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First drive: Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.

First drive: Audi RS Q8
The Audi Q8 benefits from RS know-how and a 600hp biturbo V8 with MHEV assistance. Still want that Urus?

 



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Audi RS Q8

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Within the huge house that is the Volkswagen Group, the premium brands are knocking out some seriously quick SUVs. So now Audi gets its turn at taking the MLB platform and a stonking great V8 petrol engine, and merging them together to create the RS Q8 - a rival to likes of the Bentley Bentayga, the Lamborghini Urus and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Question is, should you pick an Audi over any of these vehicles, or even some of the incoming rivals from more traditional quarters?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi RS Q8
Pricing: Q8 range from £66,710; RS Q8 from £103,750
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol with 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical system
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive with quattro Sport differential, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Body style: five-door performance SUV
CO2 emissions: 277g/km (VED Band Over 255: £2,135 first 12 months, then £465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 20.5mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited, option to raise to 190mph)
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Power: 600hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 2,200-4,500rpm
Boot space: 605-1,755 litres

What's this?

It's an Audi Q8 that's very, very angry... and, as Bruce Banner would say (we're gonna paraphrase a bit here), you wouldn't like it when it's angry. Although, actually, you would, because it's the new performance halo model of Audi's flagship SUV range. Yes, yes, we know; there's already a Q8 with the 'tri'-turbo diesel V8 engine from the bonkers SQ7, but with 435hp and 900Nm, the 2,440kg SQ8 is rather out-punched by its new sibling.

That's because the 4.0-litre biturbo V8 petrol engine from the RS 7 Sportback, which is also destined for the next generation of the oh-so-desirable RS 6 Avant, has been crammed into the RS Q8's nose. You're therefore looking at 600hp and 800Nm (yes, that's 100Nm down on the SQ8, but also 165hp up into the bargain) powering a 2,315kg coupe-SUV, through quattro all-wheel drive, an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox and a quattro Sport differential. Performance is, therefore, quite startling when looked at purely on paper: this absolute unit can run 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds, 0-124mph in an astounding (considering its size) 13.7 seconds and it can also lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes 42.2 seconds. That, it is claimed by its maker, means it is the fastest SUV in the world to thrash around the Green Hell. And as you can raise the RS Q8's speed limiter to 190mph, it's also up there with the aforementioned Bentayga Speed and Urus models in the pantheon of fastest SUVs of all, flat out.

At the moment, it has the aforementioned 'in-house' rivals from the three premium VWG marques to face up to, as well as outside competition from the 580hp Trofeo version of the Maserati Levante. But heading the RS Q8's way very, very soon will be two familiar emblems on the noses of a couple of similarly mighty rivals; namely, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S and the BMW X6 M Competition. With the exception of the Cayenne Turbo and the Maser, all of the above have 600hp-plus, and - just the Levante aside - all of them will crack four seconds flat for the 0-62mph run. Greta Thunberg will do her nut if she finds out about this profligate breed of super-SUVs.

So what makes the Audi stand out in such exalted company? Well, apart from the Merc GLE, the RS Q8 is the only one here to use mild hybrid technology to augment the petrol drivetrain. The 48-volt system on the Audi (you can get this on the other VW Group SUVs but in such instances, it doesn't work to reduce fuel consumption/cut CO2 emissions) is said to save up to 0.8 litres/100km (which means about 1.2 mpg in this instance, allowing the RS Q8's claimed economy figure to at least get the right side of 20mpg) through means of decoupling the transmission for coasting purposes and kinetic-energy harvesting from the brakes, and the V8 even has cylinder-on-demand shut-off as well, allowing it to drop to four pots under light loads. Even so, the Audi's eco-stats make painful reading, especially with the (relatively) much more frugal SQ8 in the fold, so in actual fact the 48V system's bigger role is powering the active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering that are fitted as standard to all RS Q8s, these items aiming to improve its road-holding and dynamic dexterity.

