If I were buying a Q8 to regularly carry older, taller teenagers and adults as passengers, I’d certainly have it without a panoramic sunroof. But I wouldn’t be put off buying one at all for reasons of space. Unless you’ve a need for a third row of seats, there would surely be few practical purposes to which you’d want to put a big SUV that a Q8 couldn’t serve – including carrying three adults across the back seats as and when you had to. The car’s boot is huge.
Up front, what separates the Q8 from the Q7 primarily is the former’s adoption of Audi’s split-level ‘MMI Touch’ touchscreen infotainment consoles – the same you’ll find in the current A8, A7 and new A6. While you might find the idea of two landscape-oriented touchscreens on the car’s centre stack distracting in principle, they’re not so much so in practice, because Audi has been very clever with the provision of shortcut keys on both displays. You’re therefore seldom more than one prod away from the menu screen you’re looking for, and you can also arrange the home screen to have all the functions you use most regularly.
Dead in front of you, meanwhile, is Audi’s fully digital Virtual Cockpit instrument panel, and all around you is evidence of the undisputed mastery at deploying upmarket cabin materials that Audi has demonstrated so often in its latest big cars. Such a precisely finished, immaculate and expensive-looking dashboard can attract few criticisms, except that if you don’t go a bundle on high-gloss piano black trim, the Q8 might not be for you. Then again, there’s gloss black and there’s Audi gloss black…
How does the Audi Q8 perform on the road?
On the move, the Q8 has the capacity to be almost as smooth, comfortable and easy-going as its Q7 sibling, its Comfort driving mode making for cushioned ride isolation that wants for little except on really uneven surfaces. Here, the engine’s remarkable refinement and the cabin’s excellent sealing (suffering nothing for the frameless fit of those doors) make the Q8 a typically demure, low-effort cruiser.
But I don’t think I’d drive it like that – at least, not much. Because the Q8’s mission is surely to bring a dose of handling poise and driver involvement to the big Audi SUV party beyond the abilities of its sturdier sibling. And, without ever really making your eyes widen with surprise, it does that well – well enough, certainly, for those who want the occasional brush with excitement but more often will just want the Q8 to act the consummate luxury conveyance.
In Dynamic mode, the car’s steering takes on plenty of weight, its suspension firms up to a taut but not bothersome level, and (assuming you’ve remembered to have it fitted, as our test car had) its four-wheel steering system does its best to enliven the car’s handling. The car changes direction keenly, and although it doesn’t swivel underneath you like the Cayenne can, it has the abundant lateral grip and mid-corner stability you expect of a fast Audi.
If you like big luxury cars, and big Audi SUVs in particular, perhaps you should buy one - eventually. But I’m not sure now’s the right moment.
Because even as it is, the Q8’s chassis is ready for more than 282bhp – and, I suspect, more than 335bhp as well. And until more alluring performance engines are added to the range, the car’s appeal as a top-level SUV won’t be fully realised, and its ability to take its owner a step beyond the driving experience of a Q7, as it really ought to, will remain in question, at least to this tester.
So the best is probably yet to come from the Q8. For the moment, although it’s not short on admirable qualities, it feels a little bit like a ‘by the numbers’ effort, when it really ought to have been the sort of flagship dreamboat SUV to breathe even more life into the brand.