words: George Achorn, photos: Audi of America (Jim Fets)
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the q2_2019 issue of quattro magazine.
Is it a “crossover” or an “SUV”? I was in the weeds in more ways than one with an Audi of America product planner in remote and frigid Colorado philosophizing over just what the new Audi Q8 is. I’d called it a “crossover”. He argued “SUV”.
From his perspective, an SUV is a more attractive term… at least in the American market. SUV inspires the idea of a rugged active lifestyle, just the sort you’d lead if you lived in places like Park City, Moab or Telluride… all towns we hit on this hashtagged #Q8Roadtrip. From my view, the new Q8 is based on the latest and greatest iteration of Audi’s MLB-Evo production matrix. That’s the same DNA as the next RS 7 and far from the likes of the SUVs I picture in my head, like a trundling Escalade or G-Wagen.
What I learned on that trip is that either term likely applies, while neither probably should.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an automotive engineer to know that the idea of a car is fundamentally shifting. Even if you just contain this consideration to the subject of the takeover by the “SUV”, the fact that there only two words to describe everything from Chevy Suburban to Jeep Wrangler a Lamborghini Urus seems a bit insane. Also, and this bears emphasizing, the Q8’s closest corporate chassis sibling may very well be considered the aforementioned Lamborghini. Times have changed.
In recognition of this fact, Audi chose to place the Q8 in an environment that would suit it incredibly well. For one, we were starting in Park City, Utah amidst a snowstorm and the kick off of the Sundance Film Festival. Looking stylish amongst that sort of crowd was easy with the aggressive silhouette and edgy detail of the Q8. Making our way out of town in the snow was even easier with Audi’s latest quattro tech paired with proper winter tires.
As you might expect from the nomenclature, the Q8 slots in above the more family oriented Q7. If measured simply by the footprint it leaves, the Q8 is identical to its Q7 brand sibling with whom it shares the same track (66.1” front, 66.6” rear) and wheelbase (117.9”). Even still, the similarities end there.
Whereas the Q7 has become Audi’s blue-chip family tote-all in the premium segment, the Q8 has a much more sporting appeal. It’s over an inch shorter than the Q7, and those blister-flare fenders help make it an inch wider. Its profile too is more sporting, almost ur quattro-like in its use of slanted fat C-pillar (more on that later). If the Q7 is the “Avant”-like SUV in the Audi lineup, then the Q8 is the Sportback.
That the Q8 is the next evolution of Audi hardware in the space also helps separate it from the Q7… at least for now. Power comes from a version of Audi’s latest single turbo 3.0-liter V6 with single turbo as seen already in the S4, S5 and SQ5…not yet in the Q7. Here, it’s combined with Audi’s quick-shifting 8-speed Tiptronic transmission and mild-hybrid 48-volt tech that both do their best to make it competent (0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds) and efficient (17 city/22 highway mpg).
Inside, the cabin is well evolved and shares much with the latest A6, A7, and A8 products. Audi’s new MMI touch with expansive screens cover much of the functionality of the car now, from the typical MMI and infotainment tasks to also include other tertiary functionality such as HVAC and more. That’s on top of the now required-kit virtual cockpit screen serving as multi-function instrument cluster.
As with many of these modern revolutionary infotainment shifts, traditionalists comfortable with the MMI status quo may not greet the change with open arms. Part of the reason for such a long trip in this case was to approach that particular issue head on by providing plenty of time in the car in order to familiarize ourselves with this markedly new system. Fortunately, the mapping and architecture of the graphic user interface is familiar to the logic we’ve come to expect from Audi’s graphic user interfaces over the last iterations of MMI. Also, the haptic feedback is particularly welcome when entering inputs on the move and with your attention more properly on the road.
Audi’s chosen route for the #Q8Roadtrip snaked its way through a shelf’s worth of storybook small towns, pristine highways, and unpaved snowy plains with elk literally running alongside. The breadth of backdrops allowed the Q8 to prove what it was ultimately designed to do…and that is be a sorted, stylish, and tech-laden jack of all trades.
I don’t approach that point lightly. This isn’t the afterglow of being hosted on an extravagant road trip. Audi did invite quattro magazine along and put us there at the wheel of that particular Q8, to be sure. Even still, this author is an admitted car enthusiast who winces at the sheer ratio of SUVs and/or crossovers on the road from the perspective of a low-slung Avant. The complex truth here though is that SUVs and crossovers have become such a staple in the modern auto industry that companies like Audi have devised ways to build them in ways that are remarkably brilliant…even by the objective measure of an enthusiast critic.
