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Audi RS Q8 | Driven

Should a 600hp Cayenne, Range Rover, GLE or X6 not cut the mustard, there's now an Audi alternative...

By Matt Bird / Monday, December 16, 2019

How many words of an Audi RS Q8 review can be written before the RS6 is mentioned? Whoops, 14 then. But it's inevitable, especially on PistonHeads, when there's discussion of another 600hp, V8, five-seat, four-ringed fast car going on. Because everyone loves an RS6, don't they? The two-pronged approach from Audi sends a clear message: there's evidently sufficient demand for a £100k, 190mph SUV - look at the number of rivals, for a start - that the case for an RS Q8 is strong enough. Buy this if you like it, buy an RS6 if you don't - have 600hp whichever vaguely practical way you want it.

Don't forget either that this Q8 shares a lot of its MLBevo architecture with very successful exponents of the breed already: Cayenne, Urus, Bentayga. If the Q8 can combine the best bits of those vehicles, and offer the result at a lower price, then Audi's new RS flagship will be off to good start. Remember as well that this is currently the fastest SUV around the Nordschleife, Frank Stippler having posted a 7:42 last month - or exactly the same time as sportauto recorded in an old Cayman GT4. Or 10 seconds faster than a Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Patently, then, there's dynamic prowess in the vehicle; even DTM champs can only work so much magic.

So, where the devil to begin? Styling is of course a tremendously subjective matter, and we shall be no arbiters of it; for the record Audi describes its new offering as "a reminder that engineering is as much about inspiration as functionality", as well as "imposing" and "self-confident". On first sight the Q8 is most certainly unapologetic, surely a deliberate ploy: the grilles bulging, stance punchy and details brash.

That said it might well be a more successful overhaul than either the Cayenne or GLE coupes, meaningless accolade and faint praise though that may well be. Again, Audi has evidently discovered that the Q8 look works with customers, as does the RS style for other models, so why wouldn't the two be united? Those that don't like it won't be buyers; you suspect those that do will very much enjoy a more Germanic take on the Urus' silhouette. Also, a couple of points to note: these optional 23-inch wheels have 295-section front tyres, and the ceramic brakes save 34kg of unsprung weight in total - despite the front discs growing to a ludicrous 440mm. It's a car of some exceedingly silly numbers, the RS Q8.

The interior continues in a very similar vein, that being almost exactly what one might expect of the fast Audi experience. If it ain't broke and all that, presumably. So the driving environment feels almost a standing desk version of a racy A6, everything familiar but your position higher. It also feels immensely secure, like driving a vault inside a bunker, everything thick, purposeful and tough. The materials are nice, some of the details chintzy, the drive modes fiddlier than they should be. (Yes, there are now RS buttons on the wheel, but they still must be configured on the big screen, and it's been performed with greater simplicity elsewhere.)

Those up to speed with the RS Q8 will be aware that it's fitted with (or optionally available with) a whole swathe of dynamic equipment: the mild hybrid system helps power the electric anti-roll, there's RS adaptive air suspension, quattro four-wheel drive with a centre Torsen diff, individual-wheel torque vectoring, the sport differential, a specific calibration for the gearbox... All that in addition to the brakes mentioned, the eight drive modes (the two bespoke set ups, Allroad, off-road and then usual Audi Drive Select offerings) and fractionally wider tracks. It's an immensely complex car.

Yet it leaves a very simple first impression - namely, that it's absolutely enormous, even on a sparsely populated island. Worryingly so, actually, feeling like it's occupying the entire lane (not helped by average visibility), and that it couldn't possibly navigate anything as puny as a B-road, or a car park, or a city centre. It's a miracle, quite frankly, that Tenerife didn't sink with a fleet of RS Q8s rolling around. Just 13 would be required for a 30-tonne convoy...

Best hope, too, that the B-road doesn't have too much by way of imperfections; even on the island's famously smooth tarmac, the Q8 never really settles on those 23s. Actually, that's a bit of a porky, because the motorway cruise is beautifully adept, sailing along contently. Introduce anything more demanding to the air suspension, however, and the big RS feels under-supported for its considerable mass in 'Comfort' mode, then bordering on obtrusive in 'Dynamic'. Much like many an RS Audi in fact, 'Auto' becomes the best compromise, mostly delivering across the board, though there really shouldn't be any place for compromise in something with a list price in excess of £100,000. For what it's worth, Herr Stippler had his Q8 in Dynamic for everything on his 'ring lap, so perhaps we're just being wusses. On road it seemed best to have steering and suspension back in their mid-way settings, with everything else - powertrain, noise, diff - made their most aggressive. Maybe one to investigate further at a later date.

