(Pocket-lint) - It's four months since we saw the Audi Q8 revealed at the Brand Summit in Shenzen. Our feelings on the car are undimmed since that encounter: this SUV has serious presence. It's also unmistakably an Audi, despite some design departures from the German automaker's existing SUV line-up.
We've now driven two spec levels of Audi's latest sporty SUV - both in stunning dragon orange colour and a more sedate metallic blue - out on the roads in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, to get a taste of various surface types.
The Q8 is designed to to lure customers away from the permanently appealing Range Rover and somewhat duller BMW X6. Does the Audi have what it takes?
The Q8 makes the Q3, Q5 and Q7 seem, well, less exciting by comparison. Partly because of the Q8's distinctive lightstrip that slashes across the rear; it's similar to that on the forthcoming Audi e-tron (and other, future Audi models, no doubt) that makes for a distinctive and striking design.
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The Q8 is an aggressive-looking SUV. With a huge grille at the front it has an imposing stance. That said, we're still not sold on it from every single viewing angle - we think it looks best head-on.
In terms of size, the Q8 is a little smaller in length than the Q7 (by 66mm; it's 27mm wider though). Sounds like a small difference, but the Q8 doesn't look as overall huge as the Q7, despite its three-metre wheelbase.
Audi's design team looked to the Quattro coupe when designing the Q8. That's quite clear: its roof is sloped low towards the back, where it sweeps into a large spoiler. The doors are all frameless. And there are 'Quattro blisters' above the wheels, again to reference classic coupe.
The Q8 has an extensive kit list as standard but, naturally, you can still fill it out with oodles of options (if you're willing to open your wallet). As standard there's adaptive suspension, 19-inch wheels, LED headlights and a dual-zone automatic air conditioning system.
Technology and interior
The interior features all the same virtual cockpit controls behind the steering wheel that we've recently seen inside other models, including the Audi A8. Having the satnav view right there in front of you is brilliant, plus you can switch between other virtual cockpit screens. Satnav works especially well used with the optional head-up-display (HUD) that keeps you abreast of current speed limits.
There's also a seamlessly-integrated dual touchscreen arrangement in the centre console for controlling everything from the radio to the driving modes. The 10.1-inch top display is used for infotainment and navigation, while the lower 8.6-inch unit below manages the heating, air conditioning and other comfort functions. The icons displayed are configurable, so you can save yourself from menu digging by adding relevant shortcuts for your own needs.
As we've said of this setup in Audi's other cars: we think there ought to be a few more physical controls, particularly for drive select (which is currently an up/down arrow arrangement at the bottom of the lower touchscreen), to make for a less eyes-off-the-road user experience. Some of these controls are hard to find while driving, although the haptic feedback (the screen vibrates to feel convincingly like pressing buttons) does help, as do the on-wheel options for common functions.
If you're able to give things your full attention, however, the system is easy to use and there are some nice touches such as being able to scrawl your desired destination with your finger on the lower touchscreen. No slow text input here.
The system also supports the Audi Connect key for Android phones, meaning wireless entry and other car-monitoring screens. Qi-compatible wireless phone charging takes place under the central (automatic) armrest, which is really handy to just pop your phone in the cradle without needing to think about any cables. Connect services are offered free for the first three years.
There are loads of driver assistance systems fitted too. A clever 360-degree around-the-vehicle view uses four cameras (one on each side) to compose an image looking at the vehicle from above. Adaptive cruise assist (Vorsprung model only) helps you with accelerating, braking, maintaining speed, keeping distance (also in traffic). Then there's lane assist and sideways vehicle detection.
The Q8 is an SUV with the emphasis on 'sports', since the luggage space is vast. The boot boasts 605 litres of space as standard, or a massive 1,755 litres with the rear seats folded down (that's around 70 litres more than the space in the huge Audi A6 Avant) so can take plenty of gear.
