Mountain Wheels: Audi’s new Q8 moves SUV style and technology in a new direction
While the Europeans and Japanese continue to go larger with their SUVs in an attempt to capture the square footage favored by American drivers, occasionally there’s an interesting branch on that family tree.
Enter the Audi Q8, a big and imposing, powerful and versatile twist on the full-size SUV model. Rather than emphasize what usually turns out to be awkward additional passenger space, Q8 is gigantic, but squarely geared for five passengers. Its car-like roofline is quite distinctive, stretching out all the other proportions and giving it a presence that’s entirely unique in the SUV world. And in keeping with the size, mine started at $67,400 but ended up at a cough-producing $88,690 with virtually every option available added.
It also moves the needle on Audi’s digital and electronic experience, with an immersive cockpit experience and, hidden underneath the gloss, a 48-volt Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle system – akin to that discretely found in higher-end BMW products — used here mostly for warm-weather starts, but also setting the stage for the inevitable electrification of the entire vehicle family.
Don’t think that ersatz hybrid takes away from the performance, however. This is one fast vehicle, right out of the box, with a 335-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 turbo capable of absolutely hauling along, with standard Quattro all-wheel drive, as well. And while it is pretty big — optional 22-inch wheels added on mine, 60.7 cubic feet of storage with the second row folded, and 196.6 inches of overall length, producing a sizeable vehicle with a 5,004-pound curb weight — the massive platform has the ability to perform in a fashion you might not associate with a full-size SUV.
In fact, the lowered and excessively lit up RS version of the Q8, which packs about 591 horsepower into a similar package, set a record this week with a 7 minute, 42.3 second lap time at Germany’s Nurburgring race track.
Q8 has got good bones, you might say. In my regular model’s real-world drives, that means a vehicle that seems as solid as a tank, with those wheels either offering racing agility or becoming ungodly sensitive to ruts and bumps.
The Q8’s air suspension system even dropped the suspension a bit at traffic lights, perhaps in an animal-inspired gesture of intimidation to other drivers, and it can also do so to help loading cargo and passengers. The same system can propel the entire chassis skyward for off-road adventures, which I explored on a bit of impressively stable, high-speed gravel travel.
On road, it’s pure malice, especially with the driving and chassis modes clicked to their sportiest settings; Q8 takes a palpable quarter-count for the turbo to engage, though maybe that’s just a nanosecond, as it will still haul to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Remember, more than 5,000 pounds. Wow.
The new visual and tactile input screens, repeated in the rear, are also quite impressive. Up front, something akin to the wall of video I saw in last week’s Range Rover Evoque, Q8 provides a double-stacked central data display as well as the very standard-by-comparison digital cockpit instrument display. The color head-up display is also loaded with new tech, including the ability to spot and time upcoming red lights when cruising in urban traffic.
The whole thing borders on data overload for newcomers (I defy a first-time driver to actually find the HVAC controls), with a huge reliance on haptic-touch control for virtually every function. Then again, if you hate a luxury cabin full of hard buttons, this is all very next-century class, with even the light switches minimized and very, very few controls left to physical buttons. Even the shifter is a further move from Audi’s already sophisticated controls.
On the practical size, like the Evoque’s glassy wall of data, where the hell do you put all of your American road-trip crap? Here, I have no idea, as there’s a definite shortage of central cabin storage, and the central armrest space held a dedicated phone cradle.
It is all very beautiful, though with hardwood details, glossy aluminum and even some suede headliner all framing that black and glossy digital dash.
Other ahead-of-the-curve technology available here includes much more autonomous vehicle-styled adaptive cruise assist as well as turn- and side-warning assist and even warnings if vehicles are approaching from the rear as you open the doors while parked.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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