"We can’t be the brand of Vorsprung Durch Technik and not be on top of our technology," said the bloke from Audi as the wraps came off its new Q8 concept in Detroit. Before you could equate ‘concept’ with pipedream, the same man confirmed it is '98%' of next year's production car with all metal panels the same.
Back to the technology, Audi had thoughtfully chosen to omit door handles from the Q8 so I couldn’t do more than peer through a window, but it was enough to glimpse an interior unlike that of any Audi or, indeed, and SUV to-date. In essence, the dash is one sweeping expanse of piano black glass with touch sensitive areas replacing just about every switch and button you might expect. There’s a similar theme going on in the new Porsche Panamera and this is clearly an extension of that technology, but seen in the wide open spaces of a full-sized SUV interior its impact is all the greater and more impressive. If it works as well as the Panamera's interior, Audi will have found a way of marrying form and function in rare harmony.
We won’t have to wait until the production Q8 makes its debut in 2018 to find out because the technology will be available in the all-new A8, which will be seen for the first time in June ahead of going on sale. The only question left will be what happens to all those glossy surfaces once the car is away from the show stand and in the hands of grubby-fingered children who, believe me, will be unable to resist playing with what appears to be almost science fiction technology. Perhaps a lifetime's supply of Wet Ones will be part of the A8’s standard equipment.
The Q8 is important to Audi for reasons other than this, though, and not just because it gives the company a credible rival to the Range Rover Sport. In its styling and, in particular, the shape of its sides and then swage lines over the rear door and haunch, Audi is hinting at the all new design language many would argue is already long overdue.
Audi, I am assured, will become more distinctive in the future and will break the impression that, in design terms, it just makes the same car in many different sizes. It will need to stand out more because Audi’s meteoric rise through the ranks in recent years has been checked of late and, in global sales among the premium brands, it now lies third behind BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In the next two years, Audi will launch not only the A8 and Q8, but all-new versions of the A6 and A7, too. Only then will we know just how well Audi’s change of design direction has worked.