bump absorption, good road isolation and a light, easily twirled steering wheel. But in 'dynamic' mode, the steering weights up notably, body control doubles down and, at low speeds, you can feel the Q8's four-wheel steering system adding a little bit of pointiness into the handling mix.

But, while the car turns in level and medium-hard and grips pretty well mid-corner too, it never surprises you with its agility. The Audi's balance feels a touch inert and stability-biased as the car's hold on the road runs short, and its driveline never seems either willing or able - on the road, at least - to shunt the kind of torque to the rear axle that might give it the throttle-on handling poise that one or two of its rivals can come up with.

Roll on Audi Sport's 'RS' version of the car, then (which you might have seen in our spy photos last week). Because with some more lively suspension tuning, a proper performance engine and a more aggressive styling makeover, the Q8 might yet represent a more attractively sporting proposition than a Q7. As it is, however, it feels as if it's only part of the way there.

Matt Saunders


Engine: 2,967cc, V6 diesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 286@3,500-4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 442@2,250-3,250rpm
0-62mph: 6.3sec
Top speed: 144mph
Weight: 2,145kg (DIN)
MPG: tbc
CO2: tbc
Price: £65,000 (tbc)

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Comments (154) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Digger 20 Jun 2018

    Warp nacelles ?

    We should not have google such nonsense to make sense of a PH Audi article

  • Turbojuice 20 Jun 2018

    Audi, Why?

  • frankenstein12 20 Jun 2018

    Ummm isn't that an Urus?

  • gigglebug 20 Jun 2018

    Are there some inconsistencies with the photos? I'm viewing on a phone for clarity but some make the Q8 look like it's got quite a narrow but tall frontal area where others make it look like it has a lower but wider stance. One looks better than the other but which is accurate?

    Edited by gigglebug on Wednesday 20th June 23:42

  • Shiv_P 21 Jun 2018

    That interior cloud9

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