Review: Audi’s new flagship SUV isn’t just eye candy

Review: Audi’s new flagship SUV isn’t just eye candy

The bold all-new Audi Q8 is an impressively dynamic drive that raises the bar in the premium SUV sector, writes Gareth Herincx

Just when we all thought the SUV sector was completely saturated, along comes Audi with a luxurious range-topper that is not just drop-dead gorgeous, but a technical tour de force.

Just as the A8 and R8 head Audi’s saloon and sports car ranges, the Q8 takes over from the Q7 as the brand’s ultimate sports utility vehicle – with an emphasis on sport.

Lower, wider and slightly shorter than the Q7, the all-new Q8 screams style, oozes build quality and squares up against everything from the BMW X6 to the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, plus Range Rovers Velar and Sport.

In terms of looks, this ‘fusion of an elegant four-door luxury coupé with a large SUV’ knocks its two Teutonic rivals for six. Think muscular athlete vs pumped-up bodybuilders: where the BMW and Merc are ungainly, the Audi Q8 is elegant.

There’s no doubting its road presence with its epic octagonal grille, huge alloys, flared wheel arches and pert rear dominated by a sweeping LED band that runs across the full width of the car. Choose the sensational Dragon Orange colour and you’re making a serious statement.

Classy frameless doors that automatically seal themselves shut, just like a six-figure luxury car, are one of the standout external features – and it’s the same story inside.

Audi interiors have been leading the way for a while now, but this is something else. It’s simply loaded with tech, piano black surfaces and brushed metal trim.

Buttons are kept to a minimum thanks to the 12.3-inch driver’s digital display, twin 10.1 inch and 8.6-inch touchscreens in the centre console, plus the head-up display. Easy-to-use with sharp, smooth hi-res graphics, these touchscreens are as good as they get.

The cabin doesn’t just look good, it’s beautifully finished and spacious up front and in the rear where there’s plenty of head and legroom for three adults to relax in style.

While there’s no third row of seats (like with the Q7), there is a decent 605 litres of luggage capacity, which expands to 1,755 litres with the rear backrests folded down.

We tested the Q8 50 TDI Quattro, which despite its badging, is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel producing 282bhp. Capable of 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 152mph, it can return up to 41.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 178g/km.

A smaller 3.0-litre diesel with 228bhp (45 TDI) and a 3.0-litre TFSI petrol-engined car with 335bhp (55 TFSI) will follow, while quattro four-wheel drive is standard across the range.

All engines feature a 48V mild-hybrid system which allows extended stop-start, and a coasting function when the throttle pedal is lifted between 34mph and 100mph.

During deceleration up to 12 kW of energy can be recovered to recharge the lithium-ion battery located underneath the luggage compartment floor. The overall effect is to boost performance and reduce fuel consumption.

The Q8 feels faster than the official figures suggest, though it can be a tad hesitant off the line.

It’s a classy, refined cruiser and it’s on these faster roads that you almost forget its large dimensions. In town and on more challenging country roads you are more aware of its size, but it never feels unwieldy.

In fact, for such a big SUV, it’s surprisingly agile and feels composed, while the Quattro all-wheel drive system offers huge amounts of traction and the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox is suitably slick.

As for the mild hybrid technology? Well, it’s clearly a system that works so well that you don’t even notice it happening.

With relatively light, responsive steering, a comfortable ride and an uncanny ability to stay flat through corners, it’s more fun to drive than you might imagine.

Sadly, we didn’t get to sample it on rougher terrain. What we can tell you is that Off-road is one of seven different driving modes available, the Q8 has short overhangs and there’s a large ground clearance of up to 254 mm thanks to the adaptive air suspension.

In other words, it won’t match the capability of a Range Rover, but it will be able to cope with muddy tracks and fields, plus extremes of weather.

As well as the impressive interior tech, it’s also brimming with safety and driver assistance systems. Naturally, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist are standard, but you will have to opt for one of the various packs if you want more goodies such as the excellent night vision and traffic sign recognition.

Priced from £65,040 to £83,040, the Audi Q8 is initially available in two trim levels – S Line and Vorsprung.

An example of the difference between the two is that Audi Virtual Cockpit, front sport seats in leather and Alcantara, plus adaptive air sport suspension are all standard with S-Line, while Vorsprung adds a panoramic glass sunroof, ‘Super Sport’ seats in Valcona leather and a Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound system. Refined, packed with tech, beautifully finished and surprisingly engaging to drive, the Audi Q8 certainly cuts a dash.

Gareth Herincx writes for Spear’s

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