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How well does this revised luxury SUV stand out against some accomplished opposition?

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Five years after it was launched to head off BMW’s hot-selling X6, the Audi Q8 coupé-SUV has been refreshed.

The changes aren’t seismic, but perhaps they didn't need to be. The Q8 has always done a decent job of combining the opulence, quietly strong performance and all-round ease of use of the Audi Q7 with a less pedestrian look and subtly sharper cornering ability. In Europe, Audi now sells roughly one Q8 for every two Q7s, so the decision to launch the model in the first place was also clearly the right one.

Roofline is lower and more steeply descending at the rear than a Q7’s, with more ‘tumblehome’ on the side windows – but not as rakish as an Urus’s

It all means that, for the facelift, most of the changes are purely cosmetic, with none concering the chassis. The tweaks are mostly found at the front, where the straightforward slatted main grille has been replaced by one with chunkier vertical elements and an elliptical motif, while those at the sides are now taller and more aggressive. The new matrix LED headlights have laser-light functionality (on the top-spec Vorsprung model, at least) and, for the owner who requires the very last word in configurability, offer four different daytime-running light ‘signatures’, selectable via the unchanged infotainment system.

The OLED rear lights are also new and there are four new wheel designs, ranging from 21in to 23in in diameter, as well as several fresh paint options.

At launch, the Q8 range consists of the 282bhp diesel V6-engined 50 TDI, tested here, the 335bhp petrol V6 TFSI and the 500bhp petrol V8 SQ8. Expect plug-in hybrids to join the line-up next year with a little more electric-only range than before; if the newly updated (and related) Porsche Cayenne is anything to go by, at least 45 miles are in the offing.

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A facelifted Audi RS Q8 will arrive in 2024 to rival the X6 M, with a price comfortably into triple figures. For now, the range starts at just over £75,000 for the 50 TDI and 55 TFSI in S Line trim and ends at near £118,000 for the SQ8 Vorsprung.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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Although its model nomenclature might suggest otherwise, the Q8 is 66mm shorter overall and quite a bit lower than its Audi Q7 sibling car. It has a body that’s 27mm wider (without mirrors) than that of the Q7 but it uses the same axle track widths and the same wheelbase.

In design terms the car is intended to embody Audi's philosophy more than any other, and while certainly striking and recognisable as an Audi, the Q8 isn't an instantly attractive, must-have luxury item. It's more of a slow-burner. You can see where visual links with the original Quattro have been attempted, but few of them really hit home and the Q8 lacks the same sense of allure as, say, the Range Rover Velar. The silhouette is, however, more elegant than alternatives from Mercedes, BMW and Porsche.

In terms of mechanical hardware, UK cars get sports-tuned adaptive air suspension and 21in alloy wheels as standard (up to 23in is available), with four-wheel steering available as an option. For now, the active anti-roll bars and the 'Sport' differential are limited to the SQ8. Audi’s engineers say they didn’t feel that they needed to turn to either the torque-vectoring diff or the clever anti-roll bars to deliver a distinguished driving experience in the regular Q8. 

INTERIOR

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Given the Q8’s positioning as a flagship offering within Audi’s Q-series of cars, you would expect the SUV’s cabin to offer something a little extra in terms of visual or material wow factor over and above its maker’s other large vehicles.

Instead, Audi has given the Q8 a cabin that looks and feels pretty much exactly the same as that of any other medium-to-high-ranking model, albeit suitably enlarged to SUV-size proportions.

That Russian-doll-style approach doesn’t mean the Q8 is left wanting in terms of its fit, finish or practicality, though. Brushed metal and gloss-black panelling are used liberally throughout the big Audi’s interior, crafting an ambience that’s entirely upmarket and desirable if also a little sober and clinical. The facelift has also introduced new trims, including attractive grey ash and matt carbon-twill finishes.

Taking up a sizeable amount of dashboard fascia real estate is Audi’s dual-screen MMI infotainment system, which comprises a primary 10.2in screen above a 8.6in unit. The upper screen controls all of the Q8’s features and functions, such as the satellite navigation, vehicle settings and telephone connectivity, while the lower screen is intended to display those features you interact with most often, such as the air conditioning, radio and seat heating.

While these are technically touchscreens, mere contact with the screen won’t necessarily warrant a reaction. Instead, you need to press down rather firmly, almost as if you were using the touchpad on a laptop computer. This can irk. The quality of the graphics, meanwhile, is top-notch and entirely befitting of a flagship SUV.

While the Bang & Olufsen sound system is impressive, the standard offering isn't sub-par. You could probably make do without the optional kit.

