With style at the fore, these two could be forgiven for relying on their looks alone. The heat of a head-to-head comparison requires substance and sophistication, as well, to come out on top.
If image is everything, these two prestige SUVs deliver in spades. They are designed to appeal based primarily on their aesthetic approaches, rather than their outright ability or practicality.
That’s not to say they fall short in terms of day-to-day family car aspects, but the shape of the sheet metal defines the Audi Q8 and Range Rover Velar.
Neither is a hunchbacked, uncomfortably proportioned 'coupe-style' vehicle quite like the BMW X6 or Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, but then again they’re not the upright, blocktastic vision that the term SUV usually brings to mind.
Lowered roofs and fast D-pillars create sleeker profiles for what might otherwise be cumbersome haulers, but beneath the meticulously formed exteriors, both provide a suitable amount of mechanical menace via forced-induction V6 engines.
There’s luxury and tech aplenty, too, though while both are built around a similar philosophy, each brand’s respective design direction leads to broadly different outcomes.
Pricing and specs
The range is set to grow with time, but Audi offers just one spec and one engine in its flagship SUV for now, the Q8 55 TFSI.
Conversely, the Range Rover Velar offers four different trim levels and eight engines available in a mix-and-match style – before adding in the R-Dynamic styling package across the range and SVAutobiography performance flagship. We’re looking at the upper-mid-spec Velar SE here with the most powerful (of the regular range) P380 engine.
Engines and power transfer will be covered in greater depth further down in Drivetrains, but on the surface the Q8 55 TFSI comes with a 3.0-litre turbo petrol V6 engine, eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive, specification echoed in the Velar, except the P380 swaps turbocharging for supercharging.
With just one specification level, the Q8 55 TFSI starts from $128,900 before on-road costs, whereas the Velar range starts from as little as $69,703 (+ORCs) with a four-cylinder engine in base trim, and stepping up to the Velar P380 SE brings the kick-off point to $108,702.
Audi has revised its options policy somewhat, with fewer à la carte options replaced instead by a Premium Plus pack that bundles 22-inch wheels, adaptive air suspension, LED ambient lighting, premium Bang & Olufsen 17-speaker audio, LED matrix headlights, four-zone climate control and privacy tint into one $11,000 option.
Stand-alone equipment like a panoramic sunroof, black-pack exterior styling, metallic paint and wood trim inlays are also seen here for an as-tested price of $148,000.
Range Rover is about to begin streamlining its bamboozling options array as models come due for their mid-life updates, but the Velar doesn’t qualify just yet. As such, the SE P380 you see here has been tricked up with 20-way adjustable front seats including heating, cooling and massage ($8150), textile and suedecloth seats and steering wheel ($2500), exterior black pack ($2310), DAB+ radio ($940), smartphone mirroring for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay ($520), and an on-/off-road equipment pack ($1700) bringing the sticker up to $128,787.
Pricing isn’t an exact match, and indeed a Velar P380 HSE would have been a better fit; however, the SE was all Land Rover Australia could make available to us, and the ability to mix and match options means it's also entirely possible to exceed a Q8’s sticker price by speccing out a low-grade Velar.
Ultimately, the key styling and powertrain elements remain the same, though, so we’ll soldier on with what we’ve got.
Looking at safety spec, Audi touts eight airbags, high- and low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, front and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and a 360-degree camera system as highlights.
Range Rover counters with six airbags (missing the rear-seat side bags of the Q8), low-speed collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition with speed limiter, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention monitoring, and a rear-view camera. Adding the $3965 driver assist pack (as fitted) brings 360-degree cameras, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, and high-speed AEB.
Both Audi and Range Rover have dispensed with the majority of traditional buttons and dials within the cabins of the Q8 and Velar. Instead, digital instruments and dual touchscreens up front take care of climate controls, navigation, vehicle settings, and the bulk of additional in-car functions.
While they look similar on the surface, Audi’s system makes greater use of its instrument cluster display layouts to create a series of customisable views. The Range Rover tries but has less variety, graphics that aren’t as sharp or bright, and a user interface that takes more time to become familiar with.
Both cabins are obviously luxurious places to be, but the way each achieves its premium look and feel varies.
Audi has done what Audi (and indeed the rest of the Volkswagen Group) does best, by presenting a restrained and subtle aesthetic, with plenty of monolithic gloss-back surfaces, almost minimalist detail, and lots of taut fine-grain leather finishes.
During the day, the Q8 looks little different from any other member of the Audi family, but at night, the full richness of the brand’s efforts is revealed with a light show that looks like a Syd Mead vision of Vegas. The Premium Plus LED lighting effects leach out from panel joins, glow through chrome surfaces, and run across various light pipes throughout the interior.
