Enter the Q8, the suave coupe-style five-seat variant of the Q7, ready to do battle with the X6, GLE Coupe and the Range Rover Sport.
Coupe-style SUVs are a niche thing that despite the odds seem to sell well. BMW’s X6 is a good example. The shape doesn’t appeal to everyone but the company has sold not far off half a million since its 2008 introduction. Clearly there are people out there who like the style of such vehicles and to heck with practicality.
The Q8 newcomer is a bit different. It’s easy on the eye, with a strong, crisp profile, and despite the sloping roof decent room for five adults and their gear. Plus it goes well, on and off road.
But it’s the look people will warm to. Up front presents the new SUV face of Audi with an eight-sided singleframe grille enclosed within a bold border or ‘mask’, the colour of which can be varied. Matrix LED headlamps are standard, with integrated DRLs, and add a sophisticated technical look, as do the taillights. Both put on a bit of a show during locking or unlocking. Exaggerated fenders, frameless doors and 20-inch wheels complete the no-nonsense look. It’s a bold statement and is easily distinguished from the Q7 with which it shares its platform and wheelbase.
Unlike some in the sector, luggage space isn’t slashed in translation. With all seats in use there’s still 605L of room in the hold (Q7 770L), expanding to 1755L with backrests folded down. Tow ability also remains stout, at 3500kg braked.
It has lots in common with the Q7, the same bones essentially, but its dimensions are rather different. It isn’t as tall (1705mm) and nor is it as long (4986mm, -66mm) as the Q7, with shorter overhangs, but it has added width (1995mm, +27mm) and that makes it appear lower and more athletic. It also seems smaller to behold, more like a Q5 at first glance, yet has the turning circle of a Q3. That’s because the initial model coming to New Zealand has four-wheel steering to match its permanent four-wheel drive.
Three other standard active eatures are worth noting; active cruise and damping, and height adjustable air suspension, again all standard as part of the $149,900 sticker price. So too is the latest generation of MMI featuring two central touch screens, one for HVAC and the other for pretty much everything else. Head-up display is also standard-fit and so too active lane assist, parking sonar, 360-degree surround camera and Audi Pre Sense (collision avoidance) front and rear.
This 50 TDI is the first of several models; 55 TSFI arrives midway through next year, and will be followed by S and RS variants, eventually. The initial offering is a turbodiesel as you’d have guessed by now, a 3.0L V6 unit that kicks out 210kW of power and 600Nm of torque. It’s hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with more drive going to the rear wheels normally (60:40).
The 50 TDI is also a 48v mild hybrid, its belt starter generator concerned primarily with turning brake energy into potential energy which is stored in a 10Ah lithium ion battery at the rear of the vehicle. It also stops and starts the engine while the vehicle is on the move, the coasting episodes evidently saving around 0.5L per 100km.
As to performance, the sprint time is a quoted 6.3sec, and from our drive on some of the backroads in the South Auckland area, it feels brisk. The diesel also seems remarkably refined. You scarcely hear the murmurings of the big oiler and for those not in the know it could almost be a petrol.
There are no active sway bars like in the SQ7, but there’s also nothing wrong with the way this deals to technical back roads either. Plying South Auckland country roads my driving partner commented that a decade ago no high riding two-tonne-plus vehicle would have shimmied down the road like this can. And he’s right. There are several reasons for this. Four wheel steering enhances cornering agility, and as noted during an off-road session allows it to turn tight corners like a car two-thirds its size.
Sport suspension on the vehicles we drove also firms things up and it’s an option box you’d be mad not to tick f you want an SUV that can corner like it kind of has no right to. Especially when you dial up either the Auto or the Dynamic Drive Select Programme. Even in the latter with the 22-inch optional wheels, the ride quality remains civilised. It’s another reason why most big rigs like this have now feature the latest in air suspension set-ups. You just need to steer clear of sharp-edged bumps that such systems cannot deal with quite as well as conventional suspension might.
It’s no lightweight the Q8, as we discovered when one of the more vigorous drivers, who shall remain nameless (but rhymes with Saul) exited the driver’s seat and wondered where the smoke was coming from. His suggestion that the brakes must not have been bedded in properly met with derision from those who knew better.
It seems that nowadays most companies are keen to check out how well their luxury rigs perform off-road and Audi wasn’t about to shirk on those duties. Despite tyres clearly optimised for Macadam over mud, the Q8 took to some wet grass tracks without hesitation. In its off-road mode ride height rises by 90mm (to 254mm) where it negotiated artificial moguls with diagnonally opposite wheels off the ground rather casually, along with a side incline where some saw up to 31 degrees of lean.
Options include 21- and 22-inch wheels instead of the standard 20s, (from $4000), vented and massaging front seats (also $4000), a panoramic glass roof ($5k), and a B&O sound system upgrade ($3200). Dean Sheed, general manager of Audi NZ commented that for those with a technical and design bent, the Q8 will not disappoint.
Further Audi models incoming in the near future include the the RS5 Sportback, and the A6, A7 and A1 renewals, followed by Q3 midyear. And thereafter, the Etron Quattro full sized battery electric SUV will arrive.
Following a year of consolidation in which Q SUVs accounted for well over 50 per cent of sales, that percentage will only continue to rise with new Q8 and Q3 contributing in 2019.