Driving impression: Audi Q8 55 TFSI

We’ll be honest and say that we misjudged the Audi Q8 completely, but can you actually blame us?

It is Audi’s version of the Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus, so were expecting a fire-breathing maniac of a thing. The fact that we spent the previous week behind the wheel of the all-new RS4 also didn’t help.

So, we got behind the wheel expecting a blistering performance SUV with scalpel-like handling and a Spitfire soundtrack. The Q8 is not like that at all.

In fact, it has more in common with Audi Q7 than any of its sportier cousins from other manufacturers within the Volkswagen group.

Were we disappointed?

Slightly, at first. It’s hard not to be. The styling is so stunning that one can’t help but expect a driving experience that thrills from the moment you push the starter button.

Pushing said button activates a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine, which is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. But instead of blasting one’s ears with a raspy tone, the Q8 merely emits a subtle growl and settles to a gentle thrum one can hardly hear.

Once clear of Cape Town’s traffic there was ample opportunity to see what the V6 is capable of. We wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s disappointing. Any car that can sprint to 100km/h in less than seven seconds is always going to be entertaining, but it doesn’t exactly deliver the kind of rush that will have you struggling to keep your heart contained within its rib caging.

It’s worth noting at this point that this particular model is, for the moment, the entry-level Q8 and from that perspective the performance it plenty impressive. It means that no matter what model you go for, you’ll have ample power to overtake plebs in their annoying diesel hatches.

After an agreeable lunch, we drove behind another Q8 for a good few miles. It’s then we started noticing the small design homages to the original quattro, especially from the rear. Perhaps that’s what this car is all about. The quattro wasn’t known for being scalpel-sharp either, but man could it cover ground like an absolute champion.

Luckily our route had a 30km section where this theory could be put to the test, and test it we did.

As in any modern car, there are various driving modes to choose from. In the case of the Q8 you have Off Road, Allroad, Comfort and Dynamic, but you also get an “Individual” setting where you can pick and choose your own unique setting.

After playing around in Dynamic for a while, we found the suspension to be too bumpy. Our test car was equipped with optional 22-inch wheels and even Audi’s superb air suspension struggled to keep the nastiest bumps from protruding into the cabin. We’d love to drive this car again on more sensible wheels, as we’ve seen from numerous international reports that it definitely has an effect on ride quality.

For relief, we tried the comfort setting, but this dialled back the engine response. In desperation we set up our own individual profile and the car came alive. The best balance, in case you were wondering, is suspension and steering set to comfort and the engine set to dynamic. This meant instantaneous responses from the powertrain and gearbox, but mated to a cushy suspension and steering with just the right amount of weight to it. We dubbed our setting the “grand touring” setup and it made the car come alive.

The road we tested it on was brilliant. It’s everything a keen driver looks for in a great road – loads of corners, pretty scenery and a lack of visible policing and other vehicles. The only downside was the generally poor quality of the tarmac, which was bumpy and broken from years of neglect.

In a rear wheel drive sportscar, it would be suicidal to drive down it with any sort of enthusiasm. The bumps would result is momentary losses of traction, which would eventually lead to much sliding and much bleeding.

The Q8, however, covered ground like a champ. The way it soaked up and shrugged off the bumps was astounding. The amount of speed we were able to carry with confidence was so high that we dare not mention it here. Overall, that experience reminded us of two other very special cars that managed the same sort of trick – the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX STI. Both those legends could also carry massive amounts of speed on real world roads and that’s what the Q8 is absolutely perfect at. It’s an SUV grand tourer and not some rabid speed merchant. That will likely only come later with the inevitable RSQ8…

The Q8 is not for short bursts of fun. It’s a long-distance kind of car and the clearest evidence of that is the interior.

It’s a thing of beauty. As is usually the case with Audi, the quality is top notch. But unlike previous Audis, the Q8 interacts with the driver via two beautiful touch screens.

The upper 10.1-inch display is used for controlling the infotainment and the navigation system. The driver uses the 8.6-inch display below that for heating and air conditioning, convenience functions and text input.

In addition to working rather nicely, you get a tactile and acoustic click confirms when a finger activates a function. If you’re not in the mood for prodding at a screen, you can always just talk to the car. The voice control can, for example, understand the sentence “I am hungry” and in response suggests restaurants close by. The Q8 also had the ability to learn your accent, which means it will even be able to decipher South African given enough time.

The other thing that impressed us interior wise was the standard specification. The Germans usually give you a windscreen and a steering wheel, but the Q8 has an awful lot going for it on the inside. It seems as if this will also be the way forward for Audi – giving a buyer a lot as standard for a slightly higher asking price, with the only options being special packages that you add to it.

The standard features list includes:

4-way lumbar support for the front seats

Additional front underbody guard

Anti-theft wheel bolts and loose wheel warning

Audi connect (Limited features)

Audi drive select

Audi music interface in the rear seat area

Audi pre sense basic

Audi smartphone interface

Audi virtual cockpit

Auto-dimming interior rear-view mirror, frameless

Bluetooth interface

Body-coloured bumpers (full paint finish)

20 inch Cast alloy wheels, 5-arm style, 9J x 20

Collapsible spare tyre

Comfort automatic air conditioning system, four-zone

Comfort key with sensor-controlled luggage compartment release

Contour/ambient lighting package

Cruise control system incl. speed limiter

Electric steering wheel adjustment

Electromechanical power steering

Exterior mirrors, power-adjustable, heated, folding, auto-dimming with memory, front pass. ext. mirror lowering function

HD Matrix LED headlamps with dynamic turn signal

Headlamp washer system

Headlight range control

High-Gloss styling package

Hold assist

ISOFIX child seat anchors and top tether for the rear bench seat

ISOFIX child seat anchors for the front passenger seat

Cricket Leather upholstery

Leather steering wheel, 3-spoke, with multi-function Plus and shift paddles

LED rear combination lamps with dynamic turn signal and animation

Luggage compartment cover

Luggage compartment lid, electrically opening and closing

MMI Navigation plus with MMI touch

MMI Radio plus with MMI touch response

Mild hybrid chassis

Operating buttons in black glass look with haptic feedback including extended aluminium look

Panoramic glass sunroof

Parking aid Plus with 360° display

Power-adjustable front seats including memory feature for the driver seat

Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D sound

quattro (with self-locking centre differential)

Rear bench seat Plus

Regenerative braking

Roof spoiler including centre high-mounted stop lamp

Scuff plates with aluminium inserts in front and rear, illuminated, with “S” logo in front

Seat heaters in front

Side airbags in front and curtain airbag system

Stainless steel loading edge protection

Standard suspension with damper controls

Surround view cameras

Tyre pressure monitoring system

The Audi Q8 55 TFSI quattro tiptronic will be priced at R1,388,000 standard with the 5 year / 100 000km Audi Freeway plan and inclusive of all taxes.