New name but not a new car, instead a range-boosting update to the E-tron electric SUV

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The Audi Q8 E-Tron is not quite the car you think it should be. No, it's not an electric version of the Audi Q8, rather a new name for the the Audi E-tron SUV that only arrived in 2018 as Audi’s first proper EV.

Back then it made headlines with its impressive 150kW peak charging rate, but even then the range was nothing to write home about. Five years later, its numbers are only about okay, so it’s a good thing that it’s facelift time.

Not all get on with the ‘virtual mirrors’ and they save only about five miles of range. They allegedly also cut wind noise at high speeds, but that’s not as useful on the M25 as it is on an Autobahn.

The new name brings the flagship Audi EV's nomenclature in line with the smaller Audi Q4 E-tron and forthcoming Q6 E-tron. Audi will use even numbers for its electric cars and odd numbers for its combustion engined cars. The Q8 remains as is for now, but don't be surprised to see this known as something different in the future (Q7 Sportback, or Q9 perhaps?)

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There are some visual tweaks over the previous E-tron, including new alloy wheel designs and redesigned bumpers and grilles, but the big news is to be found under the skin. Five years of advances in battery energy density have enabled Audi to increase the usable capacities of the battery packs from 71kWh to 89kWh (in the entry-level 50 variant) and from 89kWh to 106kWh (in the 55 and the sporty Audi SQ8 E-tron). Meanwhile, more advanced motors and a reduced drag coefficient have improved the energy efficiency.

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Even so, 2.6mpkWh is still pretty poor, and on our test drive in mild, changeable conditions the digital gauge cluster indicated just 2.1mpkWh – a figure that would translate to a real-world range of just 223 miles.

When it does need a top-up, the 55 can accept charging rates of up to 170kW – a useful increase but nowhere near the rival Genesis Electrified GV70’s 240kW limit.

To top off the upgrades, there’s faster steering, retuned suspension (as before, all variants ride on air springs) and cleverer stability control and traction control.

As before, the Q8 E-tron is an understatedly handsome and well-proportioned car, and in Sportback form it doesn’t suffer the ungainliness of some SUV-coupes.

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Not much has changed inside either, solid build quality and upmarket materials remaining present and correct. The lower touchscreen (for the climate) still does a job that knobs and switches could do better, but it works quite well, as does the main infotainment touchscreen. The sports seats are easy to get comfortable in and there’s no shortage of storage space.

To drive, the Q8 E-tron is pleasant and mostly unremarkable. A 0-62mph time of 5.6sec is quick by any reasonable standard, yet it doesn’t suffer from the jumpy throttle response of Teslas and some other EVs. You can vary the amount of regenerative braking using paddles or simply let the car figure it out in the adaptive mode.

The Q8 E-tron retains impressive noise isolation, but even on the glass-smooth roads of Lanzarote, there was more fidget to the ride than you might expect from an air-suspended luxury car. At least it dispatches ruts and potholes fairly well, despite its large wheels.

Audi’s vehicle dynamics engineer told me it was a deliberate choice not to make an Audi float across the road like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a Range Rover. That’s fair enough in Germany, perhaps, but is a bit too much on UK roads. The old E-tron struck a nice balance, so it's a shame that it has been pushed too far in the direction of sportiness with this update.

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After all, you wouldn’t call the Q8 E-tron particularly sporty. It handles tidily, with decent grip, tight body control, well-weighted, progressive steering and a subtle sense of rear bias, but it’s too big and heavy for you to really want to chuck it around.

Prices start at £67,800 for the 50, while £80,300 buys you the 55, and the SQ8 E-tron comes in at £97,500. The Sportback bodystyle then demands a £2500 premium whichever powertrain you choose.

The BMW iX, which in iX xDrive40 form has a comparable spec to the 55, costs slightly less and is roomier but has a shorter range. The Mercedes-Benz EQC and the Jaguar I-Pace are pretty old and not very efficient either, although the Jag is at least very good to drive.

This is a market segment that currently doesn’t exhibit the best the industry can produce. As an alternative, the Genesis Electrified GV70 is only slightly smaller and less rangy, but is faster, more efficient and almost £10,000 cheaper.

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Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.