Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 21, 2019
The Q8 is Audi’s flagship SUV based on the three-row Q7 but with chopped overhangs and a sloping roofline. The Q8 is lower and wider as well, creating a sportier and slightly more athletic stance. This heightened sense of style takes a hit with headroom and cargo space but without a third row of seats taking up cabin real estate, the Q8 actually gets more legroom than its compatriot. But don’t mistake the Q8 to be a direct competitor to the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe with their coupe-like rooflines. Though many buyers would certainly cross-shop between them, the Q8 is more in line with the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne, both in terms of size and price.
The Q8 successfully mixes classic and modern Audi design features together, showcased by its imposing front grill and C-pillar based off the Audi Sport quattro rally car. You will find a fair deal of Bentayga and Urus influence from the rear quarters but much to our dismay, Audi has kept their signature fake exhaust outlets. Still, it’s a stunning SUV from any angle and in this white and black spec as shown in our photographs, the Q8 looks as if Hannibal Lecter dressed up as a stormtrooper for Halloween. The dropped roofline shrinks its visual footprint, as does the wider stance and frameless doors but the Q8 is quite a substantial size, especially when 22-inch shoes are housed within those massive arches.
Turns out that the Q8 is more functional and better packaged that it initially appears. The roofline is not as acutely angled as the X6 or GLE Coupe, and where I normally struggle to fit under the roof the latter two, my six-foot figure slides perfectly into the Q8. I can wiggle around without getting my hair restyled on the headliner or my knees grazing the front seatback. Still, if cargo space and seven-passenger capability rank on the top of your wishlist, best to stick with the Q7, which should be due for a refresh in 2020.
The Q8 interior is a major step up from the Q7, replacing the dashboard-mounted pop-up screen, center trackpad, and dedicated HVAC section, with two high-definition touchscreens that are similarly found in the A7 and A8. Audi has programmed their screens with strong haptic and audio feedback when inputs are acknowledged, but it still doesn’t address the issue of hunting for the intended button and visually confirming you hit the right prompt. To limit driver distraction, Audi has implemented other ways to input commands with a voice control system that effectively detects natural spoken dialogue, and ergonomic steering wheel buttons that control the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit interface with 1920p native resolution.
The steering wheel is the same variant used in other Audi SUVs with black plastic surfaces, and does not feel as premium as the one in the range-topping A8 Sedan. Sadly, we don’t receive the flat-bottom S-Line steering wheel like they do overseas. We also noticed a few cost-cutting areas in the Q8, such as the VW-like hard black shiny plastics covering a large part of the door sills and rear seat shoulders. The seats are not as comfortable or as supportive as its sedan counterparts either, despite being equipped with adjustable lumbar, massage, heated, and ventilated functions. The front armrests do not heat up either and like the A7, the rear windows do not retract all the way down. One-third of it protrudes up, preventing occupants from resting their arms out the window.
There is only one powertrain offered with the Q8: a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system. Under the rear cargo floor is a 10 Ah lithium ion battery system that acts as the vehicle’s alternator and start/stop system, and while it does not add supplemental torque, it enables the engine to shut off for up to 40 seconds when coasting between 60 - 160 km/h, and ensures the start/stop transition to be nearly imperceptible. Audi suggests that it will save an average of 0.7 L/100km.
The V6 is good for 335 hp and 369 lb-ft, and instead of a dual-clutch transmission, the Q8 routes that power via a more traditional 8-speed automatic. While the output is competitive, there isn’t much excitement from the performance end. Some drivers might find the V6 to be stale and uninspiring but that would be missing the point entirely. Going fast in a straight line and emitting obnoxious pops and bangs from the exhaust isn’t Audi’s mojo. Instead, the V6 glides up the rev range like microwaved butter, the shifts go largely unnoticed, and it barely makes a purr during idle, offering an almost EV-like decibel count.
We did discover a considerable amount of delay with the start-stop system, especially during rolling stops. Slowing the car down to a near full-stop and adding throttle right at the very last moment seems to confuse the system. During that split second, the gas pedal doesn’t react to any input. You don’t even hear the turbos spooling or the clutch engaging. Perhaps there is a bit of mechanical confusion between the engine, battery, and gearbox as to who should take the helm first. How Canadian. It’s odd because we never experienced this in the A6, A7, or A8 that all use the exact same powertrain.
That said, stepping on its tail does make the Q8 pounce but don’t expect AMG or M levels of acceleration. Rather, the Q8 offers a modest amount of thrust that casual drivers will admit to be a sufficient amount. Audi knows that you don’t need excessive power to create a proper driver’s car, and the Q8 handles repeated changes in directions with an athleticism normally reserved for smaller SUVs. That effect is amplified when equipped with the Dynamic Package ($3,185) that adds an adaptive air suspension and all-wheel steering, the latter of which allows the rear wheels to rotate, effectively shrinking the wheelbase at low speeds. The result is a tidy, grippy, and eager SUV that only needs a modicum of steering to spin from east to west.
What stood out most was the ride quality. The Q8 is comfortable beyond reproach, even on the optional 22-inch wheels, a size that normally gives large SUVs a hard time when it comes to surface absorption. Perhaps it’s stealing secrets from Bentley, because the Q8 simply hovers over broken roads and undulations that would normally give a Mercedes S-Class a thundering jolt up the spine. When it comes to the overall driving experience however, think of the Q8 as a middle ground between the sharpness of a Cayenne and the suppleness of a Bentayga, which makes sense as all three SUVs share the same basic platform.
The only real issue I have with the Q8 is the price, which starts at $81,200 for the Progressiv, and $88,800 for the Technik trim. Our fully loaded model ran just a tick over $110,000. That’s a mighty jump over the Q7 that starts at just $66,300 albeit with a smaller four-cylinder engine and bare minimum features. I am aware the Q8 does not technically compete against the Mercedes GLE 450 Coupe and BMW X6 but the rivaling Germans cost significantly less, which may be off putting to buyers cross-shopping between every brand. If you put the Q8 against the established Range Rover Sport ($81,300 SE, $87,300 HSE) and Porsche Cayenne ($76,700 base, $94,100 S) however, their pricing structure begins to make sense. The Q8 may seem a bit more sober and sterile in comparison, and it’s not the fastest horse in the stable, but its polished ride, athleticism around corners, and oodles of road presence should emphatically convince any buyer of its range-topping status.
Model: 2019 Audi Q8 55 TFSI quattro Technik
Paint Type: Glacier White
Base Price: $88,800
Price as Tested: $110,300
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,986 / 1,995 / 1,705
Curb weight (kg): 2,145
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 with 48-volt mild hybrid system
Horsepower: 335 hp @ 5,000 - 6,400 rpm
Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1,370 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 14.0 / 10.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.8