Choice is good, even when some of those choices seem to make no sense at all on paper. For 2019, Audi will offer its brand-new Q8, yet another choice for personal luxury buyers looking for a sporty crossover.
Considering the success of coupe-shaped utility vehicles like the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, despite the fact they they almost completely lose the utility aspect of a so-called sport utility vehicle, it’s surprising that it took Audi so long to pen an entry into the segment. And the Audi Q8, unlike its competitors, keeps a mostly flat roofline, which means buyers won’t have to sacrifice as much of the ‘utility’ part of the sport utility equation.
But what about the ‘sport’ aspect of this SUV? Audi representatives cite the Land Rover Range Rover Sport as a potential rival for its new Q8. Considering that Land Rover has found around 20,000 buyers for the Sport in each of the past three years, that’s not a bad bogey for Audi to target.
All of the Q8’s competitors are more about keeping up appearances than blitzing a race track, but it’s obvious that a sporty, stylish take on the SUV formula resonates with buyers in America. So it makes sense in today’s market to offer the Q8, even though it’s not really very sporty, and has less utility than the related Q7.
Part of the rationale is that in this segment, styling is of utmost importance. Audi designers drew inspiration for the Q8 from the original Quattro Coupe from the 1980s. The styling link is most apparent in the form of blistered fender arches at all four corners. These blisters bulge out over optional 22-inch wheels (19s are standard) and give the Q8 a muscular stance that’s reinforced by the vehicle’s imposing width. The Q8 is 2.6 inches shorter than the Q7, but basically shares the same wheelbase. It’s roof is also about an inch and a half lower to the ground, which again helps emphasize the vehicle’s 79-inch width, which is over an inch wider than the Q7. At the rear, a long, horizontal, blacked-out panel separates intricate taillights and also harkens back to the old Quattro.
And as long as it’s wearing a monotone palette, we think the Q8 looks awfully nice in person. But it doesn’t really ooze style the same way as the X6 and GLE Coupe. European Q8 buyers who choose Audi’s S Line trim level will get a unique set of gray exterior accents, including a sort of mask around the Q8’s massive octagonal grille. It’s not yet clear if this two-tone scheme will come to America, but even if it does, our advice is to skip it. Instead of offering a more premium look, we think the gray accents cheapen the looks of the Q8 in the same way a stripped-down base-model economy car is cheapened by unpainted plastic bumpers. Check out the video below to see what we mean.
There’s an overall sense of sci-fi meets modern technology inside the Q8. Large swaths of shiny black plastic adorn the Q8’s interior. These look like modern interpretations of the panels used in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” television series. Two stacked LCD touchscreen panels make up the center of the dash. These screens offer haptic feedback — meaning they produce the sensation of a physical click to confirm virtual button presses — which helps make them feel a bit more like traditional buttons and dials. The Audi Q8 interior represents the future of sci-fi past come to life, and thankfully it all works pretty darn well in the real world.
The bottom LCD screen is positioned to fall right at the driver’s fingers, assuming his or her hand is resting atop the shifter. It’s from this lower panel that the car’s climate functions are accessed – in the case of the Q8, there are four individual climate zones, one for the driver, one for the passenger, and two for the rear seating area — but it’s also a panel that can recognize handwriting for navigation inputs. An upper panel measuring 10.1 inches across is the main display of the Q8’s MMI experience. Maps, audio, and other infotainment features display on this panel, which is also touch sensitive.
One unique feature that makes MMI much more user friendly than some competing systems are shortcut icons that can be added in a row across the lower LCD panel. These shortcuts can include anything from a frequently used GPS destination to the phone number of a friend or family member. We found the system mostly intuitive to use, once we figured out that a solid press was required to make selections and get any helpful haptic feedback.
One major limitation of Audi’s MMI technology — and this applies to any infotainment system that requires a strong connection to the Internet — is that many of its most useful features didn’t work out in the Atacama Desert where we traveled to test the Q8. This being the case, we couldn’t really test Audi’s natural language voice control. In theory, you can get updates on the weather, or even tell the system that you’re hungry, which would prompt the system to give you suggestions for nearby restaurants. Of course, if your driving is mostly confined to more developed areas — and it very likely will be — you’ll enjoy all the benefits of MMI.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit technology is standard in the Q8. Instead of a traditional gauge cluster, the digital dashboard is configurable to show all kinds of useful information, our favorite being a big, bright map with GPS driving directions. An optional head-up display further reduces the need for the driver to move their eyes from the road.
