Love them or loathe them, SUVs aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to just one type or format of vehicle.
In this instance, the 2019 Audi Q8 55 TFSI is the first attempt by Audi to bring a more fashion-forward coupé SUV to market to play alongside the more sensible and practical Q7 range.
Of course, that means tighter lines, particularly around the rear pillars, along with a lower roof and smaller boot, but in the metal there’s nothing about the Q8 that could be considered diminutive. Though it may be ‘sportier’ looking than a regular SUV, it’s still a giant.
Audi has also made the Q8 buying process a relatively simple one. There’s no array of engines or endless options. There’s one model, the 55 TFSI, and it starts from $128,900 before on-road costs.
You can still add options, though there are relatively few. The car you see here has metallic paint ($2300), an exterior black pack ($1850), interior wood inlays ($400), a panoramic sunroof ($3550), and a Premium Plus package that adds 22-inch alloys, adaptive air suspension, four-zone climate control, LED ambient lighting for the interior, Bang & Olufsen audio, LED Matrix headlights and privacy tint ($11,000).
More engines are on the way, including a twin-turbo diesel V8 for the torque hungry when the SQ8 arrives, but for now the Q8 ships with just one powertrain, the 55 TFSI – or in layman’s terms a 3.0-litre V6 with a twin-scroll turbo.
Outputs are rated to 250kW at 5500rpm and 500Nm from 2900 to 5300rpm. A 48-volt mild hybrid system can 'power' the vehicle while coasting, contribute a small amount of boost in five-second bursts, harvest energy under deceleration, and function as an upsized (and more responsive) start/stop system.
Drive is sent to a quattro all-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed torque converter automatic.
Fuel use is claimed at 9.2 litres per 100km (or 8.9L/100km with the 22-inch wheels fitted), but on test we clocked 12.9L/100km.
If you were to leave the Premium Plus box unticked, your Q8 would arrive with 21-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, 10-speaker audio and three-zone climate control. Other standard fit-out items include a powered tailgate, LED head- and tail-lights, head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats with electric adjustment, leather trim and a 360-degree camera system.
Safety is seen to with eight airbags, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, collision-avoidance assist, intersection-crossing assist, 360-degree camera, and an exit warning system to prevent opening doors into oncoming vehicles or cyclists.
Audi really wants you to think of the Q8 as high-tech, though, so loads in its latest user interface with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 10.1-inch upper infotainment touchscreen, and lower 8.6-inch secondary control panel in lieu of a swathe of traditional buttons and dials.
There’s a minimum of physical controls as a result, which looks fantastic, but for the lower panel in particular it means eyes off the road to effect simple changes like fan speed or temperature. Some lower screen menus open expansion screens on the upper display to alleviate this, but it seems counterintuitive.
Other UX moves see a haptic feedback built into the screens, which don’t activate commands until the touch surface ‘clicks’. It’s handy feedback, but there are times when the surface needs a crushing jab to recognise inputs – brushing over a touchscreen feels like a more natural way of doing things by comparison.
Interior finishes are high quality, no doubt, with rich gloss-black surfaces and plenty of metallic highlights, plus LED lighting everywhere you look with the Premium Plus option. The design itself is short on visual drama, and there’s a rather plain ambience and material selection on areas away from the dash.
As a full-sized SUV (a shade under 5m long and 2m wide), the interior is quite generous. Up front it feels airy and spacious, like a true luxury tourer with room to spare, making long cross-country hauls a snap.
In the rear there’s generous accommodation, but while physical space isn’t an issue, Audi’s decision to fit an upright fixed-angle backrest nibbles into overall comfort slightly.
Further back, a 605L boot expands to 1755L with the rear seats folded, but practical additions are thin on the ground. There’s a single bag hook too low to the floor to hang a bag from and four fixed tie-down points, but that’s it.
On the road, the Q8 feels appropriately opulent. Though engine outputs are decent, the 55 TFSI is working to move around 2.3 tonnes of vehicle, so even with its pointed looks the Q8 isn’t ever aggressive.
Adaptive dynamics mean you can turn up the wick slightly. Sports mode does make the throttle and transmission more eager, but leaving the selector in Auto or Comfort feels like the right fit.
A smooth eight-speed automatic works unobtrusively in the background, and the engine’s flat torque curve means there’s no need to work it hard.
On air suspension, the Q8 gives options for ride quality and height, depending on the mode selected. While you raise it up for off-roading, it hardly seems the natural habitat of a plus-sized wagon. It’s good to know you can, but with highway-focussed tyres it would be foolish to attempt an off-road foray.
Comfort is key, and as is typical for air-sprung systems, the Q8 is plush and absorbent on the freeway and does a nice job of soaking up urban road scars. At lower speeds it lacks the same composure, with a little too much bump and thump feeding into the cabin.
Light steering makes for little effort getting in and around tight spaces, which is handy given the big size to deal with. It’s not engaging or dialled-in, however, more laid-back and relaxing.
Perhaps more importantly, Audi’s range of safety and semi-autonomous systems work in a complementary way. No, you can’t set-and-forget to have the car do the work for you, but there’s no fighting the lane centring or false alerts triggered by the surroundings.
From an ownership perspective, Audi continues to offer a sub-par three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty – as do most prestige brands, whereas mainstream carmakers offer five years. Servicing can be covered under a pre-paid service plan including all scheduled fluids and filters for three years ($2040) or five years ($2950).
Your head won’t be making the decision on a Q8, however. Your heart will.
It’s the squat, vaguely Urus-like stance. Square shoulders, minimalist embellishments, and typically Audi tailoring lend their voice to the Q8’s siren call. Its sharp positioning relative to the rest of the Audi range is likely to give the new A6 a hard time, too.
With a new X6 and GLE Coupé just around the corner, the Audi Q8 has hit the ground at just the right time. Although it slots in alongside those SUV coupés, it looks different enough to stand out in a crowd, which is precisely why the segment exists in the first place.