Does the world need another coupe SUV? If you ask Audi, the answer is definitely yes. Its current seven-seat Q7 flagship has now been joined by the five-seat Q8; lower, wider and more dramatically-styled, it’s set to compete directly with cars like the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLE Coupe.
The revised proportions and new details certainly help the Q8 stand out from the chunkier Q7 – even side-by-side you’d struggle to see any similarity. The changes start at the front, with a much wider and lower-mounted interpretation of Audi’s ‘singleframe’ grille. This is flanked by large air vents on the lower edge, with slim LED headlights sitting just below the bonnet line.
It’s all change down the side, too, with prominent wheelarch flares designed to evoke those of the iconic eighties ur-Quattro. The roofline begins to taper sooner than it does on the Q7, finished off by a roof spoiler and a full-width light element across the car’s tailgate. Huge 21-inch wheels (in S line trim) finish off the look. From some angles, there’s more than a hint of the new Lamborghini Urus to the Q8’s creases – but you’d never mistake it for anything other than an Audi SUV on the open road.
The same can be said of the Q8’s elegant interior, whose architecture echoes that of Audi’s other flagship, the A8. The dashboard is neatly layered, with a pair of haptic touchscreens (10.1 inches for the upper screen, and 8.6-inch for the lower) below an air vent element that runs the width of the entire dash. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital dials are standard, and are as clear and easy to interpret here as they are in other applications.
Despite the trimmed roofline, rear-seat passengers won’t want for space, with good head and legroom even when sat behind taller adults. Front-seat comfort is excellent, with plenty of adjustment to the seats and three-spoke steering wheel. Material quality is up to Audi’s usual high standards, as well.
There’s room to throw stuff in the back, too; the 605-litre boot is 25 litres bigger than you’ll find in an X6. Evidence, in fact, that while the Q8 is lower than the Q7, it’s still a near-5m long car – and that has significant volume benefits.
There are only two trim lines to start with, S line and the high-end Vorsprung. The latter bumps the wheels from 21-inch to 22 inches, swaps the Nappa leather and Alcantara sports seats for Valcona leather ‘super sport’ seats, and adds four-wheel steering, a heads-up display, a panoramic roof and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. The higher-spec car also gets Audi’s ‘Tour Pack’, which includes adaptive cruise, lane departure warning and some other goodies. Official pricing will be revealed when the car goes on sale later in the summer.
The engine choice is even simpler at launch, using the same 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel (badged 50 TDI) and 48-volt mild hybrid system as several of Audi’s other models. The firm’s quattro all-wheel drive system is also standard. A 55 TFSI petrol and 45 TDI diesel will be offered from 2019.
An SQ8 (and RS Q8, for that matter) are due later, but the 50 TDI already endows the coupe SUV with strong performance, reaching 62mph in a shade over six seconds and punching on past 140mph. Economy and CO2 data hasn’t yet been confirmed, but the slightly lighter Audi A8 with the same engine sneaks over the 50mpg-mark, so expect the taller and heavier Q8 to post figures in the high 40s.
‘High’ was the operative word for the Q8’s South American launch event; the thin air at 10,000ft doing its best to strangle the 50 TDI’s performance potential. But even in these tricky conditions the Q8 proved capable of strong acceleration and sustained high speeds. Acoustic glazing means wind noise is minimal, and that’s despite the frameless windows, which are often a source of rustling at higher velocities. In fact, the Q8 is one of the quietest Audis yet, and given the high standards of the A6, A7 and A8 – that’s an impressive feat.
The eight-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox shifts smoothly and responds snappily to the wheel-mounted paddles too, though outside of the occasional A-road overtake, you’re unlikely to use them that frequently. Despite the Q8’s more dynamic billing, however, it’s no more entertaining to drive than any other recent Audi model. Like the Q7, the Q8 is a cruiser at heart, prioritising comfort and silence over driving thrills; the numb steering and slightly dulled responses mean the big SUV isn’t quite as engaging as a BMW X6.
It does ride well, however; the air suspension absorbing ripples in the road without floating over larger undulations. But there’s one major caveat: UK models will get a Sport air suspension setup rather than our German test car’s regular air suspension. Given the unsettled ride of other air-suspended Audis we’ve driven recently, this could be the comfy car’s undoing.