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit also replaces traditional analogue instrument dials as standard. By incorporating the vast majority of vehicle controls within the twin screens, physical dials and buttons are scarce and the result lends the Q8 an interior that feels considerably more minimal than that of a Porsche Cayenne or Mercedes-Benz GLE.

As for practicality, any concerns that the coupé-style roofline will eat into rear head room can be dismissed, because there’s an abundance of space in the back even for taller passengers. As for rear leg room, the Audi curiously doesn’t offer quite as much as the Cayenne despite its lengthier wheelbase.

We measured a typical rear leg room figure of 790mm for the Porsche, while the Audi came in at a still abundant 750mm. Boot volume, meanwhile, is an adequate 605 litres.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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There exists something of a mismatch between the predatory aesthetics of the Q8 and this demure diesel powertrain. Overtakes are drama-free but a little more mid-range go would be appreciated, because even nearly 450lb ft of torque is blunted somewhat by the Q8's substantial mass. A similar problem exists in the petrol V6 TFSI, though neither power unit ever prevents you from making calm, assured progress. 

The cruising credentials of the TDI include a touring economy of a shade over 40mpg. With the standard 75-litre fuel tank, this means a potential range of 660 miles between stops. Along the way you’ll find the engine shutting off entirely, if you coast in a window between 30mph and 100mph, with the 48V mild-hybrid system at other times recuperating energy through the brakes. As our instrumented tests have shown, the car's physical brakes are also excellent, should you ever need to exercise them fully. 

However, the big picture here is that, in regular form, Q8 lacks the firepower to justify its racy silhouette. It's a shame that the only route into V8 power is to opt for the 500bhp SQ8, which has a 0-62mph time of just over four seconds but now costs nearly £100,000. Note, though, that upcoming plug-in hybrid versions of the V6 powertrains should feel notably punchier than the non-hybrid versions.

RIDE & HANDLING

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In reasonably spirited point-to-point driving, the Q8 is secure and decently accurate for something so substantial, and will just about tolerate being hustled. Yet it doesn't offer much reward, with alternatives from Porsche and BMW giving the driver more in the way of quiet satisfaction. 

Note also that, on the standard air suspension and without the active anti-roll bars, the Q8 doesn't always contain roll as well as it perhaps should, as an semi-sporting proposition. As with performance, those in need of a more cohesive sports SUV would be better off with the SQ8.

If the Q8 rode beautifully, all of the above wouldn't matter so much. But it doesn't hit its mark in this regard, and perhaps Audi missed an opportunity to elevate the Q8's ride comfort game during the round of the updates for the facelift.

It boils down to the fact that, with larger wheels and shorter springs than the Q7, the Q8 doesn’t absorb  choppier surfaces as well as it should. At the same time, it doesn’t offer enough driving satisfaction to make putting up with the coarser ride a reasonable trade-off. On an interesting road, it’s easy to place and grips well but is always a bit flat-footed. So while it’s quick, progress is never especially satisfying.

The Q8’s look writes a cheque that its soulless steering, just-a-touch-too-hesitant direction changes and overly neutral balance can’t cash.

 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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The Q8 has never been a cheap car but the same is true for rivals from BMW and Mercedes. One wild card to consider if a rakish SUV is what you want, though, is the Range Rover Velar. Partly owing to the fact it can be had with four-cylinder engines, while the Audi has a minimum of six, means prices start with a '5', rather than the '7' of the Audi.

The other thing to note is that the new Porsche Cayenne Coupé surprisingly costs less than the entry-level Q8 TFSI S Line, though the Audi does come better equipped. Both cars use the same V6 engine, and the Porsche is comprehensively better to drive.

In terms of running costs, neither of the Audi's mild-hybrid V6 engines is game-changing, but both are respectably efficient for this type of application. PHEV variants ought will arrive soon and, with around 45 miles of EV range, will potentially boost economy considerably.

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VERDICT

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The Volkswagen Group cousins that share this car's platform are an oddly hit-and-miss bunch, but there is enough substance about the Q8 50 TDI to ensure a favourable, if not quite glowing, test verdict.

Some may feel that the design is ‘by the numbers’, but the Q8 is perhaps still the most successful attempt at a striking coupé-SUV around, its light 2023 refresh having kept it looking sharp. Its design brings practical limitations compared with the Q7, but this is a capacious and reasonably refined cruiser whose cultured V6 powertrains are as welcome during long journeys as the sophisticated interior. Those in the market for a high-riding car but without the utilitarian connotations could do far worse than this.

And yet we can’t help feeling there’s more to come from the Q8, whose remit is to offer all of the above but with a hearty hit of driver involvement thrown in. Some 'soul', for want of a better work. The dynamic composure here leaves it crying out for more power – and character – than these engines can summon, as well as a little more excitement in the corners.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Audi Q8 First drives