2018 Audi Q8 first drive review
Eight is the big number at Audi, but it's not about the engine.
Just as the A8 sedan crowns the luxury marque’s sedan range and the R8 is its sharpest performance car, the new Q8 SUV is intended sits at the top of Audi’s SUV line.
What is it?
Sharing some of its structure with the larger, seven-seat Q7, the new machine presents as an athletic, design-conscious alternative. Lower and wider than its bigger brother, the Q8 is a five-seat machine intended to rival the likes of the swoopy-roofed BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, along with segment favourites such as Porsche’s Cayenne and the Range Rover Sport.
Audi says the Q8 represents the “fusion of a four-door luxury coupe and a large SUV”, though the “coupe” characterisation is something of a stretch - even if it features frameless doors normally found on sports cars.
The Q8 feels like a premium, polished machine, particularly on the inside. Technology is everywhere you look, as a head-up display system joins a 12.3-inch driver’s virtual cockpit along with 10.1-inch and 8.6-inch central screens. Most cars have touchscreens these days, but Audi’s are particularly crisp, blending sharp looks and high-res colour mapping with extraordinary an ease-of use which makes its stylish cabin one of the best on the road.
The Audi features mild hybrid tech which helps reduce fuel consumption by as much as 0.7L/100km. Running on 48 volt electrical architecture, the machine can coast for surprisingly long periods at speeds between 55 and 160km/h, and it will shut the engine down from 22km/h when going to a stop in traffic. Cameras and sensors on the front of the car start the engine again as soon as traffic moves away in front of you, eliminating frustrating delays.
What does it cost?
Q8 customers can choose between V6 turbo petrol and diesel options for the same price - $128,900 plus on-road costs. That’s not a particularly low price (you’ll get hold of a similarly-powered Porsche Cayenne for $12,600 less), but Audi is far more generous when it comes to standard equipment.
Every Q8 includes LED headlights, a clever multimedia interface home to three touchscreens, a digital radio, head-up display system, 10-speaker stereo, Wi-Fi hotspot and 360-degree camera.
The Q8’s 21-inch wheels ride on steel springs with adaptive dampers, with larger wheels, air suspension and four-wheel-steering available as options.
Audi equips the model with a comprehensive safety suite as standard, bringing 39 driver assistance features such as autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and lane keeping assistance.
A service package covering maintenance for the first three years or 45,000 kilometres costs $1900.
Audi expects more than a few customers to plump for a “Premium plus package”, which adds an impressive range of features including 22-inch wheels with adaptive air suspension, matrix LED headlights, four-zone climate control, coloured mood lighting and more.
High-grade Nappa leather is available for a further $8900, while the “dragon orange” machine spotted here is loaded up with a $12,100 Bang & Olufsen stereo featuring 23 speakers, a $1500 power door closure system, $2300 in metallic paint, a $3550 sunroof, $3300 in extended leather, $400 in wood inlays and other touches pushing its price to $169,500 plus on-roads.
What's the interior like?
Optional air suspension lends genuine versatility in a variety of conditions, varying the car’s ride height by 90mm. Torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive with a choice of driving modes (including an off-road setting) and hill descent control lends an impressive degree of utility to the Q8, even if customers are unlikely to take it into the rough stuff.
That’s because this is a luxury machine, and a real-world replacement for executive sedans such as the A6 and A8 largely shunned by private buyers. Play your cards right with the options sheet and the Q8 can be had with heated and ventilated seats with a choice of massaging functions, an incredible high-fi system or touchscreen climate control setups in the front and rear.
Regardless of which boxes you tick, the Q8 feels beautifully made and well-resolved, with tactile materials and outstanding build quality.
Audi’s decision not to sculpt the Q8 with a dramatically swooping roofline lends more headroom than you might find in the back of key rivals, and frameless doors add a touch of glam to every journey.
Smart keys, a powered tailgate an optional soft-close doors conspire with a high hip point to make journeys as comfortable as possible.
Pop the boot and you’ll find a reasonable 605 litres of space, a number which grows if you slide the back seat forward.
Total cargo room exceeds 1750 litres with the three-way split/fold rear seat folded flat, which is reasonably useful but well shy of the boxier Q7.
What's it like to drive?
For now, the Q8 is available with just one engine - a turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol V6 closely related to the unit found in Audi’s S4 sports sedan and the entry-level Cayenne as the V6 diesel goes on sale next year.
Smooth and responsive, the V6’s rev-happy nature suits the Q8, which feels sweeter than diesel alternatives.
Acceleration is adequate if not outstanding (petrolheads should wait for the inevitable SQ8 performance version), while traction afforded by its quattro all-wheel-drive system and 285mm-wide tyres is never found wanting.
Likewise, the eight-speed automatic transmission under the bonnet is the best in the biz, capable of crisp upshifts in sports mode or seamlessly smooth changes when cruising around town.
The downside of using a performance car’s petrol engine is relatively thirsty fuel economy of 9.2L/100km. Expect the diesel version to shave around 3L/100km off that figure.
We tested the Q8 at its Australian launch in the NSW Alpine region near Jindabyne.
Audi offered reporters an opportunity to drive two variants - one with steel suspension and 21-inch wheels, and others riding on air and 22-inch rims. The steel-sprung car felt notably coarse over imperfections, with a loud action to its movements and a far from polished level of ride refinement. Steering issues then saw that car sidelined in short order, so we can’t give too thorough a report of its performance.
Air-spring versions were much more resolved, with impressive compliance and composure at speed. Able to lower itself by 40mm to reduce its centre of gravity and minimise roll during dynamic driving, the Q8 shone with the optional suspension pack which offers superior performance in all circumstances.
The package does a great job masking well more than 2.1 tonnes of mass, helped by powerful six-piston brakes and sporty Continental tyres with outstanding roadholding.
A brief drive in a fully-loaded version with rear-wheel-steering offered a glimpse at the potential offered by this platform in the future, when active anti-roll bars and more powerful motors make their way into what is already an accomplished vehicle.
Feeling much more engaging than a Mercedes or Volvo SUV, the Q8 rivals class leaders such as the new BMW X5, Maserati Levante and Cayenne for driver involvement.
What's the first impression?
The Q8 delivers what you expect from a flagship Audi SUV. Beautifully finished, packed with tech and impressive on the road, the model reaches into new territory for the brand. The five-seater doesn’t feel as decadent as Audi’s A8 limousine, but offers a degree of exclusivity and polish that makes the Q7 feel a little tired and dowdy.
It’s a worthy addition to the top of Audi’s SUV line-up.
2018 Audi Q8 55 TFSI price and specifications:
Price: From $128,900 plus on-road costs
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol
Power: 250kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 2900-5300rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel-drive
Fuel use: 9.2L/100km
David McCowen is Drive’s news editor, combining automotive passion with more than a decade of reporting experience. Dave is often found at a racetrack – either in the press room, or driving his hot hatch.