2020 Audi Q8 road test review
On the way to one of our favourite spots to shoot up in Lonavala, is a tricky downhill right-hander. Tricky, because the generous amount of room on the entry will lead you to believe you've got space to fling a car right in, all while staying in your lane. But then it tightens up, as soon as you get to the apex. To make things worse, it's also developed a patch of broken tarmac, running like a jagged scar, smack in the middle of the ideal driving line. In a regular car, or even SUV, we know better now than to try and attack it because it's a bumpy ride. Except, I'm in the Audi Q8, and on the drive up to that tricky corner, it's been egging me on to find a real challenge for it. It's absolutely nuts! It's a luxury SUV for God's sakes. Yet, it's just tucked into every corner I've showed it, stayed flat and held its line through with zero thought for its 2.1-tonne kerb weight! If you haven't felt the magic of four-wheel steering, especially on a road you're intimate with, prepare to have your mind blown to pieces. It changes everything. But that's not the only thing the Audi Q8 has going for it. Let's take it from the top.
What it looks like?
The Audi Q8, especially in this shade fittingly named Dragon Orange, is probably the most striking SUV this side of a Lamborghini Urus. In fact, there's a creeping similarity between the two in their sloping rooflines, athletic proportions and the way they pinch at the waist and narrow into the glasshouse. And if you were to ever park them side by side, the Audi will refuse to be overshadowed. In fact, it's only in company like the Lambo, that you'd be able to call the Audi's styling conservative. Both share more than just styling too, being based on the same MLB Evo platform, also underpinning the new Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.
The singleframe grille is large, but doesn't look out of place given how large, and aggressive, everything else on the Q8 is. And except for the fact that you can peer right through it to the mammoth radiator a couple of feet in, it's well executed, especially with the S Line pack switching over everything to gloss black. The other standout being the wide, wide rear haunches that kick out from just ahead of the rear wheels, just like they have on generations of Audi's Quattro 'rally cars for the road'. A nice finishing touch is the slight edge, almost deck-lid that the rear windscreen terminates in. The optional 21-inch wheels are a must-have, they really bring out the character of the Q8, and don't affect ride quality in the way you think they would. More on that later though.
How are the interiors?
In contrast to its decidedly flamboyant exterior, the cabin is very teutonic-feeling, with its straight lines, flat surfaces, and swathes of Alcantara neatly put together. A wide central tunnel separates the ridiculously supportive front sports seats, and also houses Audi's new MMI system. It's also where you'd expect to find knobs and switches, and there are none. Everything's relegated to two touchscreens, with haptic feedback, to control everything from climate control to infotainment.
It's a good thing the haptic can be turned off, because it feels like you've got to push the on-screen buttons right through the screen for it to register a touch. With it turned off, it's much easier to use when driving, though you will have to sneak a peek down to see what you're hitting. Having the drive mode select at the bottom of the lower screen, and on the far side away from the driver, makes using it especially unintuitive. And while the materials used are mostly impressive, some of the plastics on the lower dash feel too regular and like off a Q7, for this application at least. Trust that you will be very pleased with the standard 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio set-up (!), while the ventilated/massage seats, four-zone climate control, and air quality package on our tester are optional.
Now, you can't expect Q7 levels of practicality from the Q8, but it will surprise with the acres of kneeroom, headroom, and shoulder room too. That roofline is seriously deceptive! The rear bench can be slid forward and back, and reclined to give you a better view out the panoramic sunroof. The fact that it's only got to accommodate two rows of seating means the Q8 also has a humongous 605-litre boot, with its space saver spare tucked away under the floor of the boot.
How does it drive?
Like we said earlier, like you wouldn't believe! Having experienced the completely bonkers Urus previously, I'm convinced that if the Q8 had the same engine (the RS Q8 does, Audi bring it here with that four-litre twin-turbo V8, please!), it'd be able to hang right with it through any set of roads. Under the hood of this 55 TFSI though, is a three-litre V6 (and 48V mild-hybrid) with 340PS and 500Nm torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic and quattro all-wheel drive. Smooth and effortless in the city, with quick roll-on figures around the 1.7s mark, the Q8 is eager to kickdown gears seamlessly. And both the 8.4kmpl city efficiency figure we attained, and the 9.9kmpl highway figure are pretty respectable given the drivetrain's rapidness.
But it never really feels as exciting as its best test figure of 6.4s in the run from 0-100kmph would suggest. It builds pace, very quickly, with a muted suggestion from the exhausts but that's about it. Running through the drive modes does little to change that, though it can raise or lower the car from its max of 254mm to a nicely stanced out 164mm, apart from greatly affecting the ride quality and handling characteristics from the Q8's standard air suspension.
And in Comfort, the Q8 will glide over almost anything, despite the large wheels and 285/45 section rubber. And while it will make you aware of sharp bumps, on a good stretch of highway, it comes pretty close to offering the kind of magic carpet ride you'd get on something like a Q7. It even manages to provide insulation from bad patches, like the one in the middle of my favourite trick corner, without upsetting the car. It will pitch a little into a corner but setting the massive SUV into Dynamic largely fixes that, allowing the Q8 to carry huge amounts of speed without the kind of body roll you would expect.
If there's one thing the Q8 has, it's massive amounts of mechanical grip from that pure quattro mechanical self-locking centre differential set at a rear-biased 40:60 split. But it can send up to 70 per cent power to the front, or up to 85 per cent to the rear when needed. And, of course, the agility afforded by the optional rear-wheel steering. It's a pity the steering can't offer more than the usual Audi-synthetic feel, because it could really be an involving SUV to drive otherwise. And when I say involving, I mean one to really push if the mood took over. Because the brakes can definitely keep up with a spirited run, offering great power and modulation once you get over the initial lack of bite at the top of the pedal travel. Our testing brought up a 100-0 figure of 37.7m and just 2.7s, which is near sports car territory.
Where do we even begin with the Q8? Okay, it's an expensive SUV at Rs 1.33 crore, ex-showroom. Especially for one with no S or RS prefixes. But it brings with it unparalleled road presence for the price, and a truly spacious cabin, with great rear seat comfort given how it looks, if the owner were to prefer letting the chauffeur drive. It's got competition from Porsche's own sporty-looking (and driving) Cayenne Coupe, but it's the Audi with its meaner edges that looks just that much more menacing. And in a country that's obsessed with the sheer size of the SUV, the Audi Q8 truly is the flagship.
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