Audi rs q8 2020
launch-review

2020 Audi RS Q8 review

International first drive

For those needing the performance of a supercar and the space and comfort of a family SUV, the Audi RS Q8 is quite possibly the perfect solution.
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Absurd: (adjective) wildly unreasonable or illogical.

That’s the first word that pops into my head when I stomp on the accelerator of the all-new 2020 Audi RS Q8 – the rush of speed combined with the sound of hell itself – an absurdity in today’s automotive world.

Y’see, SUVs of this size, this heft, just aren’t supposed to drive like this, react like that, propel you like the wind in full battle cry towards a horizon that comes at you faster than you can blink, or can think.

It takes a recalibration of your senses, of your very belief system, to acknowledge, to comprehend that, yes, SUVs can be this much fun.

Audi has taken the RS stick to its otherwise decent Q8 SUV and turned it into a monster – a twin-turbo 4.0-litre petrol V8-powered chimera. It’s managed this by pilfering the same powertrain that makes the RS6 Avant and RS7 Sportback performance sleepers, then applied its big techno wizardry stick to a raft of underbody bits and pieces that enhance, improve, or otherwise muscle up a family SUV.

The result is an absurd weapon that probably shouldn’t exist. But, after spending two days with it on the roads and in the mountains of Tenerife, we’re glad it does.

Let’s look at the numbers, because they tell part of the story. Horses, there are 600 of them exactly, or, in our metric language 441kW. That’s paired with the 4.0-litre V8’s 800 ridiculous Newton meters of torque.

Transmitting those outputs to all four wheels is Audi’s eight-speed conventional automatic transmission (no double-clutch here) that Audi says has been re-engineered to provide razor-sharp shifts.

Find the right piece of road, and align your senses and the RS Q8 will complete the dash to 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. Find an even better piece of road and push beyond that hundred-click-an-hour mark and the big Audi will hit 200km/h in a scant 13.7 seconds.

Top speed (not that it matters)? Governed to 250km/h in standard trim, or, if you opt for the Dynamic package, V-max blows out to 305km/h. If you can find the right piece of unrestricted road. And if you’re brave enough. Absurd.

From the outside, there’s no mistaking the RS Q8 as anything but an RS model. It starts with those pumped guards, wider by 10mm each side at the front and 5mm each side at rear.

Then, as is typical of the RS family these days, the blackout treatment of the grille and air intakes lend it a menacing air. As an aside, there are no cosmetic vents, with Audi keen to stress that all intakes serve a function.

Around the back, the rear diffuser is finished in Audi’s now signature honeycomb pattern that snugly houses two massive oval tailpipes. A roof-mounted spoiler completes the RS vibe.

Much of the visual enhancement is RS Q8-specific: from the blacked-out grille and vents, the distinctive and unique head- and tail-light designs, the side sills, splitter, diffuser and the longer rear wing are all bespoke, lending Audi’s performance SUV brawler a tough, imposing stance.

So, too, the optional 23-inch alloys (22s are standard) sitting on the standard adaptive air suspension, which can vary ride height by up to 90mm – down by 40mm for when you want to get sporty and up by 50mm to create 200mm of ground clearance should you wish to exploit the RS Q8’s mild off-road abilities.

In its lowest setting, the RS Q8 hunkers down and looks every bit the performance SUV, its low-slung stance more akin to a hot hatch, albeit a bloody large – and superbly fast – one.

And that’s an interesting point. The first impression when you slide into the driver’s seat is that this is a big thing. Because it is. You are aware of its width, its length, its sheer dominant stance on the tarmac.

That dominance of the road is felt when you press the starter button, too, the V8’s muted menace eclipsing other road users.

There’s a sonorous rumble outside, but inside the cabin a quietude remains, thanks in part to the double-glazed windows, necessary because of the doors’ frameless design. Yes, the RS Q8 is pillarless (if you disregard the B-pillar). Sleek.

Any misgivings about the Audi’s size around town are soon banished. It’s an old cliché, but it rings true in this instance, the RS Q8 shrinking around you. It morphs from large family SUV, offering a comfortable and muted driving experience, into an out-and-out performance machine that wouldn’t be out of its depth on a racetrack.

