Audi has been skirting the peripherals of SUVs by not bombarding the market with model after model of onerous automobile architecture, unlike some of the other brands. It has kept an aloof, if observant stance on the technological battleground erupting in the global market and has presented succinct and precise entries at certain points to keep its fans content and critics contrite.
The Q8 is an eloquent offering that fuses the new age demand of an SUV with the broader appeal of a coupé, while maintaining the aristocratic bearing of a sedan. Audi has also managed to add a liberal dash of something more, perhaps a futuristic entrée to the automobile market.
Whereas the previous generation quattro systems featured a 50:50 drivetrain power distribution, the Q8 has expanded its driver appeal by engaging a 60:40 rear-biased split that makes the system more appealing to sporty driving. This shift to a more driver-oriented feedback method is undisputed proof that Audi takes its performance segment seriously — it has allowed the dark side of rear wheel thrust to creep into the functionality of its fleet.
The Audi is imbued with erotic appeal and has sufficient charm and elegant lines to warrant more than the partially-awake stare of passing motorists. The Standard HD Matrix LED headlights with it’s almost “Knight Rider” opening sequence announce its gruff but playful intent. With a wide, squatting stance and an expansive set of red LEDs at the rear, the Q8 will either fascinate or agitate you. It burrows into your senses and, like a tune that strikes you early in the morning, its polished, handsome features haunt you for the rest of the day. It has deviated in an attractive way from the Audi’s more sedate and practical mommy-wagon, the Q7; it’s a more seasoned and exciting option.
This is the apex in the brand’s SUV offering. The 10.2-inch screen and 8.6-inch unit just above the broad clinically decorated centre console squeeze both design and aesthetics into one small space. The MMI system is accessible and adaptive enough to allow an uninformed driver to understand it without dragging out the 600-page owner’s manual. The Natural Language voice control, although saturated with options, still manages to float past obvious questions and provide you with answers that leave you wondering if your own intellect is more obfuscated than you believed. These AI systems have a long way to travel before they reach the interactive level of Skynet, so for now the planet is safe.
Of the electronic touch options in the Q8, the drive mode select is slightly out of reach for those sneaky “comfort” to “dynamic” changes, so I drove in dynamic all the time — you can never be prepared enough for the random driving challenge of your fellow travellers. Consumption was much lighter than expected: with a blend of mountain climbing and freeway dawdling, we averaged just over 11.5-litres per 100km, not too shabby for such a hefty SUV.
The space within the Q8 allows you to comfortably picnic inside. The boot allows you load everything plus the nanny in it. It slopes, so it might not work for large luggage with the seats down. But this is not a child transporter — go one level lower for that.
Bang & Olufsen provide the acoustics within, with a thumping subwoofer and Apple and Android options that will have you bouncing on the seats. Thermal sofa-like seats with multi-staged climate systems will dispel most of the pollutants from your traffic-laden N1 peak hour tango. The Q8 lathers up all the usual support technology to make us average folk look closer to race drivers than we deserve, from pedestrian warning devices to 360-degree cameras, lane change warnings to parking aids. And if you are feeling that you have missed your calling as a sniper, fear not, the Q8 even has night vision assist for you to home in on your next target.
We took the Q8 up to the Mpumalanga Mountains and after almost eight hours in the seats, I did not need a chakra energy realignment to get to dinner. As a long distance vehicle it excels in comfort.
It tips the scales at just a breath over two tonnes and realistically you would presume that the 250kW engine would be strained to maneuver the SUV with anything resembling performance, but stomp on that pedal, and after a split-second delay, the Q8 raises its wheels and starts steaming relentlessly towards the horizon. The engine is eerily silent and once we were entangled in the twisties of the steadily degrading surface of Long Tom Pass, the quattro system kept us thrilled for most of the trip. The traction levels of the Q8 make it behave more Sho Madjozi than Bigfoot, and whether it’s the technology or just the inputs available, its stickiness is astounding, in a way that’s almost depressing. You can push the car with aggressive bravado and brake late or early, and it barely raises an eyebrow at your efforts. It is understood that this new generation of quattro has even more torsen (limited slip differential) assisted, vectoring accredited and all we will drive kudos rolled up and packaged as a business loving, sometimes camping, most times commuting vehicle.
It’s quick enough — once its past the 60km/h mark it surges predictably towards its electronically limited 250km/h top speed. The solitude and quietness of the vehicle can be unnerving at times, almost like the surrogate child of a hybrid, but the pedals keep you moving, and whatever systems are functioning at any one time, you are left you blissfully unaware of their intervention. The brakes will pull your eyeballs out and hand them to the driver in front. I have found that even larger 10-pot calipers of other vehicles do not bite as hard as these anchors. Be warned.
The steering could use a tad more feedback, or perhaps it’s the engine that cannot drive the corner exit hard enough, but plant your foot and aim for the apex, it will not let you down.
The New Audi Q8 is an elegant mixl of automotive euphoria and extraordinary character. It is stunningly charismatic in its reticence and restraint, but a predator lurks under the surface and the switch from transporter to hunter is effortless. It lacks finesse in some quarters of its steering inputs and some might say even with the new rear-biased split it’s still not an engaging drive, but with consumer trends crossing dangerously over to the autonomous driver market, that point is constantly debatable. You may not enter a venue with sporty rowdiness or leave in a blaze of popping exhaust notes, but you will not go unnoticed. Spacious, filled with current and future technology, the Q8 has managed to carve a bloody niche in the luxury SUV market that will allow it to create a brand identity for its new offspring.
Price R1 392 400 (Base Price)
Engine 3.0-litre V6 Turbo
Top Speed 250 km/h (limited)