Range Rover’s approach is also packed with tech, yet somehow feels more traditional and has a much richer sense of occasion thanks to a more varied selection of textures and materials. The way you spec your vehicle may have an impact on the final result.
The supplied colour combo, in ‘light oyster and ebony’, puts together complementary shades of beige suedecloth, with dash and door uppers trimmed in softly padded embossed leather-look off-white trim separated by a slab of bleached wood.
Looks aside, the Velar betrays its smaller external size with front seats that feel more compact and feature less surrounding space, though there’s still room to move for all but the largest occupants.
The Q8 makes good use of its available space, and even in the black-on-black colourway feels quite open and roomy up front. Adjusting the seats isn’t as simple as it should be, though, with part of the seat controls mounted on the seat base, but secondary adjustments revealed via the touchscreens (and not just one screen, but two).
Despite smaller dimensions, the Velar packs in more cabin storage with a bigger centre console bin and storage squirreled away behind the lower touch interface. Audi offers a larger glovebox and bigger door bin, though hard-lined bins (admittedly a small detail) don’t convey a sense of premium.
The Q8 also sneaks in a wireless charge pad (optional on the Velar) and a driver’s glovebox. The Velar offers individually adjustable driver and passenger centre armrests and (on a technicality) three cup holders up front to the Audi’s two.
In the rear – at least as four-seater vehicles – the Audi again lauds more space, but the upright backrest and firm seat padding make it less appealing for rear-seat passengers on long hauls.
Switch to the Range Rover, and although there’s a touch less room for feet and legs, there’s more headroom and at a pinch the rear backrest is better shaped to take three passengers across. Electric seat recline also offers a degree of adjustability missing from the Audi.
While each brand offers more practical solutions should load-lugging be your primary concern, there’s still a versatile load space in the rear of each. At 605L, the Q8’s boot edges out the 558L Velar; however, Range Rover sensibly includes four well-placed sturdy bag hooks against Audi’s single hook, which is placed so low in the boot that it’s not possible to hang anything from it.
Analysing the infotainment screens, the Velar’s rises to meet you upon start-up and offers a super-wide aspect display. Audi’s is fixed in place, and provides a haptic feedback as you click your way through menus and controls.
Audi uses a neat menu system that’s intuitive, with a tile-based home screen and accessible shortcuts. Range Rover’s system is a half-step behind on functionality, but still offers a similar layout style.
Beneath the infotainment screen of each lies an auxiliary screen primarily tasked with climate control, but also capable of making adjustments to other vehicle functions. Range Rover includes a set of ‘soft’ rotary dials here (meaning they can change their functionality) to make adjustments while the vehicle is in motion a little easier, while Audi sticks to its click-to-press touchscreen.
In Range Rover’s case, menus presented on the lower screen stay on the lower screen, while Audi pops some menu items on the upper display (like the aforementioned seat adjustments) – handy for ease of reading, but confusing when controls are spread across two screens.
Both share features like keyless entry and start, standard leather seat trim, powered tailgate, powered front seats, and LED head- and tail-lights. The Q8 offers standard three-zone climate control to the Velar’s two-zone system, but provides a 17-speaker premium audio package next to the standard 10-speaker Q8.
Despite cursory similarities, the Q8 55 TFSI and Velar P380 stop being the same once you get past the 3.0-litre V6 part of their descriptions. In Audi’s case, the Q8 uses a turbocharged V6 that's shared with a handful of other Audi and Porsche cars, and rated at 250kW and 500Nm.
Range Rover’s V6 is the last in a long line of Jaguar and Land Rover engines soon to be replaced by a straight-six born from the brand’s smaller, modular, four-cylinder engines.
It’s not past its prime yet, though, and while torque is down a little compared to the Audi, with 450Nm, power measures a more prodigious 280kW.
Both engines mount longitudinally within their engine bays, and feed into eight-speed torque converter automatics supplying power to variable all-wheel-drive systems with a static rear bias. Detail you may never actually need.
They may look similar on the surface, but delve a little deeper and you’ll find the Range Rover runs a somewhat rudimentary start-stop system compared to the more advanced system Audi utilises, which operates a beefed up 48-volt electric system and allows the engine to shut down over a great range of speeds and circumstances – even at near highway speeds while coasting.
Impressive as the tech may be, the Q8’s advanced approach isn’t as seamless, with a pause as electric hands over to petrol power while tootling about town. On the other hand, the more linear boost progression and lack of electric assistance for the Velar make it much more silken in low-demand driving.
