Q8 SUV seeks to be the king of all Audi cars in India and a challenger to offerings in the same segment from rivals. Does the flagship SUV from Audi have the potential to make more than just a statement of intent?
The security guards deputed in my housing complex surely think I work for the drug cartel because cars keep lining up outside my house. Just for the fun of it, I let them hold on to their suspicions as review units come in and go from time to time. And one review car that may have convinced them that I have reached Pablo Escobar-like fame was the Q8 from Audi. There are enough reasons why this SUV not just got stares from them but repeated glances from people at large during the test drive and this was underlined when a Q7 passed by - squeezing forward on a three-lane road more to get a better look than due to any space constraints.
Yes, that is the kind of attention the Q8 - Audi's flagship SUV in the country - garners and that may well be its biggest highlight for the niche buying audience it is targeted at. I am not talking Escobar anymore but celebrities, successful industrialists and the likes. At a starting price tag of ₹1.33 crore (ex showroom), this Audi is almost as premium as it gets.
While price is key factor in any segment, it becomes quite imperative to see the Q8 for what it basically is - a car and one that Audi designers and engineers have clearly burnt the midnight oil for. And it shows.
The Magnificent Monarch
One quick glance at the Q8 is enough to convince you that here is a flagship SUV. The subsequent stares make it amply clear that while it certainly boasts of an imposing profile, it isn't trying to gather respect - it is commanding it and nonchalantly basking in it. Here is a new monarch who has perfectly adjusted to the glitz of the throne rather than that prince who has become the king by default and is now, perhaps, going overboard to stamp his authority.
The Q8 is undeniably Audi and yet has its own amply evident design language that sets it aside from its younger siblings. It is undeniably large and yet evidently stylish. It is a marriage of raw design machismo with the crafty finesse of a purposeful styling.
If numbers and not words are more your thing, here are some quick dimensional stats - Q8 stands 4,986 mm long, has a width of 1,995 mm and a height of 1,705 mm. For reference, the Q7 stands 5,086 mm long, has a width of 1,983 mm and has a height of 1,737 mm. So yes, the idea of big is better isn't applicable in this case and the Q8, instead, offers a larger presence more through its aesthetics than statistical highlights.
The trademark Audi single-frame octagonal grille adorns the front face of the Q8 but sits inside a more prominent casing which is what seeks to lend a unique signature visual appeal.
The sharp Matrix LED headlights are also familiar but the revamped illumination style is, once again, what adds to the Q8's own appeal. The more than generous sized air dams go on to add a bit of flair.
On the side, the Q8's visual appearance becomes even more pronounced courtesy the large 20-inch wheels that do absolute justice to the entire frame it is responsible for bearing on itself. There is also the option of choosing 21-inch or 22-inch wheels which sport different alloy designs. The silver-finish bands around the window areas - from A all the way to the C-pillars - give the side profile a sense of definition much like the toned body lines. And right around the C-pillar, the coupe-like roof flows down to amalgamate with the rest of the body. The frameless doors are only evident when they are opened but mimic a convertible when the windows are rolled down - it is a design decision that gets full points.
The rear profile is once again clean with no chrome to ripple unwavering attention. The wide body of the Q8 is perhaps most evident from the rear and the rolling LED tail lights once again highlight the young heart and desires of this gorgeous SUV.
One Throne to Rule Them All
It is imperative that an SUV in the segment that Q8 sits in offers plush comfort inside and especially for passengers in the rear seats. And the flagship SUV from Audi does justice to the owner who plonks down here to be driven around.
Well, almost anyway.
Even with the driver's seat pushed back, there is enough space to perhaps fit in a regular-sized airline cabin bag in front of the feet of the passenger at the back. Specifically highlighting the knee room, obviously then, is quite irrelevant. There is also more than adequate under-thigh support - a basic that is addressed. Even the head room is generous which is largely thanks to the manner in which - as mentioned previously, the coupe-like roof flows towards the end.
The seats aren't the softest but are still plush to offer the right blend of support and comfort - on short trips as well as long journeys. I was driven around for 90 minutes sitting on these seats and there was not an iota of exhaustion to complain about.
There was boredom though, and much of it to complain about. Allow me to explain.
It was all good as the Delhi landscape gradually faded into a more rural setting of UP heartlands. Wide roads of Greater Noida West are flanked by open fields and with the sun flirting with clouds, the Q8 applauded from down below. But once the elements at play became a tad too repetitive, I looked inside the cabin for some inspiration. There wasn't much. Entertainment screens on the back of front seats could have been a big boon. Control functionality on the armrest for the main infotainment screen would have worked too. Instead, I fiddled with the AC vents and touchscreen panel for fan speed and temperature.
All work and no play is applicable to even accomplished individuals who would regularly find themselves at the back of the Q8 and more functionality here would have worked great. To even change the radio station, I had to almost nag the driver who was quite obviously enjoying the drive. But more on that later.
The option of ventilated seats are just that - an option. I do feel that with more and more cars aimed at the mass market giving this feature as standard - and considering the harsh Indian summer conditions - ventilated seats all around as standard ought to have been elementary.
Instead, the large windows and the ginormous panoramic sunroof would have to suffice and the natural interplay of light and wind enhance the experience at the rear.
Step up ahead and the premium-quality of materials used continues to be amply evident. And at least for the occupants here, the Q8 is loaded to the brim with gadgetry and gizmos galore. Phew.
