Audi Q8 55 TFSI first drive review
I was waiting at the busy Denver airport for my shuttle to arrive and take me to an off-site parking lot which had an Audi Q8 waiting for me. The parking lot was around 10km away and is one of many other parking lots and valet facilities that the Denver airport has taken a keen interest in, in order to reduce congestion around itself. It's not as bad as LA, but it can get quite busy. If I was driving a Q8 in that mess, I would have felt guilty for its size, but all I could see going in and out of the airport were massive pickup trucks, so I was good.
Finally, my shuttle arrived and we took the long drive. It was a hot day and the dry heat made it feel almost as bad as Mumbai. I was dreading that the Q8's cabin must have turned into an oven by now. Thankfully, however, this parking lot turned out to be a supersized hangar and in its shade stood rows of shiny, colourful and swanky cars waiting to be driven out by their business-class flyers. The Q8 was standing in the company of an X6 and a Corvette. A thought crossed my mind to call the agency and swap the Eight for the 'Vette, but then the Chevy isn't coming to India. The Audi Q8 is.
It was a pity that I didn't have a cameraman with me and that should explain why my story and the photos don't match as they should. The bigger shame, however, is that I didn't realise I was only a couple of hours away from the iconic Pikes Peak. Instead, I had chosen to drive up the Trail Ridge Road around the Rocky Mountain National Park. It is an iconic road too, and very popular with driving enthusiasts. But I'm miffed that I could have visited Pikes Peak too. After all, the Q8 is the sportier twin of the Q7, made for such roads.
I ran a customary check on the polished white coupé SUV, loaded my luggage, set up the driving position and paired my iPhone to wirelessly mirror CarPlay. It took a while to get it up and running, but once it did, Google Maps showed me a longer yet quicker route than the onboard satnav, (which too is ironically powered by Google).
We hit the highway almost instantly and the Q8 shines out there. You know it's built for the German autobahn and the meagre speed limits of the US soil make it absolutely effortless and spookishly quiet to drive. In fact, it feels over-engineered at times. What do you do with lane keep assist on highways so wide? Or the adaptive cruise control which seldom has a car in front of it to show off its skill at autonomously maintaining the set distance. But, driving on these roads with a car as alert as the Q8 is a boon - because you can enjoy a juicy brisket sandwich from Arby's while the car ensures safe manoeuvres and even brakes autonomously if required.
It does get dwarfed by the pickups on the highway, but it turns many heads and that's the point of this car. Coupé-SUVs are quite a polarising bunch when it comes to their design, but Audi has nailed it with the Q8. The carmaker's chiselled design language works wonderfully well for this form and the rear three quarter, which is usually the controversial part of coupé-SUVs, is actually the Q8's best angle, thanks to the dynamic OLED tail lights. If you take a keen interest in automotive history, then the black appliqué at the rear of the Q8 will remind you of the original Quattro.
The face looks imposing with what is perhaps the most stylish grille on any Audi SUV. The Q8 is not a very tall or hefty car, but its wide-bodied, squat stance awards it an aura that sets it apart from other Audi SUVs, as the sportier kind. To that effect, the Q8's silhouette is reminiscent of the Lamborghini Urus. In fact, both these cars (and even the Audi SQ7, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga for that matter) are tied together by a common thread called the MLB Evo platform. It gives the Q8 access to things like a rear-axle steering, a 48V electrical architecture and fast processing power for its infotainment system.
The infotainment is made up of two high-def screens angled towards the driver. Though I'm not a big fan of touchscreen controls for the AC and the driving mode selector, it's something that we will all have to get used to, sooner or later. This layout is common across newer cars from Audi and will soon be seen on the new Q7 too, which will debut by mid-July. We often complain that Audi's cabin designs seem very similar to the lesser Volkswagen and Skoda cars, but this layout fixes that. The cabin of the Q8 feels prim and proper, with common touchpoints and the dashboard optionally draped in leather.
The front seats have air cushions on the side which inflate to give the occupants a snug fit. For a driver-focused car, the rear seat space is quite impressive. In fact, it is one of the most spacious five-seater SUVs in this class and the headroom is particularly good for a coupé-SUV. My drive only lasted a couple of hundred kilometres, and of course, in the driver's seat, but the rear seats, like the front, seem plush and comfortable for long distance journeys. The Trail Ridge Road is a winding path that passes through grasslands and mountains - and you often spot wild animals like moose, deer, coyotes, and even bears if you are as lucky as me - but passengers in the back seat could get miffed that the rear windows only roll down about two-thirds. The only thing I was miffed about is that all the animals I spotted were at points where cars weren't allowed to pull over.
On top of the mountain, there was a lot of snow. The sheriff, keen to have a look at the Q8, even told me, "You are lucky the road is open despite all the snow. But be slow, you know." I was glad and in hindsight, I'm consoling myself thinking the road to Pikes Peak probably was shut and so my stars brought me to Rocky Mountain instead. The snow was melting and many stretches of the road were wet enough to keep the Quattro system on the Q8 busy. Handling manners of the Q8 are generally very good, and as you would guess, over-engineered for US limits. I don't remember tapping the brakes often.
My car had air-suspension and I believe it will be standard on the India-spec model. It allows you to lower the boot for easier loading, increase ride height to go over speed humps, get a fairly good capability to go off the road with its Off-road and All-road mode (like the Q7), and have a wonderfully damped, cushy ride even on our kind of roads. Turning up the spirit makes the Q8 lower itself to a ground clearance of around 165mm - that's almost sedan territory. But don't expect the Q8 to go around bends like an A7. Rather think of it as a car better equipped than the A7 to take on poor roads, and then you might discount the bit of body roll that you experience with its height.
The Q8 certainly feels tighter than the Q7 around the bends and switchbacks, and this is certainly the quickest, fastest and sportiest SUV that you will be able to buy from Audi India until they decide to start bringing in the SQ range.
It does its urban duties quite well too. The visibility is excellent from all four sides and the gearbox responds just as well to part throttle inputs. The steering, which feels a bit lifeless in the twisties, feels conveniently light in city traffic. So despite being a driver-focused car, it is extremely easy to live with as a daily driver too.
But when it comes to that, one will eventually compare it to the Q7. With the updated Q7 now packing in almost all the technical goodies of the Q8, along with the trademark seven-seater configuration, the Q7 certainly offers more value. You will appreciate the Q8 for the sportier form, of course, but if you still need a more compelling reason to choose it over a Q7, it is this - the Q8 is a more accessible alternative to the likes of the Porsche Cayenne. It doesn't sound as great or drive with such razor-sharp precision, but has plenty to keep you entertained - both, inside the cabin and behind the wheel - without breaking the bank. I'm impressed, and I'm guessing you would be too.
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