A larger part of the Audi's appeal will be its appearance and interior. While it's not particularly showy on the outside for an RS Audi, this tying it in with its smaller RS Q3 sibling and despite the RS Q8's 10mm-wider front/5mm-wider rear arches (the visual broadening achieved by body-coloured spats over the arches themselves), it still conveys an air of being a serious bit of kit - even when it's at a standstill. The ultimate Q8 has a colossal Singleframe grille in gloss black, massive air intakes either side of that, meaty side skirts, a roof spoiler that is said to generate downforce on the rear axle, and then a diffuser housing two oval tailpipes, an RS signature; they're not fake on the hyper-SUV, but the real 'quad' exits can be seen inside the ovals if you look carefully enough or the light is falling in the right (wrong?) way. All very nice. And all rather discreet, if we're honest, as the RS Q8 in more subdued hues can look like a regular 50 TDI S line from a distance.

No, the biggest talking point are the wheels. They are 22-inch items as standard but there's an option to move them up to gigantic 23s, as on our test car. That the RS Q8 comes with air suspension and adaptive dampers as standard is therefore a most welcome relief, because the suggestion is that each pairing of a 23-inch alloy and its attendant 295/35 tyre clocks in at 45kg. That's mind-boggling, and it doesn't help that fitting carbon-ceramic brakes for more cost will trim back 34kg in total from the kerb weight - by the way, ten-piston front callipers are standard on all RS Q8s, which says a lot about what the brakes are having to deal with here.

Inside the SUV, it's standard Audi fare, which means it's excellent. The three-screen MMI Touch interface is present and correct, with extra RS-specific displays added to the cluster and the main infotainment panel. Super Sports RS seats in Valcona leather are standard and marvellous to sit in, while Alcantara for various fabric areas (on the seats, steering wheel and gearlever) and carbon-fibre trim inlays can further up the ambience. Finally, we keep mentioning 'all' RS Q8s. In the UK, there will be the 'standard base-spec' car (for want of a much better phrase), then a Carbon Black edition and also a Vorsprung model. Prices for the latter two, which load in even more styling kit and comfort equipment, are yet to be confirmed but the RS Q8 will start at £103,750. Too much for a 'mere' Audi SUV, or a bargain for a vehicle which looks very, very much like a far dearer Lamborghini Urus, both in terms of its appearance and the on-paper mechanical set-up? The answer to this will lie in how the RS Q8 drives...

How does it drive?

Hmm. This is a tough one to call. Considering its quite astonishing mass, sheer physical size and the intended target market of buyers, it's hard to know how Audi Sport could have executed this thing much better. It is a quite preposterous battering ram of a machine, a creased behemoth that will charge along convoluted routes with a nimbleness and sense of iron-fisted control that is wholly at odds with its belligerent bulk. The 48V anti-roll system works nothing less than pure magic in keeping the RS Q8's shell on an even keel during even the most severe of provocation in the corners, while the rear-wheel steering can be felt usefully tightening the Audi's line in the tighter bends, along with the exertions of that quattro Sport diff as well.

There's also really nice steering, which is lacking in feel but is at least consistent, free of the formerly artificial sensations of variable assistance (the RS Q8 still has this feature but it's more natural in response now) and also surprisingly light in its weighting, which is one of the many ways the Audi can trick you into thinking it's a lot smaller than it is. Indeed, the sensation of a lot of weight moving a bit too fast for comfort is something that never presents itself in the RS Q8, mainly because its brakes are utterly epic - there's a tiny area of slightly fuzzy travel at the top of the pedal when softly applying pressure at town speeds, where presumably regen is taking effect and you can feel like the car is therefore running away with itself, but once you've got the pedal modulation sorted in your head (foot?), then these stoppers are monsters.

So what with its seemingly total lack of roll/pitch/dive, the supreme traction benefits of quattro AWD, the refreshingly light steering and the mega brakes, it's only the sheer beam of the RS Q8's frame which makes you rein it in somewhat on narrower roads; you can occasionally feel like it's just too wide for give-and-take two-laners, although at least it doesn't feel like you're constantly battling the forces of physics while you're at the wheel. And then there's the engine. This thing is the undoubted star of the show. There's a degree of sound control in the exhaust system, which might annoy some people, but the V8 bellow the Audi makes pretty much all the way around the rev dial is thoroughly intoxicating, while the speed is tremendous. Maybe not 'swear out loud' tremendous, of course, as there's a lot of inertia in a car this massive, so even when you clog it in Dynamic mode you can have a few moments of hesitation while everything hooks up and then works (hard) at firing 2.3 tonnes at the horizon, but no one should lament the searing pace this thing has in abundance.

