While the CarAdvice office shuts down (mostly) over the Christmas break, those few weeks are a great opportunity to thoroughly road test cars. With a longer loan period and the inevitable road trips planned, you start to really live with a car and pile on kays in all types of conditions.
I count myself pretty lucky in that I’ve been able add almost 2000 kilometres to the odometer of a 2019 Audi Q8. I had the only current drivetrain offering: a 55TFSI. That’s $128,900 worth of SUV, augmented up to $148,100 with options.
Here’s a bit of a background: My wife and eight-month old baby, plus a lot of stuff, headed off from home in the lower Blue Mountains in a northerly direction. Destination? Cattle country, in the green rolling hills near Gloucester for a mate's wedding. We ticked off highway driving, hilly b-roads, lots of rough sections and some high-speed dirt.
After that, we turned south to the Southern Highlands for a family Christmas of too much ham, roast pork, potato salad and braised red cabbage. Cue more highway miles, and lots of winding country roads of varying conditions.
Then, it was time to hit the big smoke. We were booked in to watch some truly depressing (unless you're Indian) test cricket in Sydney. City and traffic driving? Tick. By the time we got home, I'd logged 1902.5km, over 33.39 hours. My average speed was 57km/h, with 10.5 L/100km the final fuel reading.
The '55 TFSI’ denotes three litres of turbocharged V6 petrol. It makes 250kW at 5500rpm and 500Nm between 2900-5300rpm, and will push a hefty 2265kg of Audi Q8 up to 100km/h in a brisk 5.9 seconds, with a 250km/h top speed. For your records, it’s wider, shorter and lower than an Audi Q7. A 210kW V6 diesel is also coming, which will probably make around 620Nm of torque.
One of the great things about this Q8 is the great space and comfort inside. Second row space is really great, which is a direct benefit of being a strict five-seater (unlike the Q7). If you don’t need seven seats (which I suspect would suit many), opting for a vehicle with only two rows makes for a much better interior, rather than three rows with built-in compromise.
The additional winner with a strict five-seater is the overall loading space. Audi will tell you there’s room for two golf bags in the back. I don’t play golf, but I have a baby. I can assure you we loaded a pram, nappy bag, four other bags, and a slab of beer without any worries. That’s 605 litres, which becomes 1755 litres when the second row folds down (though, not completely flat).
The Matrix LED laser headlights are awesome. If you can get these included in your build, I reckon they are one of the best parts of the upgrade package. Light coverage on high beam is impressively broad, long and evenly spread, making night driving on twisty, country roads a pleasure.
The engine, running through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system scores big points in the refinement stakes. It’s a smooth, and often barely audible operator, using that wide wave of available torque very nicely. It doesn’t make any big noises, and that’s what it’s all about. There’s enough power for darting through traffic and fairly rapid overtaking manoeuvres, and it’s all done with stately composition.
Likewise, the airbag suspension is a winner. You can certainly notice a difference through the ride between Comfort and Dynamic modes. There’s also an off-road mode (with 254mm of ground clearance), but Comfort is best for daily driving. It glides nicely over most rough roads, performing really well on high frequency bumps. Bigger, wallowing stuff, like poorly fixed potholes and subsided parts of road, do show up the Q8's tendency to bounce around a little bit, from the relatively soft spring rate in Comfort mode. This is on optional 22-inch wheels as well, mind you.
The other benefit of air suspension is changes in ride height: In Dynamic mode, the Q8 sits down on its haunches with two different settings, and you can drop the rear end down even further for loading up. Up to 90mm of variation in ground clearance is available with the air suspension.
After long highway stints, the Q8’s great seats really started paying dividends. Adjustable thigh support, side and bottom bolstering (through the touchscreen) means you can really dial yourself into the seats and overall driving position.
While it’s dynamically pleasing, that’s not the chief M.O. of the Q8. While it might tip into the odd corner nicely, you really grow to appreciate this car after those longer runs behind the wheel. That nice mid-corner response is rewarding and satisfying, and helps you stay relaxed and in control behind the wheel. It's all about comfort and refinement.
A very complete suite of driver and safety aids all work really well – adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and the camera system are all great, save for one. Although it works swimmingly on well-marked highways, the lane departure warning gives some unsettling feedback and false readings on your typical country two-lane road. I ended up turning it off.