There’s more aural excitement from the Range Rover, too. The exhaust doesn’t approach the fizzy raucousness of the closely related F-Pace, but there’s still plenty of authority compared to the scant signature the Q8 produces.
Dig in with the Audi and less initial response from the throttle cements its position as an image-conscious cruiser, although with more revs on board there’s a hint of effervescence.
The Range Rover, meanwhile, has a broader scope of adjustability and is much more enthusiastic about rolling on from a standstill.
On the other hand, transmission behaviour favours the Audi with super-quick and very polished gear changes, with obvious lessons learnt from Audi’s development of dual-clutch transmissions over the years.
Range Rover isn’t far off the pace with its ZF eight-speed auto, though it’s softer all round – still willing and intelligent so as not to be caught out, but less crisp as it transfers between gears and less inclined to slice down through gears, relying on torque to do the job instead.
As both cars feature a raft of advanced driver-assist features designed to reduce driver effort or step in when things look hazardous, it’s worth noting that when called upon, the Velar felt more natural under its own control than the rather alarmist intervention provided by the Q8.
Official fuel consumption claims put the 9.2 litres per 100km Audi slightly ahead of the 9.4L/100km Range Rover, which seems reasonable given the complexities of the Q8’s advanced stop-start hybrid.
Across the same drive loop, which leans slightly towards freeway travel, but also encompasses a variety of urban and residential streets, the Velar P380 surprised with a close-to-claim result of 9.7L/100km against the Q8 55 TFSI’s 10.3L/100km figure.
In either case, in the crushing grind of constant peak-hour traffic, expect those figures to climb.
Ride and handling
It’s hard to escape the fact that these are both big and heavy vehicles tipping the scales at well over two tonnes each.
In order to offset this, Audi and Range Rover have equipped both vehicles with fully independent suspension controlled via adaptive air suspension, which allows preset adjustment of both ride comfort and height.
Neither is an athlete on wheels by any stretch of the imagination, but given their size and weight, both feel more nimble than they probably should. There are differences in their details, however.
The Q8 has a buttery-smooth ride at highway speeds, gliding over rough surfaces and soaking up the worst of potholes and tarmac joins. The ride isn’t as resolved at a lower pace, though, with a tendency to thump and crash through everyday obstacles.
Pitted back to back, the Velar mimicked the Q8’s high-speed comfort, but maintained the same composure right down to metro speeds, making it feel the plusher of the two for traversing gnarly city tarmac.
The Velar also boasts much more lively and connected steering with a linear rate lock to lock, consistent weighting, and a decent amount of front-end feedback helping the Range Rover to shrink around the driver.
Audi’s steering is much more vague, creating a feeling of remoteness from the driver’s helm and shrugging off enthusiasm. Weighting inconsistencies also make the Q8 feel more ponderous in urban settings and dull the shine of an otherwise impressive package.
If you’re keen to thumb through the drive modes, the Q8 55 TFSI tends to feel more markedly different between its comfort and sport settings, whereas the Velar firms and sharpens up much more subtly.
If you did find yourself in hard-going terrain, lifting the Velar is quicker and easier than it is in the Q8, and lets you do so independently of drive mode when equipped with Range Rover’s On/Off Road Pack, unlike the Q8.
Service and warranty
As with nearly all other prestige brands, Audi and Range Rover limit their warranties to a disappointingly short three years, while mainstream automotive brands have made a widespread move to five years as a minimum. Range Rover also applied a 100,000km upper limit, while Audi’s is an unlimited-kilometre policy.
Neither brand offers capped-price servicing, but pre-paid service packages are available. Five years' scheduled maintenance for the Velar P380 comes in at $2050 with 12-month or 26,000km intervals (whichever comes first), while Audi’s five-year package is $2950 at 12-month or 15,000km intervals.
Big, comfortable and spacious, both the Audi Q8 55 TFSI and Range Rover Velar P380 SE blur the lines between practical family cars and standout style statements – at least as much as their on-trend SUV form factors will allow.
Dynamism is implied by their sleek forms, though in reality, relaxed highway miles and whisper-quiet commuter duties are where they make their best impressions.
There’s just something about Range Rover’s approach that tips it over the edge. From the plusher look and feel of the interior trimmings, to the more natural feel from behind the wheel, both in terms of driving dynamics and driver-assist features.
Audi still has some edges to polish, like the Q8’s clumsy low-speed ride and interior trims that while still impressive, simply aren’t as inviting or rich as those of the optioned-up Velar seen here.
It may boast a fraction more space and allude to a high-tech edge with its crisp high-res displays and LED lighting effects, but if prestige matters, the Range Rover Velar’s melding of traditional luxury and contemporary nous pushes it over the edge in this comparison.