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Audi Q8: Perfectly cool

ON THE ROAD

Back in 2008 we got what is undoubtedly one of the most effective acts of blatant product placement we have ever seen in film. We have Iron Man facing off with his nemesis Iron Monger on a busy highway. Cars screech around them, crashing into each other to avoid the duelling titans. But not the Audi Q7. The glossy SUV is able to brake inch-perfectly in front of the villain — prompting him to menacingly pick up the car and terrify the family inside. Not to worry, our hero would never let anything bad happen to fellow Audi lovers: he blasts away their captor and catches the car … before it promptly runs him over.

The first Iron Man will be remembered for kick-starting the 20-plus film and multibillion-dollar Marvel craze. But it was also the first in what became a fantastic partnership for Audi. Over the next decade, Audi became the cool car in cinema, thanks to the endless stream of blockbusters, right up until the final film of the era, when Tony Stark arrives at Avengers headquarters in an electric e-tron GT concept. Film has done for the German brand what it had once done for smoking.

The Audi Q8 feels like the zenith of that journey: it is the peak of cool. It first arrived in South Africa last year, and is now available in diesel, which is the version we tested. The SUV coupé remains one of the most aesthetically menacing vehicles you can find on our roads today.

It sits squat, almost as though the Hulk took a Q7 and squeezed it between his hands. It’s shorter than its older sister but also wider and lower to the ground. Propped up by the optional 22-inch alloy wheels and air-suspension, it will have few competitors for attention in almost any parking lot. Making double sure of that is the beyond-sexy LED-lights that run across the entire boot. This car has presence in abundance. 

The interior can be similarly admired, which is to be expected given that it is another area in which Audi has strived to excel in over the past decade. Like all high-end cars in its stable, the Q8 has three large screens covering the dashboard: the infotainment centre, the celebrated gauge cluster and a smaller display for the climate control and other bits and bobs. Clean, minimal and stylish. It is also worth noting that despite the shortened roof the inside still feels cavernous, with more than enough leg room in the front and back.  

The drive has a luxurious quality to match. Its massive physique glides across the road with sublime ease. The steering is buttery smooth and the air suspension cushions even the harshest of bumps. It’s fairly quick too: the 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine produces 183kW and 600Nm that equates to a 0-100km/h time of about seven seconds. Reaching the higher speeds that follow feels dreamy, with the ride barely losing any tranquillity.

It’s all a bit too perfect. 

This may sound like a bad job interview cliché, but there’s simply no X factor to speak of here. You’ll rarely have a moment where you find yourself giddily smirking. It’s largely inexplicable, given the overall exceptional drive — a victim of its own accomplishment.

Beginning at nearly R1.6-million, one might argue that we’re due for a little excitement. Add on all the coolest extras, and the price rises to closer to R1.75-million. That’s obviously a rather high number, which puts it among the SUV class elite

It seems almost mandatory to mention in every such review that South Africans, much like drivers in the developed world, have become awfully fond of their SUVs. The Q8 wants to reign among them.

And again, it’s hard to refute its attempt. This is a car to announce your arrival on the scene, unlike almost any other. It is the pinnacle of cool that Audi has so deliberately worked to achieve. The only question you really have to answer is if perfect is something you actually want.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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