When it comes to luxury trucks… Q8 is enough

The more you know about cars, the less you will understand the Audi Q8, at least upon first impression. The model designation, “Q8,” suggests that it is larger than an Audi Q7 and equal in driving experience to the Audi A8; it is neither. It is designed and proportioned to dwell in some purgatory between SUV and station wagon, yet the seating position is almost pure 2010 Ford Taurus. The technology, equipment, and materials involved are appropriate to an S-Class competitor, but the dynamic experience of driving the thing is strongly reminiscent of what you’d get from a well-optioned Nissan Murano. Not since Cadillac rustled up the first-generation Seville has there been a luxury vehicle capable of sending so many contradictory messages.

Your neighbor, by contrast, knows exactly what the Q8 is. It is an object of desire, an alpha SUV made all the more prestigious by shedding most of the “S” and virtually all of the “U,” the same way that Victorian ladies of quality announced their standing by wearing garments which made it impossible for them to perform any labor. It’s a competitor for the BMW X6 minus that particular car’s hunchbacked unloveliness. Most importantly, it offers more street cred than the brand-new, but fundamentally old-fashioned, A8 sedan while being about 20 grand cheaper.

As tempting as it is to compare the Q8 to the A8 and catalog the many and manifest ways in which the latter is a vastly more satisfying automobile, to do so is to miss the point. We might as well take a time machine back to 1977 and try convincing your grandfather to buy a proper Day-Date instead of that frisky new Rolex Oysterquartz. SUV “coupes” are hot right now. Let’s give this Q8 a fair shake.

2020 Audi Q8 steering and gauges
2020 Audi Q8 Andrew Templeton
2020 Audi Q8 3/4 front
2020 Audi Q8 Andrew Templeton

2020 Audi Q8 3/4 front
2020 Audi Q8 Andrew Templeton

As previously suggested, this is probably the best-looking car in its class, particularly when viewed in profile or straight-on from the rear. Inside, there’s no sense even mentioning the competition; the Q8 is an aesthetic tour de force, from the elegant simplicity of its aviation-style “glass cockpit” featuring two stacked glass touchscreens to the enviable quality of the wood trim and rough-finished leather. At night, the headlights and taillights perform a “Knight Rider”-style animation upon remote unlocking, and the interior performs a brief color-wheel trick, flipping the interior LED mood lighting through a few hues before settling down to blue. You could own this car for a decade and never grow tired of the exacting attention to detail evident throughout the cabin. The seats possess an astounding array of massage features and position adjustments, although this author would trade all of it for the unadorned, but correct, thrones of an ‘80s Saab.

With just 335 turbocharged horsepower to move two and a half unladen tons, the Q8 will never threaten specialized vehicles like the X6M, but the eight-speed automatic helps make up the gap with frequent but thoughtful shift choices. The four-corner air suspension, which can be cycled through modes from “offroad” to “dynamic,” is less adept. “Exhibits almost unnaturally good body control over elevation changes,” Managing Editor Eric Weiner stated, “keeping the cabin steady and even. Yet on rough roads it rocks side-to-side, and over large potholes the massive wheels send shockwaves through the whole vehicle.” Photo Editor Andrew Templeton concurred: “The ride quality wasn’t as smooth as I expected.” The most disturbing trick the Q8 performs is an odd bit of self-leveling which takes place after moderate-to-hard stops; the nose will rise, then dip, with no apparent goal in mind.

Releasing the brake a touch upon seeing the nose rise, which is an old chauffeur’s habit beaten into your humble author by years spent ferrying my corporate betters from airport to dealership, causes the auto-stopped engine to restart with a vengeance, inching the nose forward, to which the best reaction seems to be firmer pressure on the brake, which starts the whole rise-and-dip dance again. This is a 48-volt “mild hybrid” car, but for the U.S. market the system is limited to a particularly aggressive auto-stop program.

The cabin noise level, like the ride, is more appropriate to an A4 than an A8. Blame the frameless door glass and the optional 22-inch wheels fitted to our Prestige-trim-level tester. On concrete freeways it can be difficult to hold a quiet conversation. The optional Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium sound system, which is the middle tier of three available configurations, provides good staging and adequate power — although it fails to match the Revel Ultima options in the Lincoln Navigator despite the fact that both systems were engineered by the same team at Harman Audio. Rear-seat passengers who have no desire to chat with their drivers can focus on the effective, if loud, four-zone climate control and the remarkable amount of leg and shoulder room on offer.

2020 Audi Q8 double pane window glass
2020 Audi Q8 Andrew Templeton

Some of that rear legroom comes at the expense of the cargo area, which is somewhat less than what an RX350, or even a CR-V, would offer. It’s best to think of the Q8 not as an upscale family truckster but, rather, as a nice way for two upper-middle-class couples to visit a nice restaurant—the same brief that was once filled in this country by the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, minus the fold-forward front seats.

Former de Ville owners, or Escalade owners for that matter, will be surprised at a few of the Q8’s concessions to modern European nanny-state sensibilities. There is no remote start available and the Audi will shut itself off within thirty or so seconds of being put into Park in most situations. The adaptive cruise is remarkably capable, even if its idea of a safe following distance is enough to accommodate five New York cabbies, but it also requires the driver to frequently reassure it with a wiggle of the steering wheel. As Weiner discovered one frosty morning, the system is also completely defeated by a light coating of winter frost. Should you leave your mobile phone in the cabin after shutting the Q8 down, it may choose to announce that fact in a pleasant artificial voice, loud enough for anyone in the parking lot to hear.

There are a few detail flaws in the execution, albeit minor ones. The steering-wheel shift paddles are cheap plastic—presumably they will be aluminum in the upcoming SQ8. As stunning as the glass touchscreens may be, they become visibly greasy in daily use. The rear wiper is, to put it mildly, incompetent.

2020 Audi Q8 interior driver
2020 Audi Q8 Andrew Templeton

None of that matters much once you consider the value proposition. It’s just 67 grand to start, nearly $90k equipped to Prestige level. For that money you get a car with significant family ties to the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, one that stirs envy in the neighbors and interest among the private-school set. It’s cheaper than the equivalent Escalade or Navigator, if considerably less capable in the tow-and-haul department.

Most importantly, the Q8 takes the Audi philosophy of the past 20 years—plenty of design, plenty of tech, indifferent dynamics, weapons-grade suburban desirability—and cranks it up to a reasonably logical conclusion. The cognoscenti can spend the extra scratch for the A8, which is a better car. The horsey types can get an American SUV or a Mercedes GLS. Everyone else will be perfectly happy with this one. Like that first-generation Seville, this is the right product at the right time. Unlike the Seville, the Q8 is a bit of a bargain. That much, at least, we can all understand.

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