Rivals of the new Audi Q8 that’s just gone on sale in SA are currently few and far between — the BMW X6 xDrive35i and the Mercedes-Benz GLE 43 AMG Coupe being its primary competition.
The Q8 is memorable looking with its new-generation Audi styling that’s characterised by the most daring face from the company since adopting the single frame grille. This signature grille departs from the norm by now being octagonal instead of six-sized and it’s darkened on certain trim levels or features a thin chrome outline in another.
The rest of the car is an extraordinary mishmash of lines, jutting spoilers and prominent hips inspired by the quattro rally cars of the 1980s. Completing the visual assault are new HD matrix LED lamps that do a glittering show whenever you power up the car.
Step inside the Q8 and it looks a lot like the Audi A8 (which has not yet been launched in SA) with a new age minimalist cabin. The dashboard is predominantly made up of two colourful TFT screens with app-led functions in quality surroundings.
Audi’s virtual cockpit adds the finishing touch to wow the diodes out of the end-user. It has an extensive options list and the S Line package also featured a trailer hitch, black roof rails, a tyre pressure monitor, Audi Phone box with LTE support and powered front seats with memory.
Being based on the same 5052mm long MLB platform as the Audi Q7 means a cabin that’s inherently roomy. To sculpt a practical athlete with shorter overhangs, the Q8’s length is truncated to 4,986mm but retains the Q7’s useful 2,995mm wheelbase. At the highest point on its sloping roofline the Q8 stands 35mm lower than its cousin.
It’s an enormous, heavy beast but it handles its heft with aplomb. The fitment of the optional adaptive air suspension on the car I drove on launch creates a constantly plush ride that is enjoyable on a variety of roads, including gravelly ones too.
The selection of a 250kW and 500Nm petrol turbo six-cylinder 3.0 engine mated to a pretty decent eight-speed tiptronic transmission hustles the Q8 along at a fair old lick. It has an integrated mild-hybrid system which saves fuel by making it possible to coast with the combustion engine completely switched off.
Audi claims performance figures of 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds, with top speed governed at 250km/h.
For now only this one Q8 derivative is available, with a diesel-powered Q8 45 TDI to come later.
The steering precision in the Q8 I drove at the launch, despite not being fitted with the optionally available rear-wheel steering system, had the ability to really appeal to a properly fast driving style. The agility on our car perched on optional 21-inch wheels (20 inches standard and 22-inches are also available) was very agile through some bendy Western Cape back roads.
Initial impressions are of an SUV that has enough character, aesthetically and mechanically, to raise interest. It has pace and a modicum of driver entertainment. It’s capable and proficient to be driven on an assortment of roads.
The Audi Q8 offers reasonable off-road performance thanks to short overhangs, standard quattro permanent all-wheel-drive and hill descent control. An optional air suspension system allows maximum ground clearance to be raised to 254mm.
Although its chief rivals have obliged, Audi SA maintains it isn’t ready to offer a higher level of driving autonomy in its cars, preferring only to bring in adaptive cruise control and Lane Keep assistance. Also lagging behind is a more updated AI command system to rival both Hello Mercedes and BMW.
A night vision assist package is available as an option. It’s capable of detecting pedestrians and larger wild animals at great distances and marks them with a yellow frame in the Audi virtual cockpit.
The Audi Q8 55 TFSI quattro tiptronic will be priced at R1,388,000 standard with the five-year/100,000km Audi Freeway plan included.