WHAT IS IT?
Audi is attempting to plug as many gaps in its high-rider range (and nomenclature) to avoid losing sales to the rapidly burgeoning portfolios on offer wearing BMW and Mercedes badges.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
In this weirdly popular segment, Audi is late to the party and it has been awkwardly observing the success other coupe SUVs enjoy the attention largely without opposition. For the Audi to catch up to its established rivals, it needs to bring a complete package of equipment, performance and looks – the defining feature of this segment.
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More variants are on the way, but the Q8 launches with a single offering – the 55 TFSI – which lands with a compelling price.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT SHOULDN’T come as a dramatic surprise that, in an age of sliding sedan sales offset by an inverse boom in SUV registrations, Audi’s new halo model is a stilted, all-paw wagon that’s pinched most of its A8 sibling’s toys – the four-ring flagship since 1994 – and swaps out the A for a Q.
Squint at the horizon and you’ll see a 50 TDI diesel Q8 on its way, due to arrive mid-2019. Gaze even further into the future and you’ll see a 500kW RS Q8 with the potential to embarrass a Lamborghini Urus. For now though, the Q8 arrives with a single petrol powertrain, a 55 TFSI boot badge and a $128,900 price tag.
For that cash you get a compelling kit list that includes smart 21-inch wheels, an S line styling pack that’s usually an expensive Audi extra, an electric tailgate with hands-free opening and full LED headlights. The softest Valcona leather with maximum front seat adjustment is also thrown in for no additional cost – something Q7 customers have to shell out for.
Unsurprisingly, the Q8 features the company’s fully digital Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, but the expansive high-res screen is complemented by another pair of displays in the centre of the cabin. Both feature the same touchscreen tech pioneered by Porsche which requires a good prod to select functions and responds with satisfying haptic feedback. Not only does this approach remove switch clutter but it enhances the typically understated and beautifully stylish interior design.
As usual, there’s the irresistible Audi options list and our test car had been upgraded to the tune of $40,000, most of which you could live without, but if you had to pick just one extra it would have to be the adaptive air suspension.
Unfortunately, the more sophisticated chassis setup is only available as part of an eye-watering $11,000 Premium plus package, which bundles a heap of other goodies including 22-inch wheels, dynamic indicators and headlights, four-zone climate and lovely mood lighting. It’s good value if you want all that, but if you’re only after the better suspension system, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Read next: 2017 Audi Q7 Review
The Q8’s 3.0-litre turbo V6 powertrain is a cracker. Some 250kW and 500Nm will see it step off the line cleanly for a 5.9s sprint to 100km/h and the effect of its very mild hybrid belt-driven starter/alternator is subtle but welcome. Audi says it saves 0.7L/100km for a combined efficiency figure of 9.2L/100km. The eight-speed auto connected to continuously variable quattro four wheel drive is similarly notable for its seamless sophistication.
But let’s not forget that unlike some fire-breathing RS Audis that adopt all-wheel drive just to stay out of a hedge, the Q8 is actually supposed to leave the road occasionally and even has an Off Road setting. Sadly, we didn’t have a chance to test its all-terrain ability to the limit but a blast on unsealed roads hinted at a confidence we would like to revisit and explore at a later date. Off Road was perhaps overkill for a little light gravel with excessively light steering and an unnecessarily increased ground clearance but we can see the benefit for more challenging surfaces.
The Q8 is not the most inspiring driver’s Audi when back on the road either. Yes, its body control is commendable even on standard steel coil springs with adaptive dampers and, when floating on air the resistance to body roll is good but the Q8 certainly is at its most impressive when cosseting all occupants in quiet comfort. Best wait for S and RS badged versions for a true tarmac tearer.
But therein lies the Q8’s real selling point.
It combines handsome styling with a certain presence like no other Audi SUV before it, it packs A8 class, comfort and kit but with added all-terrain ability, and for a price that’s a massive $63,000 more affordable than the cheapest A8. Ingolstadt says the Q8 is the new high-riding flag-bearer, but it may also be the value hero of the entire Audi line-up.
Read next: Charging Ahead: Audi E-Tron at Pikes Peak
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Love or hate the notion of a large SUV that’s trying to be a sports car, these curios are causing a stir and are here to stay. But Audi’s fresh proposition is perhaps the best ambassador to date and the easiest to warm to.
Pricing is spot on and includes a lot for the cash, its design is hard to dislike from any angle and, while it isn’t the driving holy grail its looks suggest, future variants could well go some way to addressing that.
You could argue that its rivals have loosened the jar lid ready for Audi to easily unscrew it. Or maybe it’s simply the best package.
PLUS: Dashing looks; impressive standard equipment; relaxing ride and cabin
MINUS: No standalone air suspension option; no seven-seat option
Model: Audi Q8 55 TFSI
Engine: 2995cc 90-degree V6 turbo
Max power: 250kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 500Nm @ 2900 – 5300rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
On sale: Now