Remember when sport utility vehicles were purely for off-roading, little more than glorified pickups with camper shells? Yeah, SUVs have become a lot more car-like since then. This month’s feature car, Audi’s all-new flagship SUV, the Q8, is equally is at home on the Autobahn as the Outback. The Q8 is less of a truck and more of a grand tourer with ground clearance, as well as a technological tour de force with a cabin awash in high-resolution screens and state-of-the-art spoils.
A Coupe-ified Q7
Now, it wasn’t long ago that the thought of an Audi SUV—or hell, even a luxury SUV—seemed ridiculous. But then the Audi Q7 happened in 2006, and as America’s appetite for SUVs grew, so did Audi’s SUV lineup, with the mid-size Q5 appearing in 2009, followed by the compact Q3 in 2011. For Europe, the baby Q2 has become a thing recently, too, while the all-electric “Q4 e-tron” will soon join the upcoming “e-tron” (which, strangely, doesn’t get a “Q” name) as Audi builds its lineup of all-electric SUVs. All the while, the Q7 has remained Audi’s SUV flagship—until this year, that is, when Audi introduced the new, stylish Q8.
Crafted from the proverbial rib of the big Q7 but designed to emphasize style over practicality, the Q8 can fairly be considered an SUV “coupe,” à la the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class coupe. To that end, the Q8 is three inches shorter but one inch wider than the Q7; carries only five, not seven, passengers; and has frameless side windows and a lower roofline that cuts into rear headroom marginally but not significantly. That said, it is still rather practical, boasting an even larger rear seat than the Q7’s second-row bench and retaining a generous cargo area, complete with a rear-end lift system to facilitate loading and unloading of the heavy stuff. It can even tow 7,700 pounds, or about the same as a 27-foot Airstream travel trailer.
But boy, what a contrast that would present—the trailer’s silver sausage shape and the relentlessly straight-edged Q8. While the dimensions seem rather close to the Q7, the image projection couldn’t be more different, with the long-roofed Q7 projecting benign domesticity next to the Q8’s brutish muscularity. It looks best in metallic colors, as they allow the muscular flared fenders to show up best while serving as a shimmery backdrop for its full-width, three-dimensional taillamps, chunky, octagonal grille, and complex headlamp forms that appear able to pierce steel. Optional 22-inch wheels are as extreme in size as on any SUV on the road, including the Lamborghini Urus, which, incidentally, is also built on the same platform as the Q7 and Q8.
If Audi leads the industry in any respect, it is with its sophisticated, unspeakably refined interiors. And as a flagship SUV, it beautifully contains all of Audi’s most state-of-the-art components, (which, not for nothing, are arguably the industry’s most state-of-the-art, too) such as multiple high-resolution screens for instruments, infotainment and navigation systems set within a full-width mirror-like black panel, with another display with rich graphics just below it for climate and ancillary controls, even including the garage door opener. Haptic feedback helps drivers know when a selection has been made via the touchscreen, and I’m happy to report that the voice activated controls are intuitive and, more importantly, almost always accurately recognized. Also available are front seats that provide a massage with but one tap of a button on the side of the front seats, a panoramic sunroof and more.
From the driver’s seat, the Q8’s width is undeniable, enhancing its sense of largesse. It’s big, but it’s not slow, with a 335-hp turbo V-6 getting the vehicle’s two and a half tons up to speed swiftly if not amazingly (0-60 mph is said to take 5.6 seconds). The optional air springs keep it taut in corners and creamy on the highway, with the sort of unflappable poise and utter silence at triple-digit speeds—er, speeds approaching triple digits (cough, cough)—which is exactly what folks love German cars for in the first place. Those springs also make two off-road driving modes available in case you dare take it where sticks and stones may scratch its bones but likely won’t serve to stop it.
The Audi Q8 is an impressive new flagship SUV from a company known for its impressive machines, available now with prices starting at $68,395 for the base Q8 Prestige, $72,395 for Q8 Premium Plus, and $77,495 for the Q8 Prestige. These aren’t unreasonable prices—right on top of the BMW X6 and a bit less than the comparable Porsche Cayenne—though if you want all the bells and whistles, you might want to budget $85K-90K. Because flagships deserve bells and whistles, right? Make mine Dragon Orange, thank you.
2019 Audi Q8 Specs:
Base price (includes delivery charge): $68,395
Body style: 4-door, 5-passenger SUV
Power: Turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6: 335 hp, 369 lb.-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive wheels: All
Fuel economy, city/highway (mpg): 17/22