Only half way into 2018, it’s already the year of luxurious new SUVs.
Lamborghini launched the Urus and its order books are bursting. Mercedes gave us a new G-Class. Rolls-Royce unveiled the Cullinan.
Consumer demand for ever-more expensive SUVs is insatiable. Automakers are racing to fill every niche.
This is all about desire.
Case in point: the luxury SUV coupe, a rolling oxymoron. BMW invented these franken-utes with the X6 in 2007. Mercedes followed with the GLE Coupe. These are supposedly-sporty SUVs which sacrifice practicality for design or dynamism or ... they don’t quite make sense, but people love them. They’re stilettos of the car world – anything for fashion.
Never one to miss out on a hot trend, Audi will enter the fray this coming winter with the all-new Q8, its most expensive SUV yet.
“It’s definitely a hot segment,” said Matthias Wiedemann, technical project manager of the Q8. “We really wanted to have a sporty SUV coupe like our competitors have successfully launched, but we wanted to do it differently.”
What distinguishes the Q8? Well, it has frameless doors, which its rivals don’t. Plus, its roofline is not quite as coupe-like as the other SUV coupes.
So, okay, the Q8 is simply Audi’s take on a hot genre. Still, it’s hardly a copycat. The mechanical bits – chassis, all-wheel drive – come from the Q7, but you wouldn’t guess that looking at the Q8. It’s lower, shorter, wider and only has seating for five. There’s no seven-seat option as on the Q7.
If the new Audi looks oddly familiar, it’s because it shares an architecture and rough dimensions with Lamborghini’s Urus. The Q8 has the same stout proportions. It looks enormously wide on the road, bursting out of its lane.
Is it sporty? Depends. Are you sporty if you wear Lululemon workout shorts and fresh Nike sneakers? Or, must you also be able to run a 10-minute mile? The Q8 looks the part, aggressive and eager with its big 22-inch wheels and low stance.
The roads that head into the mountains from Chile’s Atacama Desert are a harsh test. The base elevation is 2,000 metres and the snow-dusted roads reach up more than 4,000 metres. Engines and humans alike struggle for oxygen. The V-6 makes 335 horsepower, which is more than adequate at sea level, but at this altitude, it begins to feel like a four-cylinder.
In its Dynamic setting, the Q8 is solid and sure-footed with hefty steering, which is reassuring in a place where roadside memorials are frequent. It’s more spry than the Q7, with stiffer suspension, but I wouldn’t describe it as sporty. It’s too big and heavy and tall – too much of an SUV. However, the same goes for its rivals.
If you really must have a go-fast ’ute and don’t mind a harsh ride, there’s surely an (even more expensive) S or RS version on the way to rival vehicles with badges such as AMG, M, SVR and Quadrifolgio.
As competent as it is, the Q8 feels like a missed opportunity for Audi to punch further upmarket. BMW is about to do just that with the coming X7. With Range Rovers flying off dealer lots, Audi could’ve been the first German brand to offer a direct rival.
Instead, the Q8 is a worthy addition to the senseless SUV-coupe niche. It’s not a rational purchase. It costs more and seats fewer people than the Q7, but the Q8 will nevertheless appeal to buyers who value fashion over practicality – likely even stealing them away from BMW and Benz.
And Audi is resonating with Canadian buyers in sales terms, having nearly caught up to BMW. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect to pay around $75,000 when the Q8 arrives in showrooms this winter.
- Base price: $75,000 (est.)
- Engine: 3.0-litre turbo V-6
- Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBD
- Alternatives: BMW X6, Mercedes GLE Coupe, Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 T8
Mercedes has seven SUVs in its lineup. BMW has six with a seventh on the way. Audi only has three; the all-new Q8 will be the fourth. Audi is playing catchup, but the Q8 is the brand’s best SUV design to date.
Audi’s new cars are so predictable. The brand’s now-familiar cabin, with its dual-touchscreen infotainment system and black glass panels, makes its rivals seem old-fashioned. It’s worth considering though that the A6 sedan has a nearly identical cabin, the same mechanical underpinnings, but it will be roughly $11,000 cheaper.
Audi says the Q8 is meant to be sportier than the Q7, which is technically true, but this isn’t the vehicle to buy if you’re looking for an engaging driving experience. Air-suspension is optional. A 48-volt mild hybrid system is standard.
Rear-wheel steering is a big plus on an SUV this big, making it much easier to manoeuvre. Advanced driver-assistance systems are offered as options. Tick all the boxes and you get a system similar to Tesla’s Autopilot, which is par for the course on German luxury cars these days.
Because the Q8 does without a seven-seat option, space for second-row passengers is almost limo-like. The rear seats slide fore and aft to allow extra cargo space if needed. A new assist feature makes reversing with a trailer almost foolproof.
The verdict: 7.0
Audi finally makes an SUV with some style, but it doesn’t come cheap.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.