Even Audi themselves seem to wrestle with that reality. Following dinner at our stopover in Gateway, Colorado, Audi had parked a display Q8 back-to-back with the Sport quattro from their corporate collection. Audi’s product planning manager Barry Hoch treaded lightly on the elder car’s presence, being careful not to suggest that the display of the half million-dollar Group B homologation special was meant to imply the Q8 should ride the coat tails of the Sport quattro. He sighted the obvious C-pillar, the fender bulges and moved on to the design specifics of the Q8. It’s like he knew purists in the room of car journalists might view its presence almost cynically…and he empathized.
Hoch moved on to the Q8’s own design bonafides. There are the frameless side windows that give the Q8 a more Sportback roof profile. There are the doors that open even the side sill, so your expensive pants don’t pick up road grime as you enter a dirty car. There is the creative way the American sidemarkers are embedded into the headlight fixture, or the way the turn signal projects down through the singleframe grille and onto the slats so designers could wrap the front light fixtures more aggressively around the nose of the Q8 and yet still pass U.S. requirements on lighting. Like the upcoming e-tron crossover, there is also Matrix Beam technology embedded in the headlight, just waiting for NHTSA to approve the trick light focusing tech so Audi dealers can then activate it with a simple software upgrade.
On the second day of travel, the road stretched out before us on our way to Telluride. Here, the adaptive cruise control with lane assist is a useful friend. For those counting, that’s Level 2 autonomy, particularly useful in the sort of congested traffic you’ll probably never encounter in remote Colorado.
The road turns again to gravel and then dirt and another facet of the Q8 comes to the fore. It is remarkably composed on the dirt and gravel, perhaps paying tribute to its rally-winning forebears. Even fitted with the standard steel suspension sans Adaptive Suspension Package, our particular Q8 was smooth and composed at rapid and drift-inducing speeds, even on rough surfaces through these unpaved canyons.
If there’s a shortcoming, I’d argue it’s the power. Audi could have launched the Q8 as a Q7 Sportback, and from footprint and body structure standpoints, it may as well be. By launching it as a Q8, this suggests it is the most capable and luxurious Q-ship of their crossover range. While a fantastic vehicle it certainly is, the expectations that come with that number 8 are equally-if-not-more fantastical. It’s not that the Q8 is slow, but when I mashed the throttle down on a long stretch of horizon-touching highway then I expect more from an Audi with the number 8 on its flank. Granted, I’d guess 90% of Q8 owners will find the power to be more than enough, but that other 10% is likely over represented amongst our readership. Fortunately for them, solid intel and an understanding of market trends pertaining to SUVs suggests an SQ7 and RS Q7 are only a matter of time.
As remote Coloradan towns go, Telluride is pretty exotic. It’s not just a beautiful ski town, but also a playground for the exceedingly moneyed. Given the market Audi is shooting for with the Q8, the amount of attention this new crossover…or SUV…or whatever was garnering from the locals bodes well for the Q8. How it is received by hardcore enthusiasts and specifically Audi aficionados amongst them is the next question. From my perspective, its future is bright.
Back to that display with the Q8 alongside the Sport quattro display the night before, one could make a design argument that its Sportback SUV shape sort of shares the same proportion as the once brutal and now iconic short wheelbase coupe. Even disregarding that romantic measure, the Q8 is impressive enough of an Audi that it earns that spot next to the Sport quattro just the same. No, it’s not a Group B homologation road car. Hand built rally homologation specials… and small coupes… and even manual transmissions are largely elements of a bygone and hopefully never forgotten era. The Q8 is a vehicle of its times, mass produced on an effortlessly sorted platform that makes most any driver with a pulse look competent. In as much, it is as representative of the greatness of our current moment in automotive history as the Sport quattro was in its time 35 years ago. It just serves a very different and much more broad purpose.
2019 Audi Q8 quattro
3.0-liter V6 TFSI
– 335 hp / 369 lb-ft
– 0-60 mph 5.6 sec.
– EPA MPG 17 city / 22 highway / 19 combined)
8-speed Tiptronic transmission
Daytona Grey pearl effect paint ($595)
Premium Plus Package ($4000)
Driver Assistance Package ($2750)
Year One Package ($2250)
Towing Package ($650)
Cold Weather Package ($600)
CD/DVD Player ($100)
Destination Charge ($995)
Price as Tested: $79,340