Families will appreciate the huge swathes of room too. There's plenty of stowage inside the passenger compartment. Flexibility is high: two kids and all their accouterments won't dent the available space, or three adults can sit across the back in comfort - so there's plenty of adaptivity.
Trim levels and engine options
We drove the 3.0 TDI V6 car in two trim levels. It's the only engine available for now, although petrol options will follow in 2019 (again, 3.0 litre). It's obviously a powerful 286ps unit - but it surprised us how noisy it seemed from outside the car when idling. Inside, though, the soundproofing means things are a lot more serene.
There's no word on a hybrid option. Instead, the current car has a 48V 'mild-hybrid' system that kicks in when you coast within the 34-100mph range, although we found the electric power took over less often than we expected. Several times we lifted off and coasted to try and invoke the system, but the combustion engine remained in control. That's the thing with mild-hybrids that are such big vehicles.
The two trim levels available at launch are the S Line, starting at £65,040, and Vorsprung, starting at £83,040.
The S Line version includes Matrix LED lights, 21-inch alloys and adaptive air suspension. There's also privacy glass, as electrically adjustable seats and a 10-speaker sound system.
Vorsprung, which is named after part of Audi's slogan, adds a Valcona leather interior, all-wheel steering, the head-up display (HUD), among other additions like titanium black door mirrors and inserts in the grille. There's also an upgrade to 22-inch alloy wheels, electric boot opening and electric sunblinds for the rear windows, as well as a panoramic glass sunroof and Bang & Olufsen sound system.
It's a fair jump, at £18,000. While there's some great extras - and the differences are clear when inside the car - the average buyer probably won't take that extra step. It depends if you want the best or better.
The Q8 has a commanding driving, but you don't feel so high up that you're driving a tank – something that we could say about the Q7 – while the 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds means it's no slouch.
Despite its size, the Q8 truly is fun to drive, especially in dynamic mode, after which the more restrained comfort mode feels a bit lifeless. If you don't want to fiddle around, though, auto mode will serve most purposes, adding some punch into the mix when it's needed and toning things down when it's not. The gearbox is an 8-speed tiptronic unit, so you can manually shift using the paddles should you wish.
On a B-roads the car doesn't feel large at all – in fact it's quite remarkable for such a large and heavy car (it's just over two metric tons). However, on country lanes that extra width can be felt, but safety features such as lane departure help keep you on the straight and narrow.
Hugely appealing to drive, the key to the Audi Q8's overall appeal is its flexibility and level of equipment. The S Line specification offers the best value for money - and we'd argue that it still gets you the full Q8 experience at nearly £20,000 less than the top-end Vorsprung. Naturally, that model's superior equipment level does place it a cut above.
As with the other top-line Audis, we're very impressed with the virtual cockpit tech, but believe the touchscreen setup could be distracting for some, and we'd like just a few more manual controls (although it isn't that trendy to say so).
The Q8 is a worthy machine to supplant the Q7 at the top of Audi's SUV list. Not only is it so much more exciting than its slightly longer brother, it poses questions for Range Rover to which it won't necessarily have all the answers.
Alternatives to consider
This was our runner-up car of the year 2017. It looks great and there's some special tech inside. No, it's not the supreme off-roader that the Land Rover is, but there's a great passenger cabin. And unlike the Q8 there's an excellent plug-in hybrid version - though it is rather on the expensive side.
Range Rover Velar
The fourth vehicle to wear the Range Rover badge is the excellent Range Rover Velar - winner of our car of the year award in 2017. It's superb, very comfortable and is absolutely stacked with tech inside. As you go up the spec list, the Velar quite soon hits the £60,000 mark - but for that you're getting an amazing vehicle.
If you're considering the Q8, you need to consider its slightly larger brother, the Q7. It's a remarkable car, but it is a little bland in terms of the styling. Our pick of the models is the fire-starting SQ7 with four litres and three turbos - but there's plenty of oomph further down the range as well. Less sporty than the Q8, it's a good option if you don't want to stand out in the car park.