What is it?
The Audi Q8 is Ingolstadt’s answer to the BMW X6 SUV-cum-coupé – the BMW having turned 10 years old this year. Yup: like it or loathe it, the original German ‘sports activity coupé’ is still here. Back in 2008, there was much doubt in car hackery circles about how many buyers would be ready to pay a premium for a slightly less practical X5, made only very debatably better-looking and more interesting to drive – if at all. The answer, we predicted, couldn’t possibly be very many; amusingly enough, it turned out to be quite a lot.
And so, as BMW homes in on half a million global X6 sales in the car’s first decade, what chance of similar success should we give the new Audi Q8? The Audi has marginally more distinguishing features than the X6 had compared with the conventional SUV on which it was based. And yet, after our first taste of it, I can’t say that it strikes me as much more or less than a Q7 made a bit better-looking, a bit less practical and a bit more interesting to drive. Less the bold new-groove Audi passenger car flagship model for 21st century tastes, then, and rather more another ‘Russian doll’ Q-car for the pile, dare I suggest.
The Q8 is the sixth Volkswagen Group luxury SUV in three years built on the MLB-Evo platform. Like the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg, it’ll be built in Bratislava, Slovakia, and it shares the same wheelbase and overall cabin width as the Q7. Outwardly, the car bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lamborghini Urus, and not by chance. Audi’s Q8 project actually started before Lamborghini committed to making the Urus but, because Lamborghini wasn’t held up by the need to negotiate space on that busy Bratislava production line, Sant’Agata managed to beat Ingolstadt into production with its rakish SUV.
The Q8 will go on sale in the UK this summer but, until next year at least, will be on offer with only one engine: Audi’s 282bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, badged ’50 TDI’. Although it’s integrated with a 48-volt electrical architecture, an extra-large lithium ion battery and an extra-powerful engine starter-generator alternator (the combination of which now constitutes ‘mild hybrid’ powertrain status in Audi's technical lexicon), that’s clearly not the kind of engine that's likely to tempt performance SUV buyers out of their higher-end Cayennes, Range Rover Sports and X5s or X6s.
However, next year a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol ’55 TFSI’ version, with 335bhp, will definitely join the range. And after that, who knows? Well, you do, if you saw the spy shots of the RS Q8 prototype that appeared on our news pages a few weeks ago.
All UK-bound Q8s will get height-adjustable, sports-tuned adaptive air suspension and proper centre diff-based, torque-vectoring quattro four-wheel drive, to which you can add four-wheel steering if you so desire. When asked why they left off the 48-volt active anti-roll bars that have featured so prominently on SUVs related to the Q8 (not least the SQ7), Audi’s product managers claimed that, because of the Q8’s lower roofline and wider tracks, active roll control was deemed to be unnecessary. When the RS version finally appears, I suspect it might be deemed rather more necessary – but we’ll see.