Jazzy new SUV but, does it hit the right note?
For those with the tiniest bit of musical affinity, there once was a ‘small’ British band called Led Zeppelin. They were right about the time of Queen and Rolling and Who, and they were precursors of Metal and Hard Rock. They composed a couple of songs that are quite apt for the Audi Q8 we review today. The first one was titled ‘Dazed and Confused’.
‘Confused’ because the Q8 is named as a flagship. In the Audi Q line-up, we have the 1, the 3, the 5, the 7 and, consequentially, the 8. As you may suspect, the number correlates with the size of the car. Hence, the logical step would be that the Q8 was bigger than the Q7. But isn’t. Where the Q7 seats, well, seven, for example, the Q8 only seats five. I am not a suspicious man but, these two share track and wheelbase and engine and ground clearance, which would presume a shared chassis, and yet, the Q8 shorter.
It’s also priced as a flagship, in the sense that it is more expensive than the Q7. Sure, only marginally so, but why is that? You could argue that, for example, the Mercedes AMG GT is more expensive than the flagship S-Class but they are two completely different segments. On the Q-line, we are talking about Sports Utility/Activity Vehicles. And there does not seem to be much difference in any of these terms from what the Q8 or Q7 can do.
Heavier but smaller; more expensive but shorter
Then there is the weight. The 911 GT3 RS is more expensive than the GT3 even though it comes without A/C, interior door handles, a radio and even proper badges. But the purpose and philosophy of the car differs. Not here, in the Q8 vs. Q7. And, the Q8 intends to be the sportier of the Q’s, but it’s close to 130Kg heavier. What gives? Hence… confused.
Back to Led Zeppelin. ‘Dazed’ because despite everything said above, the Q8 is truly outstanding. Skirting from the obvious fact that, as every other car aficionado, an SUV is an insult to motoring, the Audi is a fabulous piece of engineering at the service of the affluent consumer.
Let’s park the aesthetics opinion for a moment to delve into the drive. And that’s what this car is for, in all honestly. You will hardly ever find a Q8 too far away from the comfort of tarmac. Why? Let’s just say that, unlike true off-road oriented vehicles, the tyres are low profile, 22in-rim, 275mm wide and definitely road-going. With chrome and color matching spoilers all around, one assumes that gravel and obstacles are sources of all sorts of dings and pimples for the Q8’s fashion status.
Surely it can drive through ‘Kashmir’, but it seems it’s designed for ‘Going to California’, comfortably. Which it does with great aplomb. The engine is a 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 producing a whopping 355hp, which in any other car would be more than enough. However, on the Q8 it feels a bit numb. Throttle response is lethargic unless you set the drive mode to ‘Sport’, but then the suspension becomes overly firm and the car revs up waiting for an acceleration request that highway driving rarely demands. Thus, you tend to settle into Comfort or Eco drive modes, and by the time you need the sudden burst of power to clear up the rumbling lorry in front of you, the power is just not there anymore.
The suspension also leaves us wanting. It’s capable, it’s comfortable, it’s dependable, but it’s not fun and it makes the car a tad wobbly. Once more, nothing to whinge about in city or highway driving, but still. As for the gearbox, eight are plenty. Official figures claim a 7.2l per 100km fuel consumption but, even in 8th gear, on cruise control and with A/C on minimum, we could never reach below 9.2 during our limited time with the car.
But, the numbers don’t really tell the story here…
None of which matters though, quite honestly. Sure, the package and the drivetrain must tick some marketing boxes, but what the client wants is really inside the car. And oh boy, does Audi excel there!
Climbing into the Q8 is a ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Audi has now let go of any analogue dials, developing a completely digital dashboard and central console. All the commands are where you’d expect them to be and they are accessible and easy to use.
As Infiniti did in the Q50 (it’s all about Qs), the central console has two screens: one for information and entertainment, and the other for various controls. About the top one, there’s nothing really to comment on. It’s big, intuitive, clear and fast. The second one though, is not so great. And it’s not so great because, for example, you have the A/C controls within it. Temperature is something you actually touch a lot. Different days, different cloud coverage, different weather, different clothes… you keep playing with it in your car. And you play with it while you are driving. And even though this screen has the haptic vibration response, you need to look at the screen, touch where you want the A/C, touch the temperature toggles… It’s slow, it gets the screen dirty and, most importantly, removes your attention from what’s in front of you.
You could argue that many cars nowadays are doing that already. Say, Volvo, or Tesla. But both of these brands have excelled in user interface, making these adjustments so quick and intuitive that you barely need to look. On this Audi, you do. A lot. And for quite some time. Add to that the fact that their vision of a luxurious dashboard is a gorgeous piano finish lacquer. Absolutely dandy. For about 16 seconds. The thing with piano lacquer (and I have had a few pianos myself) is that they love fingerprints. And they love dust. You need to clean them up thoroughly with a felt cloth, which leaves a mild electrostatic charge on the surface, which attracts dust with evermore eagerness.
However, the highlight of the Q8, and I don’t mind saying it, is the sound system. I think I am right to say that it is the best bespoke Hi-Fi I have ever seen in a car. Truly. You should test them side by side, of course, but I daresay it’s better than Mercedes’ S-Class Burmester, Aston Martin’s Naim, or even the Rolls Royce Wraith’s bespoke ‘Inspired by Music’ limited edition model. And surprisingly, it comes courtesy of Bang and Olufsen. A brand known for style and spaceship-like motorized gadgets rather than quality of sound.
Musical range is pristine and the equalization needs no adjustments at any volume level. Give it ‘No Quarter’, and the 3D sound system will respond with even sound pressure and perfect timing. A beauty, I tell you. It’s so good that the parking alerts are as annoying as the alarm-clock embedding itself inside your dreams in the morning. On a couple of occasions I found myself idling in front of a parking space waiting for Leonard Cohen to finish his tune before starting the maneuver.
But what stands out the most about the Q8 is not how it looks, nor how it drives, nor how comfortable it is. What stands out is how it makes you feel. About yourself and about what’s around you. And this car makes you feel good. Protected. At home.
In musical terms, the Q8 is ‘Sugar Mama‘. If you are one, or want to be one, the Q8 is the car for you. Capable, spacious, comfortable and hospitable, but with that tinge of an edge that makes you that more attractive.
If you have one, or are looking for one, the Q8 will certainly help, for it highlights your superior planning and taste, but with the hint of the rebel still up for an adventure. I could go on. For hours, if I am honest. But at this point, it would just be ‘Ramble On‘