Maybe that’s why Audi chose to challenge the Nordschleife lap record for SUVs with the RS Q8? Sorry, did I say 'challenge'? I meant to say 'smash', the 7m42.235s lap set by Frank Stippler eclipsing the unofficial Lamborghini Urus's time by some five seconds and the ‘official’ record, previously held by the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S, by over 12 seconds. So yeah, it’s quick. Meaningless, of course, for the everyday end user.

Except it isn’t. Because what Audi has achieved with the RS Q8 is nothing short of remarkable. Usually, any high-performance vehicle – and we now must use the term ‘vehicle’ as opposed to plain old ‘car’ as the proliferation of high-performance SUVs shows no sign of abating – brings with it a level of compromise.

Whether it’s a trade-off in comfort for performance, in ergonomics for aerodynamics, in everyday driveability for a more track-focussed suspension tune, there’s almost always a price to pay at this extremely pointy end of the hi-po spectrum.

Not with the chimera that is the RS Q8. On one hand, it remains supremely comfortable and compliant for daily driving duties, with a superb and quiet ride, excellent sound insulation, and an ability to drive around effortlessly in traffic and the tight confines of city streets.

Then, as the situation demands, when you hit the motorway or, better yet, an untamed and untrammelled stretch of twisting mountain road, the RS Q8 transforms into a monster, with sports-car-like performance, certainly from corner to corner.

The roar from the engine combined with razor-sharp gear changes, precise steering (although we found it lacking a little feedback), and the reassuring stopping power of those (optional) carbon-ceramic brakes make for an addictive experience.

Stomp on the brakes on entry, and the RS Q8 pulls up with assurance.

Tip it into the corner, and the four-wheel steering does its level best to rotate the 2.3-tonne SUV, but it's mid-corner where you become aware of its sheer heft, of the inertia it carries at speed – something no amount of mechanical and technological trickery can disguise. It's a reminder that as good as the RS Q8 is, this is no sports car in the true sense of the definition.

Acceleration is phenomenal. Powering out of corners elicits squeals of joy, the RS Q8 hunkering down and surging forward in a way vehicles of this size just aren’t supposed to.

Thanks to its clever quattro trickery and nicely balanced chassis, the RS Q8 is as adept across the mountain top as it is hurtling down a freeway. Drive is sent to all four wheels in a 40:60 ratio (front:rear) as default. But a mechanical centre diff can shuffle drive as much as 70:30 or 15:85 depending on traction.

Further, to help maintain grip, the optional quattro sport differential can also distribute drive between the rear wheels depending on the need for traction, stability and/or dynamics.

Additionally, the optional electromechanical active roll-stabilisation system helps to minimise body roll when you’re up it and having a ‘bit of a go’. There’s also all-wheel steering as standard, which works away underfoot at both high and low speeds, albeit in different manners.

At low speed, the rear wheels turn five degrees in the opposite direction to the front wheels, making the RS Q8 more manoeuvrable in tight confines and urban environments. Dial up the wick, however, and the rear wheels turn 1.5 degrees in the same direction as the fronts to allow for greater cornering ability.

The end result is a feeling that you’re no longer belting a high-riding, although admittedly squat thanks to variable ride height, large SUV. Instead, you feel like you’re flinging around in the world’s biggest and fastest hot hatch. There’s no lumbering around corners, no noticeable body roll, no lack of grip.

And yet, despite its unashamed performance chops, perhaps the RS Q8’s greatest asset is its transformative power. From monstrous straight-line speed to an accomplished, if heavy, corner carver, to sedate family hauler, and even mild off-roading capabilities, the RS Q8 is an all-rounder in the truest sense.

Eight drive modes – Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Efficiency, Allroad, Offroad and the individually configurable RS1 and RS2 – can tailor the RS Q8 to your precise needs, altering engine and transmission mapping, steering, the air suspension, engine sound and even the air-conditioning. There’s an RS Q8 tune for everyone, it seems.

Comfort mode lives up to its name in every sense of the word. The engine note is muted – and even more so because of the fine job Audi has done with noise insulation – while the ride remains composed and unruffled.

Road noise, too, is barely noticeable, and this despite sitting on ultra-low-profile 295mm wide hoops shoehorned onto 23-inch alloys. There’s a simple compliance to the ride, with road scars dispatched with barely a ripple. Similarly, speed humps do little to shake the feeling that the RS Q8’s suspension tune is quite possibly amongst the best in the business.

