First Drive: 2024 Q8 Sportback S line e-tron quattro

Westport, CT – When the first e-tron crossover (just “e-tron”) arrived in 2019, it was an early player in the EV space and one of the best EVs on the market. That was going on five years ago, and a lot has changed… including an update that sees the e-tron evolved and renamed “Q8 e-tron”. We recently headed to Connecticut for a quick drive in a Q8 e-tron to take in the updated experience, plus peak foliage in the stunningly beautiful country just a few hours north of Manhattan.

In a lot of ways, the Q8 e-tron embodies the crossroads between internal combustion engine (ICE) car production and EVs. As Audi’s first real foray into the emerging EV space, the e-tron crossover was the most strategic choice. Somewhere between the Q5 and Q7 in size, it could have been called the Q6 except that model is on its way and based on Audi’s new Premium Platform Electric (PPE) architecture.

The e-tron, by contrast, is effectively derived from Audi’s MLB-Evo architecture that was originally conceived for internal combustion engines and underpins everything from A4 to Q7. As a result, it’s more conventional in its interior capacity, though that interior is so richly appointed in its highest Prestige Package spec, that fitting the Q8 moniker to it just makes sense in regards to luxury and materials.

From a size standpoint, the existing internal combustion Q8 is slightly bigger. Think of the ICE Q8 as a Sportback version of the Q7 since it shares the same footprint as the seven but has a lower more sporting roofline and window frameless doors. The Q8 e-tron, in contrast, has both Sportback and traditional (longroof?) crossover forms, and is smaller than the ICE Q8 – four inches shorter wheelbase, four inches narrower, and an inch shorter height.

Why Q8 then? It goes back to the ICE/EV crossroad. At least for now while Audi produces EV and ICE cars alongside each other, the plan is to move EV models to even numbers while ICE will occupy the odd numbers – Q5 and Q7 are ICE, while Q4 and Q8 are EV. Yes, the facelifted ICE Q8 remains Q8 for now, but we’re told that will change when the final version comes to market as the plan is to make most of these name changes when a full-new model lands… except with e-tron. That’s a little confusing, but then so is the EV market.

As a product, the e-tron and now Q8 e-tron are a lot less confusing. There’s no doubt that in the EV space, everyone must compete with Tesla. For Audi, the plan was always to make the car more approachable than the quirky and materially questionable Tesla. Interiors are top notch, while controls and switchgear were decidedly familiar. There are even shift paddles on the steering wheel for two levels of “shift down”, so while there is no transmission the e-tron and now Q8 e-tron can step down to two different levels of regenerative braking that thus emulates torque braking and allows drivers to manage the physics of the car in a way they may have done with a lower gear in an ICE model.

The Q8 e-tron then is an evolution of this now familiar formula. Here, the most substantive changes are for efficiency and improved range. Aerodynamic changes including updated grille with self-sealing aero system and rings contribute to a 6% more efficient drag coefficient. A higher density battery (114 kWh vs. 95 kWh) and asynchronous rear motor creating stronger magnetic field with similar input contribute to extending range of the Q8 e-tron up to 300 miles when paired with the more efficient ultra package.

Interestingly, the increased battery capacity didn’t change weight much. The Q8 e-tron weighs in at 5,798 lbs., just 33 lbs. heavier than the e-tron it replaces. That doesn’t mean it’s a featherweight, because it’s still over 300 lbs. heavier than the beefiest ICE Q8 variant – the RS Q8. Even still, we did notice improved handling and heavier steering with shorter ratio improve the driving experience of the Q8 e-tron over the e-tron it replaces.

Dynamically, there’s another improvement worth mentioning for those who appreciate driving enjoyment. Whereas the outgoing e-tron would default to “sailing” or effectively coasting as much as it could, the Q8 e-tron in Dynamic transmission mode goes immediately into a certain level of regenerative braking with torque braking as a result. Let off the throttle and it immediately torque brakes – not exactly one pedal driving as more quirky EVs like the Tesla do, but something those seeking driving dynamics will appreciate. This may sound like an inconsequential change, but if you’re a driver who requires more input and control over the physics of a car as you drive, then it’s a substantial change and speaks to how EV drivetrains can improve the driving experience as EV products like the Audi Q8 e-tron continue to evolve.

For now, EVs and especially family hauler crossovers are also transportation appliances. By that measure, the Q8 e-tron builds upon the outgoing e-tron’s already remarkably good ability to be a luxurious transportation appliance – quieter inside than even Audi’s flagship A8 sedan. The Q8 e-tron is even more quiet, and more refined inside than the e-tron it replaces. That it also comes with two years of unlimited charging at Electrify America with standard plug-and-charge functionality meaning no apps or credit cards to start charging further improves the EV owning experience. And, in case you want to go on a road trip and not deal with charging, a new Q8 e-tron also comes with a week of complimentary Audi on demand rental at dealerships nationwide.

At Audi, the e-tron was just the beginning of the EV shift. Then came the e-tron GT, the Q4 and their derivatives. Over the next year, Audi plans even more with Q6 and later A6 e-tron models. As more electrics land, we can already see how evolutionary improvements begin to refine the EV experience and make it more dynamic. To be clear, this is still a crossover people mover, but it’s frankly one of the best in the business and an excellent choice, especially as a first EV or rounding out a multi-car household where electrics are now becoming an important part of such a family fleet.