Tip in harder to corners, and the Q8 eagerly holds the road like a big and bloated, but stoic sports car. You’ll feel an initial twinge of body roll, but it’s well controlled overall. Big weight transfers are handled well too, keeping in mind the weight and size of the vehicle. Dynamically, it’s rewarding. And although the driveline performance is much more refined than rowdy, the engine and gearbox combine well for smart and responsive acceleration.
The quattro all-wheel drive system is all mechanical, with a 40:60 split. When wheel slip is detected, the system can shift up to 70:30 or 15:85 in the search for traction. And it works well. There's plenty of grip on offer, giving you confidence behind the wheel both on bitumen and dirt.
The Q8's interior is a great design, with awesome functionality to boot. The design is very pleasing to look at with big, vivid and sharp screens dominating the centre stack; Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and MMI systems work and look great. Metropol Grey was the interior colour finish, and could be accused of being a little lacking in overall vibrance. However, you forget about it quickly because of the great looking, clean design, and the responsiveness and functionality of those dual haptic screens.
Audi calls this Q8 a ‘48V mild hybrid’, giving it the acronym ‘MHEV’. Yes, there is a 48-volt system in the car, along with a more conventional 12V system. Let’s look into it more closely...
There are two main parts of this system: A belt alternator starter (BAS), which is kind of like a big alternator and motor rolled into one, hanging off the engine. This is connected to a 10Ah lithium battery in the boot, with 48 volts being the currency of choice. Plus, there is an inverter and DC/DC charger, which can convert 48V to 12V.
One thing is clear; this hybrid system is not able to propel the vehicle forward on its own. In that regard, referring to it as a hybrid is perhaps a bit of a stretch. It could be more accurately described as a very advanced stop-start system. It allows the engine to switch off more often, and provide some additional grunt to some of the electrical gear.
When you’re first starting up the car in the morning with cold oil, it still uses a traditional starter motor to get things moving. However, in stop-start scenarios with everything warm and charged up, the BAS restarts the engine smoothly and quickly.
Audi reckons this saves up to 0.7 litres per hundred kilometres. And that’s probably about right. It allows the vehicle to enter stop-start mode before the car comes to a stop under 22km/h (and it recuperates a bit of power to the 48V system at the same time), and coast with the engine off between 55-160km/h, when the car deems it suitable and able.
It only comes on sparingly overall, limited mostly by the fact your speed quickly drops off unless you’re on a decent decline. The longest the car will coast is 40 seconds. After almost two thousand kilometres (and over 33 hours) of driving, I reckon I didn’t have more than five minutes of overall coasting.
The starting price of the Q8 is $128,900. That’s quite a high starting point, but its offset by the inclusive nature of standard equipment. There’s just about every safety acronym under the sun present and accounted for, including AEB that operates between 5-85km/h for pedestrians and up to 250km/h for vehicles.
Additional standard gear on the Q8: LED headlights, electric tailgate, three-zone climate control, Valcona leather memory seats (heated and ventilated in the front), smartphone mirroring, wireless charging, digital radio, Audi Virtual Cockpit, head-up display, flash haptic high-res touchscreens, 21-inch wheels, quattro AWD, and adjustable dampers.
Optioning is simple and straightforward: Shell out $11,000 for the ‘Premium Plus package’, and you get 22-inch wheels, adaptive air suspension, privacy glass, HD Matrix LED headlights, four-zone climate control, a 730-Watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, and LED interior ambient lighting. Oh, and any colour other than black or white has a $2300 price against it. My tester was in a greenish Galaxy Blue, which I really took a shine to.
Want to go crazy? Get rear-wheel steer and dynamic steering ($4500), sunroof ($3550), soft-close doors ($1500), Alcantara headlining ($3400), and massaging front seats ($1050).
If you’ve got more cash to blow, or you simply want to blow the doors off with Jeff Buckley at the local Red Rooster, get the advanced 3D Sound System. It uses 23 speakers and multiple amplifiers to crank out 1920 Watts of sound power. And it’ll only (!) set you back $12,100.
While it’s not exactly a cheap SUV (especially with options), it’s hard to level any really strong criticism at the Audi Q8. It’s supremely comfortable, with all of the right comfort, convenience and safety technology on offer. It rides and handles well, and the overall fit and finish is spot-on. And while the interior is great to look at, it’s also functional, comfortable and spacious.