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”.
Give it adaptive air suspension and it will be comfortable over potholes yet also planted at 120mph. Off-road, it will even award itself an extra 50mm of ground clearance for serious mud-plugging.