A 1000-mile charge through the Alps reveals the striking new Q8's appetite for distance - but also some issues. By Georg Kacher
THE MIDDLE-AGED Italian businessman pulls alongside in his Benz, adjusts his iPhone and starts filming. ‘This is the prettiest Audi - ever,’ he insists.
'Que bellal The colour, the proportions, everything. Quanta costal’ Around £67,000 without extras, at least £97,000 in our all-options-ticked test car.
Aiming at the gap between the BMW X6 and X7, or Range Rover Sport and Velar, or Mercedes GLE Coupe and GLS, the coupe-SUV styling of the 2145kg Audi gets it off to a promising start. But there are problems afoot, as we soon find on our 21-hour, 1000-mile drive from Italy into Austria.
The only Q8 engine available when it goes on sale in the UK this summer is the 50 TDI - a 3.0-litre diesel V6-which is unfortunate because the Dieselgate cloud has still not lifted from the VW Group. We’ll have to wait until next year for a petrol 3.0-litre V6 (badged 55), which will be followed by a lesser diesel (badged 45). Still, at 282bhp and 4421b ft, the 50 is potent enough to propel the roomy Q8 to 62mph in 6.3 seconds.
If our test car is representative of all Q8s, the engine-transmission relationship needs some attention. Kickdown at low revs sends a shudder to the gearbox, upshifts can be either sluggish or harsh but not the sweet spot in between, and there is not that much punch below 2500rpm. These failings apply whichever of the seven driving modes you’ve selected, and regardless of whether the eight-speed Tiptronic transmission is in Drive or Sport.
The modes are all standard on the Q8, which is coming to the UK in two trim levels - initially just S-line, soon to be joined by Vorsprung, which gains 22-inch wheels (S-line comes on 21s) and rear-wheel steering (optional on S-line), plus a head-up display and a more leathery interior. UK cars get air suspension as standard.
The Q8 has inbuilt mild hybrid technology, which involves a 48-volt electrical system, an extra battery and a belt-driven starter-generator to improve efficiency. This takes various forms: the stop-start system doesn’t wait until the car has come to a halt before cutting the engine, and at speed it can coast for up to 40 seconds. We recorded an average of 28.impg - not bad for a heavy car being driven quickly.
The low-profile tyres are as wide as the R8’s, and yet the chassis doesn’t rattle your fillings on bumpy roads. Dynamic mode is almost as spinefriendly as Comfort.
The compliant air suspension and lightfooted rear-wheel steering work well. Even at nine tenths, the Q8 clings to the moist tarmac, cornering with verve. The balance is impeccable, and traction never an issue, but the new Q8 is - like so many Audis - devoted to perfection rather than emotion.
This is, ultimately, a comfort-led Q7 with fetching new bodywork, not a dynamically sharp SQ7 with a coupe roof and smaller boot. But despite its bulk and size - it’s 27mm wider than the Q7, so good luck parking it in the UK - the Q8 is a forgiving car, helped by a well calibrated stability control system that will reel you in if necessary.
Exiting Italy on back roads northeast of Venice, I’m getting used to the Q8 - keeping the revs above 2000rpm, selecting gears wisely, looking further ahead than you would need to in an RS6. Drive to its strengths and the Q8 will blow kisses to apex after apex and whip down short straights.
Inside, the Q8 shares Audi’s new MMI concept with the A8, bar the off-road calibrations. It’s good, but fat fingerprints collected by the two large displays in a day’s driving are unsightly and the smartphoneinspired ergonomics are distracting.
The imposing instrument panel is a geometric work of art, though, clad in high-tech and high-quality materials.
It’s a dramatically lit statement of taste and wealth. Trouble is, swift operation of all these clever features requires preparation and practice; it shouldn’t be this hard to adjust the temperature.
The easiest way to bypass the incessant swiping is voice control, which in the Q8 is near-perfect. Say ‘I need fuel’ and the car suggests several filling stations, and if you want it will guide you to one. Say ‘I’m cold’ and the temperature will go up a notch.
Say ‘I want to go faster’ and it suggests waiting for next year’s 335bhp petrol version. Well, it should.
As we approach our destination, well-to-do passers-by are still ogling the Q8. All say its design is the big attraction. The steep asking price does not put them off, which seems strange to me. While the Q8 may arguably be £8000 prettier than the Q7, is it really £20,000 more desirable than the livelier Q5 equipped with a more convincing edition of the same drivetrain?
Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe Mr Blobby in automotive form
BMW X6 Fugly, but a far better drive
Range Rover Velar The benchmark posh SUV, overflowing with style and substance
AUDI Q8 50 TDI
> Engine : 2967cc 24v turbodiesel V6, 282bhp @ 3750rpm, 4421b ft @ 1250rpm
> Transmission : 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
> Performance : 6.3sec 0-62mph, 144mph, 28mpg (tested), 155g/km C02 (est)
> Weight : 2145kg
> On sale : August 2018
Lacklustre low-rpm power, clumsy drivetrain, price
Stylish luxury SUV with accomplished handling let down by irksome drivetrain
★ ★ ★ ★ ★