It’s no surprise that everyone who clapped eyes on the Q8 called it a beast. Its aesthetics blend Darth Vader’s helmet, angles inspired by the architect Calatrava who designed Valencia’s epic cultural edifices, an almost hatchback-like and cohesive silhouette, elegant frameless doors, and that gorgeous full-width light-bar at the rear. Unless you’re a former Coronation Street actor living in Alderley Edge, perhaps give Dragon Orange a miss. Daytona Grey as tested suits it well. Mind. Blown.
Inside the Q8 is maybe even more striking, especially for those uninitiated with the approach of Audi’s new breed of luxury models, the brilliant Virtual Cockpit digital instrument screen behind the steering wheel complemented by two central touchscreens that drip class even if they are fingerprint magnets and haptic feedback isn’t exactly the safest way of operating climate and other functions on the move. The upper screen is home to all the infotainment stuff along with the fantastic Google Earth sat nav, while the lower screen controls ancillary settings like the heated front and rear seats, and acts as the easel for attempting to scrawl destinations and contact names using Audi’s very cool MMI Touch Response system. Even the headlight panel looks highly sophisticated, replacing previous rotary iterations.
There was barely a square millimetre not clad in glossy piano black or grey polished oak trim, or draped in leather which extended right to the windscreen, and Audi’s usual bank vault-like perceived build quality shone through immediately. The diamond-stitched Valcona leather Super Sport seats hug and pamper superbly, the few minimalist controls that remain are machined beautifully, the LED ambient lighting automatically changes colour to reflect spirited driving or cool temperature settings for example, and Vorsprung models boast the kind of standard equipment expected on luxury cars of this ilk.
Soft-closing doors, a head-up display, Wi-Fi and connected services, electric window blinds in the rear, Audi Phonebox wireless smartphone charging, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, an evocative flat-bottom steering wheel and the upgraded Bang & Olufsen sound system made the test mule an extremely pleasant place in which to munch away the miles.
After barrel-scraping in order to identify any rare grumbles, Audi’s former rotary controllers were easier to use than the new haptic feedback touchscreen setup, the rear windows didn’t seem to fully wind down, and for a car as technologically advanced as this, fitment of USB-C connections would be nice. On the whole, though, the Audi Q8’s interior is remarkable in terms of finish and specification, although some may rue its absent flamboyancy and prefer something a tad less demure.
With the longest wheelbase in the SUV-coupe class at a whisker under 3m and with five seats rather than the Q7’s seven, the Q8 is ridiculously spacious inside, belying its raked roofline. The rear seats slide, recline and enjoy their own classy-looking climate touchscreen, electric sun blinds and a palatial amount of space, but three adults will probably struggle back there because of the narrow middle seat and the intrusion of the transmission tunnel.
The Audi Q8’s 605-litre boot offers more on-paper luggage space than the BMW X6 (580L) but falls short of the Mercedes GLE Coupe’s 650 litres and can’t hold a candle to its Q7 sibling that boasts a bewildering 770 litres. The sloping coupe roofline may not impede passenger space but it renders the long and shallow boot less practical for carrying taller items like washing machines, or indeed dogs, and there’s a lip to negotiate. Air suspension with a 65mm kneeling function comes to the rescue for arthritic pets, struggling parents or hikers in need of a seat for donning walking boots or eating their sandwiches from, though.
With 286PS, 600Nm/442lb ft torque and a 62mph sprint time of 6.3 seconds from its 3.0-litre V6 diesel powerplant, the Q8 50 TDI packs enough punch to satiate most people, but there’s no throaty exhaust drama to be had, even in Dynamic mode. Audi’s newcomer does everything asked of it, though, from pottering and point-to-point dashes to motorway cruising and navigating farm tracks, and the ride even on 22-inch ferris wheels is remarkably composed. There’s a touch of wind noise from the door mirrors at times, but road and tyre noise are virtually non-existent.
The car can feel somewhat lumbering especially in Efficiency mode, which admittedly isn’t surprising, and the 8-speed dual-clutch S-tronic gearbox occasionally gets jerky at junctions and manifests lag before kicking down, but the drivetrain is otherwise very impressive and instils confidence that it’ll last a lifetime.
Under the skin, the Q8 50 TDI has a nifty 48V ‘mild hybrid’ electrical system that, just like in the A7 I tested, really does work and provides a commendable boost to the hefty car’s fuel economy. Regenerative braking and keenly prodigious start-stop systems have always been part and parcel of conventional hybrids, but what impresses with Audi’s MHEV setup is the Q8’s ability to switch its engine off and coast for uncannily long periods of time, which not only yields more miles per pump fill-up, but also makes the driving experience even quieter.
Controversially, cars like the X6 have defied physics and bestowed jacked-up luxury motoring with sporty agility for some years now, and the Q8 actually delivers in this respect too, dropping 40mm in Dynamic mode and feeling chuckable and composed in corners without a whiff of body roll, while the excellent all-wheel steering setup keeps things tight. Placing the curvaceous Audi isn’t quite as easy as its linear Q7 sibling, but it has a wraparound feel and isn’t intimidating. It’s just a shame that the steering doesn’t convey dollops of feel and feedback, which Audi is often lamented for, and the phenomenal HD Matrix LED headlights can sometimes be mistaken for full-beam by oncoming drivers.
Vorsprung variants add Off-road mode to the list that already includes Allroad, bringing the selection total to seven, although it’s doubtful that many Q8 drivers will take theirs onto overly challenging terrains, as it’s no Range Rover Sport despite having short overhangs and air suspension.
Overall, while the Q8 50 TDI won’t make the hairs on one’s neck stand on end and the gearbox very occasionally gets caught daydreaming, the relatively brisk, serene and confidence-inspiring driving experience that it delivers is hard to relinquish after a few tastes, and the mild hybrid setup means it’s easily good for 650ish miles per tank while averaging over 40mpg. Gobbling up a brace of 50-mile round-trip commutes followed by Chester to Oxford and back plus some local mooching around, the car’s range still had 300 miles in its sights after the week under review. Blimey.
Priced from £63,000ish, the Q8 weighs in a few grand dearer than the older and less accomplished X6 and costs from around the same as the Mercedes GLE Coupe, while Vorsprung guise as tested translates to north of £82,000 but comes fully-loaded with no regrets. It’s by far the greenest in the group with CO2 emissions of 178g/km, for which Audi really does deserve a pat on the back.
Combining an imposing but tasteful and thoroughly modern exterior with an equally contemporary interior rammed full of gadgets and beauty, and with oodles of space in the back plus a pretty decent boot, Audi’s new Q8 50 TDI is a hugely attractive luxury SUV-coupe crossover that walks the talk.
Photography: © Isabel Carter