Audi has confirmed it will kick off 2017 with the unveiling of a near to production ready concept of its upcoming Q8 flagship SUV at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Depicted here in an official sketch, the highly detailed concept foreshadows a spacious new Range Rover Sport rival that is planned to go on sale before the end of next year sporting its own distinctive styling and a price tag that will position it above the second-generation Q7.
Audi chairman Rupert Stadler describes the Q8 as the German car maker's "flagship SUV" saying it will sit alongside the A8 at the top of its line-up.
"I could imagine an executive being driven to work every day in their A8 and then spending the weekend driving themselves in their Q8," he said. "The Q8 will have global appeal in all of the major markets - Europe, China, America, Russia and more - and so we are very excited about it."
The Q8 is one of several new SUV models currently under development at Audi and scheduled for launch before the end of the decade. It joins the recently introduced second-generation Q7, all-new Q2, second-generation Q5, a successor model to today's first-generation Q3, a new Q4 and the all-electric Q6 e-tron, which has already been previewed by the Audi e-tron quattro concept at the 2015 Frankfurt motor show.
The intensive focus on SUV models in Ingolstadt comes after recent worldwide sales figures revealed that every third car sold by Audi hails from its existing line-up of Q models.
Stylistically, the concept previewing the Q8 departs from the latest Q7, eschewing the upright stance of its sibling for amore rakish shape.
"With the Audi Q8 concept, we have created a new spearhead within our Q model line. Its design strongly evokes sportiness and prestige," says Audi design boss, Marc Lichte.
"What's more, we believe an important aspect of this showcar is that it offers a spacious interior with four equally comfortable seats, even with the flat roof line."
Among the new model's more distinguishing design features is a broad eight-corner single-frame grille that houses a series of vertical chrome strips — an element that will become a strong design signature on many future Audi models, Lichte has previously told Drive.
Many design elements of the Q8 concept recall cues first aired on the original Audi quattro of the 1980s. They include a flat but very wide C-pillar, and prominent flared shoulders above the wheels.
Lichte confirms the Q8 is close to the Q7 in both length and width. However, a more sporting roofline reduces the new Audi's height over its more practical sibling.
Development of the four wheel-drive Q8 originally kicked off in early 2015 under the watch of Audi's former R&D boss, Ulrich Hackenberg. Following Hackenberg's resignation in the wake of the dieselgate emissions scandal the project was taken over by his successor, Stefan Knirsch, who also recently departed Audi, a further victim of the diesel emission scandal.
The Q8 is a sister model to the Q7, with which it shares Audi's MLB (Modularen Langsbau – modular longitudinal architecture) underpinnings as well as a large part of its mechanical and electrical architectures.
As with the Q7, the body structure of the Q8 is set to make extensive use of aluminium in a bid to push lower-end models below the 2000kg mark.
Among the engines destined for the Q8 will be a new range of V6 and V8 petrol units developed in a joint venture between Audi and Porsche. Based around a shared 90-degree architecture, they feature a common 500cc individual cylinder capacity, with overall swept volumes of 3.0- and 4.0-litres respectively.
Also planned is a sporting SQ8 model with the advanced triple-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 diesel already in service in the SQ7.
Inside, the Q8 is set to receive a reworked version of the Q7's impressive cockpit, featuring a more driver orientated middle console. Unlike the four-seat concept to be shown at Detroit, though, the production Q8 will come with a more conventional five-seat layout with a three-across rear bench seat.
Among the new Audi's arsenal of options will be many of the advanced systems being developed for the upcoming fourth-generation A8, such as a 48-volt electric system, OLED high definition digital displays and the very latest in autonomous driving functions.
As part of a comprehensive connectivity package, Audi is also working on providing over the-air updates for future incarnations of its MMI (Multi Media Interface) system for its new model. These include real-time navigation updates via the 'Here' system being developed in a joint venture with BMW and Mercedes-Benz's parent company Daimler.
The Q8 is set to be produced at Volkswagen's Bratislava plant in Slovakia alongside the current Q7 and the successor models to the existing second-generation Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, due out next year.