Tuesday 17 September 2019

Layers of luxury: Why it takes time to get to know Audi's new Q8 SUV


The new Q8 coupe SUV from Audi
The new Q8 coupe SUV from Audi
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

The first question nearly everyone asks when I'm driving something big and posh is how much it costs - naturally. What I try to explain is that most cars these days have two prices. They have the entry-level or nominal price. And they have the price with extras added to a specific model. The difference can be startling.

In the case of this week's review car, the Audi Q8 large coupé/SUV, it's around €23,000 more than the current entry level.

While that meant the test car was packed with all sorts of goodies, it also raised an alert (for me anyway) of how quickly a price can climb (especially when you're charged €415 for a spare wheel).

I suppose those buying the likes of the Q8 or rivals such as the Mercedes GLE coupé or BMW X6 are insulated from what I call the 'creeping extras syndrome'. Tales abound of people lashing on an additional €25,000 without batting an eye. More luck to them; €30,000 is more than most of us can afford for a whole car.

I found this new Q8 to be a curious thing. It is a sort of coupé (the roof slopes noticeably) that blends in with being a large SUV based on the larger Q7.

I was surprised to find it looking more compact than I'd anticipated. My fears of negotiating it through tight city driving and parking spots were quickly allayed.

Yet it is a big car: almost 5 metres long, 2m wide (6ft 6ins) and 1.71m tall. That makes it wider, shorter and lower than the Q7 'full' SUV. However, unlike the latter, it has just two rows (five seats) not three with seven.

It was one of those motors I really felt I needed time with; it has many layers. As it happened, I had plenty of time to discover and sample them during an eventful week.

One area was the huge comfort, decked as it was in S-Line trim with buckets of the aforementioned additions on board, too.

The dash, instrumentation and interactivity were not just well located but easily worked and read. Here was a strong flavour of what's happening at this level of motoring. For some reason, though, I never correctly gauged the 'sliding' manoeuvre for temperature on the interactive screen - that was a bit distracting.

The seats were particularly good; not a lumbar twinge despite hours in the cabin. On a negative note, thick pillars meant there were visibility blackspots (at the side-rear especially) - something to watch out for. Help was at hand in the guise of cameras and parking sensors.

I'm glad to say that over the course of the few days I got seriously acquainted with the car and its layers. It was impossible not to realise I had a lot of technology at both my tactile disposal and invisibly working away beneath the surface. The latter surprised and disappointed. I expected - wanted - more dynamism from the adaptive air sport suspension. I needed more urgency in the drive, more outright thrust from the V6 diesel which smoothly pumps 286hp. That was the case even in 'Dynamic' mode (there are several). And it was despite the presence of a 48-volt mild hybrid system designed to give the engine a boost as well as providing off-throttle coasting. That's all designed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions - just be aware, however, the car still commands a hefty €750 road tax bill.

Over time I came to the conclusion the Q8 was not designed to be a towering powerhouse. It's a more sophisticated blend than that. For example, the still silence in the cabin, regardless of road shape or surface, was a huge testament to serious levels of engineering.

My rear-seat passengers had acres of room and snuggled comfortably in the shush of the drives. Such comforts matter more to some than the cut-and-thrust of 'performance'.

But I have to be hard here and say it is still a lot of money for the privilege, no matter how numerous or generous the layers.

I can see how you could make a strong case for saying that's where this coupé/SUV comes into its own; that it is a luxury liner of a far more practical nature than might appear to initially be the case.

If you pushed me, I'd tell you I believe it reflects its luxury status a lot better than the BMW X6 or Merc GLE.

Okay, it didn't leave me thrilled with its performance nor enthralled with its handling and ride.

But it brought so much together in the one place that, despite its drawbacks and price tag, I'd consider it one of the most desirable Audis on the road right now.

Facts & Figures

Audi Q8 large SUV Coupé

  • €126,644; price from €103,050.
  • 3.0TDi 6cyl 286hp quattro 8spd TipTronic auto, €750 tax, 178g/km, 6.8litres/100km.
  • Spec includes: 21ins alloys, two-zone air con, 48-volt mild hybrid system, adaptive sport air suspension, virtual cockpit; HD Matrix LED headlights, Valcona leather.
  • Options include: four-zone air con, all-wheel steering, Bang & Olufsen system.

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