Admittedly, my opinion of the first crossover coupés and their tapered rooflines has vacillated between lukewarm and loathing since the arrival of the first of their ilk a few years ago. Being either too bulbous or too stumped at the rear, I just couldn’t get a handle on them in the looks department. Until the arrival of the Audi Q8, that is, which is a compelling luxury SUV that blends sportiness and utility like no other in its class.
Hearing the name Audi Q8 for the first time, you would be forgiven for expecting the numerically superior (to the Q7) Q-car to be an even larger and grander version of the already enormous Q7. Set your eyes upon it, however, and you swiftly realise that the new MBE-platformed sports-utility hardly bears a passing resemblance to its big brother. This is thankfully also true for its segment competitors, the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé and the BMW X6.
The Q8 may be an SUV, but it’s of the coupé variety, a fact quickly confirmed by the severe swoop of the roofline down to the glass. In person, however, this does not appear harsh, just beautifully sculpted, proportionally perfect, and a mere 38 millimetres lower than the Q7.
The rest of the design looks like it was lifted from a science fiction movie poster. The ever-thinning headlights (now in an animated high-definition Matrix LED configuration) and ever-expanding octagonal grille being the centrepiece of Audi’s latest new design language. The taillights (also LEDs) feature an extended rear light strip across the breadth of the Q8’s rear lid that comes to life in a signature illumination pattern when unlocking the car via remote control.
COOLER ON THE INSIDE
Unlike many of its competitors, the Audi Q8 doesn’t compromise style for spaciousness. Where the roofline dips, there’s little if any noticeable loss of space in the cabin, particularly in the rear headroom department. At 1.84 metres tall, I could comfortably sit upright in the rear, while ingress and egress also are not as compromised as it is in the GLE Coupé, for example.
Although the Q7 packs up to seven seats, the Q8 maxes out at five and is only 66 millimetres shorter than its larger sibling. It is also 27 millimetres wider, a fact that adds to the feeling of spaciousness and helps the Q8 to reach a segment beating (according to Audi) load capacity of 605 litres.
Continuing the spacecraft theme inside, Audi’s MMI Touch Response infotainment system is one of the best available on anything bar the Tesla Model X. The first MMI system was revolutionary when it debuted, but in this form, it is simply sublime.
Stacked one above the other, the 10.1” (above) and 8.6” screens contain the traditional entertainment, navigation and phone components, while the latter maintains climate controls and other functions, including a writing pad. The result is a fuss- and button-free system that provides haptic feedback like a smartphone (this still needs some work in my opinion, as the feedback seems to lag somewhat and requires vigorous touch to activate) and controls the vehicle’s formidable suite of techno bits. Virtual Cockpit is added as a standard feature, as is a multiple-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D virtual sound.
In terms of interior trim, there’s some of the usual vinyl-type material up top, and the vents are cleverly hidden in the dashboard. Just the right amount of matte-finish wood adds a touch of luxury to the cabin.
MORE THAN A COMMUTER
At launch, the Q8 comes only in turbocharged petrol form, although a turbodiesel version is on the way mid-2019. The 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 turns out 250 kW and 500 Nm of torque and is good for a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 5.9 seconds.
Despite being of similar heft, the Q8 feels more agile on the road than its big bro, the V6 providing ample get-up-and-go when the throttle is encouraged. The standard rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive is always on, and always provides adequate grip when required. The eight-speed automatic transmission exists mainly in the background, and shifting is a silky affair that is hardly noticeable in the cabin.
A new 48-volt mild hybrid system (MHEV) is baked into the drivetrain but has limited functionality other than lengthening the stop-start system time and reducing consumption by up to 0.7-l/100 km according to Audi. It’s far from the Mercedes-Benz’s EQ Boost system, which can provide additional power and torque in small bursts, but is a step in the right direction for future Audis.
The Audi Q8 has both old and new competition to contend with – current BMW X6, incoming Mercedes GLE Coupé, and Porsche Cayenne Coupé being the most prominent. If I had entered this round batting against the idea that an SUV coupé could be anything more than a compromise of fashion over function, I have been well and truly caught out. The Q8 is both stylish and capable, and has plenty of space for people who expect both of these attributes, and more. Audi has come out swinging with the Q8, and in our opinion, it is worth every cent of its R1,388,000 base price tag.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR | Images © AUDI SOUTH AFRICA