There are three screens which host controls for a mile-long list of functionalities. The twin-screen set up in the main infotainment section is gorgeous and manual knobs are kept to the bare minimum possible. More cooling? Touch controls on the screen below. Drive mode selection? Touch controls on the screen above. Change ambient lighting? The top screen again to usher in a stunning cabin contoured light scheme. Haptic feedback is a great touch at every touch too while all displays put out information in a large and bright font. The interface in all three screens - and especially the updated Audi Virtual Cockpit behind the steering - is fairly simple to interact with but I did find it distracting to perform the simplest of tasks on the twin-screen set up while driving the Q8. It would take a whole lot of getting used to the functionalities for these to be made use of without taking eyes off the road. And with Heads Up Display only available as an optional extra, I sorely missed something I never thought I would/could - actual physical control buttons for a more attentive drive.
For an entertained drive though, there is a 1,920 watt Bang & Olufsen system and perhaps more speakers than in a typical dance club. I stopped putting my ear drums to the test beyond the halfway mark in the volume scroll but it would suffice to say that the woofer, subwoofer and the tweeters all come together for a power-packed ode as long as it isn't maxed out. As the saying goes - hearing is a sense, listening is a skill and torn ear drums bring in the bill.
Overall, the cabin is a whole lot of Audi and while that is great, it isn't necessarily a whole lot of distinctly Q8. And that is perhaps why the German auto maker is promising a whole lot of customization options.
Pursuing Perfection in Personalization
One of the not-so-salient attraction of the Q8 is that Audi promises no one unit will be absolutely identical to another. This is thanks to the mammoth customization options available to prospective buyers.
From the elements on the front grille and the air dams to as many as 11 upholstery colour options and nine inlay trims on the inside, you can let creativity flow as per your heart's absolute desire. This added with additional options at extra cost makes the Q8 have its own muscle and style.
Of Dreams and Drives
Let there be no doubt that the Q8 seeks to be an aspirational vehicle. More than any other Audi. And while I can keep tapping on my keyboard in my efforts to explain its looks, cabin, the tech and so much more, the drive itself is the biggest highlight regardless of whether this marquee SUV is going to be mostly chauffeur-driven.
At the outset of the drive review, it is crucial to underline that there is no diesel option available. I repeat, no diesel engine. Audi continues to maintain that it has not shut its doors on diesel but the reality under the hood is for all to see.
A vehicle like Q8 with only a petrol engine was absolutely unimaginable till some time back. Some die-hard diesel fans would have even termed it blasphemous. Automotive atheists though would find the 3.0-litre turbo petrol motor more than just adequate and a whole lot refined. There is 335 bhp of power and 500 Nm of torque.
What do these mean when the Q8 is on the move?
The SUV doesn't have a ravenous need for gorging down miles and pushing at speed barriers but then again, it hardly seems to care for such superficialities. Instead, it is stately - almost as stately as its sedan siblings, I dare say - and that shows off the more mature drive character of the Q8.
Despite a car weighing more than 2 tonnes, the Q8 is also not bogged down ever if pushed to press ahead. It touches triple-digit speeds in a controlled flash while not hurling occupants back into their seats. For me, this is a winning combination of performance and panache.
Another sterling highlight is that the drive modes all offer their unique abilities while not compromising much on what the other modes have as their own respective abilities. To explain this in the simplest of ways, the Comfort mode plants the Q8 a little better on the move than say the Dynamic mode but the compromise in performance is quite minimal. Similarly, push into the Dynamic mode and the Q8 does get a noticeable punch but not quite at the cost of refinement and plushness.
What provides the monarch with sorted guidance is an eight-speed auto transmission unit which acts like an able commander locking in gear shifts with military-grade precision. In city trenches or open highway war fronts, the Q8 is a capable machine and a formidable ally.
The level of ride comfort and refinement is helped by active air suspensions and the UP roads on which the Q8 crunched miles felt like the best in the whole wide world. Well, not quite but get the drift.
Speaking of drift, the Q8 is every bit as calm and composed around corners and bends as one would expect of an SUV in this segment. The inputs from the nicely-weighted steering are carried out ably and despite all the weight and the large dimensions, those sharp turns and turnarounds are zero botheration.
Coming to the often ignored aspect of braking to a zero, I felt the Q8 could have done with a bit more stopping power but it stays on par for most parts.
In the interest of an honest disclosure, I have never driven a Porsche Cayenne and therefore, it won't be fair for me to compare the Q8 drive to that of its Volkswagen brand cousin. That said, the Q8 excels in its own right and while the rear seats may mostly be supporting owners, it would be such a shame to buy it and not experience the regal drive quality it has to offer.
The Q8 stamps Audi's dominance in the premium luxury SUV segment. It sits like a macho tiara in the SUV portfolio of the German car maker and yet never tries to lean on flashy appeal. And depending on which side of the price field you are looking at, the Q8 is either expensive or not. It costs almost 50 lakhs more than the Q7 - a much-loved SUV in India. It is also pricier than the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLE Coupe, and sits around the same price band as the Cayenne.
That it has already evoked adulation from Audi fans was always on expected lines but even those who may not play favourites have much to admire in the Q8. Butch yet stylish looks, loads of customization options and a mature drive capabilities are its mainstays. The SUV is, however, not free from housing areas which had scope of improvement. Audi could have done a bit more to set the cabin as a little superior to its much-loaded sedans while optional features could have been given from the base variant up.
That said, the Q8 is a brave foray into a new territory and Audi has managed to tick most boxes right.