What is it?
When you first drive the Audi RS Q8 down a congested, potholed British high street, you’ll find you need a good imagination.
Why? Because while the five-metre, 2.3-tonne, 592bhp, £100k behemoth currently purring under your backside may feel like an ordinary £67k Audi Q8, it's actually a genuine Nürburgring record-holder – 12sec faster around the famous 16-mile circuit than the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupé that are simultaneously its relatives and its rivals.
The fact that this record-setting machine’s low-speed ride and refinement are so impressive will come almost as a disappointment to some. Same goes for the classy interior and enveloping leather seats: they say luxury rather than huge top-end performance. Few cars demonstrate as starkly as this Audi how sophisticated electronics allow such an unlikely car to be a true, honest-to-god performance flagship.
Such a tall, heavy car really shouldn’t be agile or fast around a circuit. Give it 592bhp at 6000rpm, however, plus eight quick-shifting gear ratios and the kind of low-end torque we’ve come to expect of a twin-turbocharged V8, and it will erupt off the mark – with almost no – to 62mph in just 3.8sec. It can also get to 190mph flat-out (although it's limited in our market to a routine 155mph).
Give this self-same SUV a four-wheel drive system that directs up 80% of its plentiful torque to the rear wheels and you’ll find it has an unexpectedly sophisticated throttle-steering capability. Give it a torque-vectoring rear differential, plus four-wheel steering and the option of a Porsche-Lamborghini-Bentley 48V adaptive roll control system and it will turn in to corners brilliantly and keep gripping and rotating with near-perfect stability no matter how long and fast those corners turn out to be.
The RS Q8’s tyres can set records of their own – for diameter. Our test car, loaded from the standard spec with an extra £30k-worth of options, rolled on 23in alloy wheels wearing 295/35 Pirelli P Zero rubber. Those are big. Yet even so, Audi’s engineers have taken care of the refinement issues: these tyres are described by the company’s dynamics experts as “quiet, comfortable and capable of coping in all weathers”.