Nor its handling. It's very steadfast and grippy, with little in the way of realistic-speeds understeer to report and even a sensation that the normally 40:60 front-to-rear split torque bias does like to favour the rear axle - the quattro system will send up to 85 per cent of grunt to the back of the RS Q8 (and only 70 per cent to the front in extreme circumstances), so there are occasions where you can get the rear axle of the car to break traction first, requiring the smallest smidgeon of corrective lock. Stop driving the RS Q8 like it's a 160hp Caterham, though, and it does the big plush SUV thing remarkably well. The noise suppression is exceptional in all regards, while the eight-speed 'Tipper' is a smooth, bordering on seamless operator in gentle driving conditions. Even the ride is excellent, although there are enough occasions where you're aware of the ginormous unsprung mass of the wheels/brakes hanging at every corner to make you wonder whether a set of 21s wouldn't have been a better idea in the first place.

So from this appraisal, there's little to fault, right? Well... yes. Although we do have some reservations beyond an ever-so-occasionally brittle ride and a six-figure starting price. For starters, on an (admittedly mountainous) test route, some spirited driving in the RS Q8 resulted in fuel economy of 34.4. Now, before you start spluttering on your tea in incredulity at what you're reading, allow us to explain that this figure wasn't mpg, but l/100km. Which works out at 8.2mpg. Across about 30 miles. Y.i.k.e.s. Even coming back down the mountain (volcano; it was Teide, we were on Tenerife) and then cruising along a motorway for about 10 miles only saw this number rise to 11.5mpg or thereabouts at the end of the trip, so with the best will in the world even 20mpg on a steady motorway run looks like the stuff of dreams. OK, well-off buyers of V8 petrol-powered SUVs don't want nor expect 40 to the gallon from their chosen chariot, but they do expect a decent fuel range so they don't have to keep dropping into filling stations with alarming regularity and mixing it with the unwashed hoi-polloi; and, it has to be said, the diesel SQ8 does the vast majority of what the RS Q8 can do in the corners, all while returning much more than 8.2mpg. In fact, on a cruise back from this very launch, a UK SQ8 Vorsprung turned in 34.2mpg on a motorway run and eked 500 miles out of a tank of diesel. Right.

And while the RS Q8 is technically stupefying in the way it goes about its business, it's not particularly thrilling or engaging. For us, this is the main flaw with this new SUV. There's still too much of that older RS Audi feeling of 'point and shoot' - in that, a relative newbie to driving could get almost as much out of the 600hp Q8 as a really talented driver with many years' experience would. It's not a deft nor delicate car, with layers of information to peel back, discovering new handling riches as you go. It's very much a go-bonkers-fast-right-now kind of car. And, for some people, even when it comes to ultra-fast SUVs, that's not the most beguiling of characteristics.

Verdict

The Audi RS Q8 is undeniably an excellent car, executed magnificently by Audi Sport, but it is not going to be a vehicle which wins universal acclaim. If you're an Audi RS fan, or you simply try this steroidal Q8 in isolation, you will not fail to be gobsmacked by the way such a big machine can strike with such venom and ludicrous speed, at any given road you care to put in its way. It is outrageously fast, it is decently talented in the corners and it has the serene civility buyers demand of luxury SUVs.

But if you're a driving enthusiast who wants a bit of a challenge from their vehicle, even if said vehicle is a high-riding titan which weighs two-and-a-half tonnes with a couple of occupants onboard, then the RS Q8 is not going to be for you; there are other SUVs in this sector, most notably the related Porsche Cayenne, which do handling better than this. Having said all of that, though, the RS Q8 is a long way from one of the inert-steering, hard-riding, nose-heavy RS Audis of old and, for that reason, it's an intriguing new entry to the class. And one which is bound to win plenty of starstruck admirers. Us? We really like it. But we'd rather have an RS 6 Avant, thanks.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 16 Dec 2019









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2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.

2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.2020 Audi RS Q8. Image by Audi AG.








 

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