Whatever the case, its behaviour doesn't bode tremendously well for the UK. This is a heavier vehicle than the X6 M, Cayenne Coupe or Range Rover Sport SVR; the desire to make something both dynamic and comfortable has created a ride that's lacking cohesion at best and irritating at worst, never quite delivering on one remit or the other and surely hampered by that enormous 2,315kg kerbweight. And the 23s. Or, indeed, the standard 22s, you'd imagine.

But, good grief, it can cover ground. Trust in the body control (because it is there), take control of the gearbox manually (because the auto can be dim-witted) and work in the towering mid-range, and the RS Q8 absolutely flies. Requiring precious little delicacy or respect, sure, but the ability is undeniable. Those 295-section tyres of course provide prodigious grip (and the public road really offers no realistic opportunity to test that), the clever roll bars do an unerringly good job of keeping everything flat, and the all-wheel steer gives the Q8 freakish agility, never much more than a quarter of a turn ever required for any bend. Watch the 'ring lap for some proof, the car darting from apex to apex with nothing more taxing than a wrist flick.

Therefore, despite a conspicuous (if entirely expected) lack of interaction, the RS Q8 is a devastating device. It defies all realistic expectation, forcing a recalibration of what the thing in front of you is capable of. It doesn't do so quite perfectly, however...

These qualms should be qualified by the fact that many rivals are afflicted by them, too - they just seem more pronounced in the Audi. By trying simultaneously to be both sporty and opulent, there are occasions when driving becomes an awkward, disjointed experience. The exhausts shred the air around them menacingly, V8 woofle clear for all to hear; shame then that inside, the main noise is a seemingly synthesised, overly smooth V8 roar because of how well insulated it is. The steering that seems great when carving this behemoth though corners seems over eager when just pottering around; the anti-roll that keeps it level is actually a little unsettling because so much car is moving so little. It could be at 20 per cent of its ability or 90 per cent, but the behaviour is much the same. In attempting to cover every single base that could possibly exist for a motor vehicle - funnily enough, there wasn't an off-road part of the launch - there's a suspicion that Audi hasn't emphatically nailed any of them.

A Range Rover Sport SVR is a far more pleasant, authentic, satisfying road car, and surely better off-road, even if it's not as monstrously fast. The Cayenne has nicer steering, sharper dynamics, and more to offer the keen driver. And it's 140kg lighter. The GLE has just been updated again, and the X6 M is launching soon. The competition in this bizarre little subset is formidable, and on this exposure the Q8 doesn't reek of class-leading talent. It seems a bit too calculated to be lusted after, and these cars must surely boast subjective appeal - or why not have the more practical, less expensive, equally powerful version? Alternatives have richer, more inviting interiors, more emotive powertrains or greater driving enjoyment.

Maybe that's true, or maybe the RS Q8 simply requires a different context. Without driving back-to-back it's hard to be sure, but on paper this Audi offers a heck of a lot of the Lamborghini Urus experience for £60,000 less. You only need to look at what that's done for Sant'Agata sales to see the market gap that's opened, and clearly a space is there for Audi. With so much shared it's hopefully not a daft conclusion to reach. And let's be completely honest here: those who are going to buy an RS Q8 have already decided on the fact, and won't care a jot about what anybody else says. On the other hand, it could have delivered a display of dynamic mastery akin to the original R8 and plenty would never have considered it because of what it represents. On this experience the RS Q8 appears to provide a valid alternative to the other Quasimodo 4x4s, without nailing one key USP, and that could be a tricky sell given the less expensive SQ8 already boasts an uber torquey V8. And there's always that RS6 to consider, too...


SPECIFICATION - AUDI RS Q8
Engine:
3,996cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 600@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,200-4,400rpm
0-62mph: 3.8 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 2,315kg (without driver)
MPG: 23.3
CO2: 277g/km
Price: from £103,750 (approx.)

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