With the Q8, Audi brings a sportier and more stylish alternative to the seven-passenger Q7 SUV, while readily sticking it to the faddish “coupe” styling of the Mercedes GLE and BMW X6 SUVs. This is a properly comfortable and appropriately proportioned vehicle that seems to answer a different set of questions than its competitors were given. While the Mercedes and the BMW seem to have been asked how they can make SUVs weirder, the Q8 was asked simply how to make them better. The result is a practical, sporty and all-around appealing entry into the premium SUV market.
The Good: Silky-smooth highway manners and exceptional handling in slippery terrain, such as snow and mud. Audi’s near-perfect Quattro all-wheel-drive system shines in the Q8, and will readily bail you out of most messes. Also, the Q8 is gorgeous, with sharp features but admirable restraint in terms of the creases and character lines that designers regularly sprinkle on their work like magic dust. It’s a more stylish and pointed machine than Audi’s staider Q7 SUV.
Who It’s For: The Q8 is primarily intended for customers upgrading themselves from family haulers – such as Audi’s own Q7 – or those interested in sportier SUV’s, regardless of their age. Obviously, it’s a pricey vehicle, but it’s a solid value for those looking for great design, performance and utility in their machines.
Watch Out For: Be sure you acquaint yourself with the new Audi MMI infotainment system. Audi removed the central dial-based interface in favor of a new haptic touchscreen. It works brilliantly, but it may not be some people’s cup of tea. Also, it uses a dual-screen mechanism, which places the infotainment features on the top and vehicle features, such as climate control, on the bottom – but it also tucks the “favorites” tab on the lower screen. This may confuse some people who will assume the favorite audio channels are on the top, as well.
Alternatives: The Mercedes GLE and BMW X6 are the most obvious competitors. The Q8 handily bests both in terms of both external appearance – being absent the excessively sloping rear rooflines of those cars – and internal rear-seat comfort. Adults simply fare better in the Q8 than the others. But it’s also a fair alternative to the gold standard of luxury SUVs; specifically, the Range Rover Velar. Both have very strong design qualities, though the Velar is more capable off-road, and it’s cheaper, too, starting at $49,600 against the Q8’s $67,400 entry point. But the Q8 brings its own brand of amenities and features to the table that makes it worth considering amidst any price-shopping.
Review: Out west, driving is a lot like piloting an airliner: Long stretches of easy cruise-control bookended by moments of sheer terror. At least, that’s been my experience. You drive and drive and drive across barren, beautiful landscapes only to suddenly plunge deep into a valley and within moments be inches from a 700-foot drop-off on a road with no guardrail and a slushy mix of slimy, icy death coating the surface of the road. I love it.
So rolling from Park City, Utah, just outside Salt Lake City, to Telluride, Colorado over three days in the Q8 was a truly defining test of the vehicle and myself. I did fine – I live for these kinds of road trips – and the Q8 proved itself an admirably worthy sidekick. Its smooth handling, courtesy of the optional electric air suspension, and ready-for-anything disposition scotched any worries I had about finding myself stuck somewhere in the remote high desert. Along that route, including a brief foray in Arches National Park and a stretching through a slithering canyon outside Gateway, Colorado, we encountered stunning terrain that made me marvel at the percentage of the world that didn’t have the privilege of experiencing such marvels – whether because of economic inability or pure disinterest. It’s tragic in both cases, of course, and makes me similarly wonder about the future, given the apparent disinterest younger generations have in driving. Fully autonomous vehicles may, or may not, one day be able to take you here, but until then, you’re going to Uber your way across 400 miles of remotest Utah? No, you’re not.
Anyway, enjoying the scrolling landscape through the double-thick glass of the Q8, perched on thick, comfortable massage seats and enjoying certain stretches under the control of Audi’s advanced automatic cruise control, was a distinct bonus. This is a touring machine par excellence, one that, assuming you tick at least a few of the options boxes, will keep your butt warm and your mind relaxed as you process a country that looks essentially as the pioneers saw it, save for the ribbons of asphalt stretching to the horizon.
Unwinding those ribbons behind a surging, new V6 will help make the longer stretches a bit more entertaining – though not too much, as one in our wagon train got nicked by the local sheriff for enjoying it a bit too much. It’ll also be a bit more efficient since the Q8 comes with a 48-volt milt-hybrid electrical system that enables more stealthy cylinder deactivation at cruise speeds. The engine will certainly also help you uncoil canyon curves more authoritatively, with the responsive eight-speed transmission and Quattro all-wheel-drive ready for speedy application of power as you need it. During one snowy ascent up a mountain in Utah, the car wriggled just barely but stayed poised and pointed in the right direction as I sped up as fast as I dared. Though other cars struggled, myself and some over-torqued, lifted pickups heading to the mountain-top ski resorts took the challenge like champions.
I admit, however, that we didn’t take the Q8 off-road, much as I would have liked to, but it’s not really that kind of car. Yes, its air suspension will get you several additional inches of ground clearance, up to 10, and its Quattro all-wheel-drive is above reproach. After all, the Q8’s visual styling indeed echoes that of the famous ur Quattros of the 1980s – but any such capabilities the car has aren’t being explicitly encouraged. That said, we did several miles of loose gravel and felt for all the world like rally champs in the process. Test the car at your own risk, but I suspect it will surprise you.
Otherwise, there’s a lot more going on in the Q8 – the interior luxury and rear-seat roominess, the smart styling and great overall proportions that minimize SUV bloat, and the more subtle details of comfort and convenience, including a nicely executed center console that prioritizes smartphone accessibility and charging rather than trying to bury that stuff out of sight. In short, it’s a car for real people, with real, practical, and logical solutions. It’s a pleasure to be in.
Verdict: The Q8 is a fully capable SUV that’s smooth and quiet on the road, yet always ready to escalate the proceedings with aggressive handling in the twisties, stellar performance in snow, rain and other slippery situations, and modest off-roadability. It’s also comfortable, particularly for those confined to the rear seats, which have acres of room. Finally, it’s got sleek styling and an appropriately aggressive posture. This ain’t no family hauler. It’s an SUV for grown-ups, front and rear.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Oddly, for a vehicle intended to be so much sportier than the family truckster upon which it’s based, the Q8 rides beautifully. Even on the 22s, the Q8 is supple and never floaty. And, believe us, our route was no press-drive cakewalk. We traversed plenty of washboard gravel paths and undulating, broken pavement, and even in Sport mode the Q8 never harshed our day.” — Daniel Pund, Car and Driver
• “It’s a complex car, the Q8. What feels initially like yet another thinly- sliced niche actually resolves into a very capable SUV that’s a good deal more practical than the looks would suggest.” — Top Gear
• “As a first-time entry into the large coupe-SUV market, Audi has done a typically sound job. The Q8 is surprisingly sharp to drive for a 2.1-tonne SUV, comfort levels are excellent and the cabin puts older rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, BMW X6 – and, if we’re honest, the Range Rover Sport – to shame.” — James Dennison, Car Magazine
Audi Q8 Key Specs
Powertrain: 3.0 TFSI V6; eight-speed automatice with all-wheel-drive
Torque: 369 lb-ft
0-60: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 130 mph
Fuel economy: 19 mpg combined
MSRP (base): Premium, $67,400; Premium Plus, $71,400; Prestige, $76,550
Audi hosted us and provided this product for review.
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