Dynamic mode dials in some meatiness, both in terms of engine and transmission mapping and handling characteristics. While the ride firms up noticeably, it still errs on the side of comfort.

Yes, it’s taut, but there remains a composure under wheel that must be applauded, even when faced with twisting sections of road with the usual mid-corner bumps and lumps. They simply disappear as the RS Q8 tackles corners with aplomb.

It’s a similar story in the cabin, where the RS Q8 benefits from the latest hi-tech gadgetry from the Audi family. The RS sports seats are familiar territory for the brand, finished in perforated leather featuring the signature RS honeycomb-pattern stitching.

The front seats are heated and cooled, while the rear pews make do with heating only.

As expected, the materials used, the fit, the finish are all exemplary. From the lashings of Alcantara and nappa leather, to the nice use of real carbon-fibre inserts, the interior is befitting of the RS lineage.

The RS Q8 scores the latest iteration of Audi’s MMI navigation plus infotainment system, anchored by a large integrated touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, while the intelligent navigation suggests route guidance based on your previous trips.

There’s the obligatory premium B&O sound system, and the RS-specific Virtual Cockpit adds additional information such as g-meter, torque and power outputs, as well as shift lights when in manual mode.

The back row is spacious and comfortable with a generous amount of toe, knee, and leg room, while head room, too, is more than enough. The three rear seats slide fore and aft, while the boot offers a decent 605L of cargo space, expanding to 1755L with the second row folded away. Access is via a powered tailgate, as you’d expect at this high end of the SUV spectrum.

While the RS Q8 makes all the right noises and backs up its vicious growl with seemingly other-world performance, fuel consumption proved a pleasant surprise.

After three separate drive loops over two days and around 400km, encompassing a stint in peak-hour traffic in Adeje in Tenerife, a pleasingly quick and raucous motorway jaunt, and a healthy amount of corner carving through the mountainous Parque Natural Corona Forestal that takes in the peaks and summits of several of the region’s volcanoes that soar over the landscape some 2700m at its highest point, we saw an indicated figure of 14.3L/100km against the factory’s claim of 12.1L.

That’s partly down to the RS Q8’s cylinder-on-demand system that shuts down four cylinders (two, three, five and eight for those interested) during low- to medium-load driving. And then there’s Audi’s 48V coasting function that can, depending on driving conditions and drive mode selected, shut down the engine completely at speeds between 55km/h and 160km/h for up to 40 seconds.

It’s claimed to save as much as 0.8L/100km during everyday driving. Audi calls it a mild-hybrid system, but really it’s more of a fancy and intuitive stop/start function. Still, fuel saving is fuel saving, however you try and sell it.

In terms of safety and driver assists, there’s the usual array of systems: adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, exit warning, rear cross-traffic alert, Audi pre-sense front and rear (aka autonomous emergency braking), a 360-degree camera, traffic sign recognition, and high-beam assist.

Audi Australia is yet to confirm pricing and specs for locally delivered RS Q8s when they lob in the second half of 2020. In Europe, pricing is expected to start at €127,000. Using the RS Q8’s natural rivals as a guide, however, we can extrapolate an estimate.

With BMW’s X6M starting at around $197,000 and Merc-AMG’s GLE63 Coupe at $203,828, and using their respective entry level models as further guide – the Audi Q8 starts at around $128,000 compared with the X6 ($121,900) and the GLE Coupe ($126,329) – it wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility for the RS Q8 to start at around $210,000. Pure speculation, of course. We’ll have to wait until 2020 for a definitive answer.

But, what we do have an answer to already is just how accomplished the Audi RS Q8 is. It beggars belief that a 2.3-tonne SUV can be faster than a standard Porsche 911, offer enough engagement and delight through twisties despite the limits of the laws of physics, before transforming into a supremely comfortable and composed daily driver with a cushioning ride around town as good as an A8.

Throw in a 3500kg towing capacity and some mild off-roading capability, and what you have is quite possibly the ultimate all-rounder.

It’s ridiculous, it’s mind-bending, it’s glorious, it’s absurd.

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