Looking past all the shiny LCD screens, the rest of the Q8’s interior is clean, with simple lines and high-quality materials. A chrome strip runs the length of the dash, and though it would seem to be interrupted by the HVAC vents, it’s cleverly stays straight no matter where the vent is pointed. Taken as a whole, the Q8’s interior has a serious concept-car vibe, and it’s way nicer inside than its competitors from BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Land Rover. If you’re into high-tech interior furnishings, the Q8 offers them in spades.
The heated, cooled and massaging front seats of our test car were lovely perches on which to watch the stunning desert landscape fly by. The rear seats are roomy enough for two passengers of above-average height to get nice and comfortable. Due to the five-seat, two-row configuration, Audi has managed to allow quite a bit of fore/aft movement for the second row. Leg room is more than adequate, and because the roofline doesn’t swoop down too radically, our six-foot, two-inch test driver had no trouble with headroom, either.
A 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine will be the only powerplant available at launch in America. Shared with the Q7, it puts out 335 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque and sends that power through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. A 48-volt battery allows Audi to integrate its mild-hybrid technology, which is capable of recovering energy that would otherwise be lost to braking and reuse it to help power the vehicle.
The V6 powerplant generally feels up to the job of moving the big 4,700-pound SUV around, but, on our drive route that briefly crested 15,000 feet in elevation, there were times that the turbo mill was left huffing, puffing, and forcing the transmission to hold gears for an uncomfortably long time. While most owners will never feel the effects of that kind of elevation, the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 just doesn’t have the kind of muscle to make the heavy Q8 any more fun to drive than the family-focused Q7. It’s merely adequate for a vehicle of this price and positioning in the marketplace.
Fortunately for power junkies, we already know a more powerful SQ8 is on the way. And if even that’s not enough for you, know that the upcoming Lamborghini Urus also shares the same platform as the Q8.
Audi’s Drive Select controller has moved from a dial on the console to a couple of arrow-shaped buttons below the lower LCD screen. We found these buttons awfully fiddly to work with, especially when attempting to change modes while moving. It’s almost impossible to find the small buttons without moving your eyes from the road, and then you have to check one of the LCD screens to see which mode you’ve selected.
We found the Comfort mode to be a pretty good all-around setting for the Q8. Dynamic mode alters the ratio and adds weight to the steering, and if the vehicle is fitted with optional air dampers, it also firms up the suspension. It’s a noticeable change between Comfort and Dynamic, and it’s fun to play with the settings, but really, the Q8 isn’t a sports car and is never going to drive like one. A default Auto mode senses the road and monitors the driver’s habits, and generally falls somewhere between Comfort and Dynamic in its settings.
Quattro all-wheel drive is standard in the Q8, and can send as much as 70 percent of the car’s power to the front wheels, and up to 85 percent to the back wheels. If you opt for the air suspension system, you’ll also benefit from four-wheel steering and the ability to raise the suspension using Off-Road and Allroad settings. And yes, we did drive the Q8 off-road, through snow, and even through a water crossing deep enough to touch the bottom of the Q8’s undercarriage. It’s an SUV after all, and even if zero owners will ever put its off-road functions to the test, it’s nice to know they’re there, right?
And that pretty much sums up the 2019 Audi Q8. The world does not need another coupe-like four-door crossover. But unlike some of its competitors — BMW X6, we’re looking at you — the Q8 doesn’t sacrifice the bulk of its utility for the sake of style. And we think that’s a good thing, even if the X6 has been a sales success for BMW. The Audi Q8 somehow manages to blend style and utility in a unique way, offering a more practical choice for style-conscious buyers who still want or need a useable back seat and cargo area.
We can hardly believe that it took Audi 10 years to join BMW in this segment of the market, but now that they’re here, we’ll grudgingly admit that we think Audi’s going to sell quite a few more Q8 crossovers in America than the A8 sedan that has just as much technology, is more comfortable and is dynamically superior to drive. And that’s fine, because, after all, choice is good. Now, buyers can choose between coupe-like crossovers from all three of the big German luxury brands. And of those three, the Audi has the most technology, the most stylish interior, and even the healthiest dose of practicality. Whether or not it has enough style to attract buyers in this segment, though, is what will ultimately be the deciding factor in its success.