I’m not sure why cars like the Audi Q8 exist. This curious niche of cars - dubbed ‘Sport Activity Vehicles’ or SACs by BMW, which effectively gave birth to the sub-segment when launching the X6 - promise sporty coupe styling on an SUV frame, and the results aren’t usually pretty. Case in point? The new Audi Q8.
With the X6 having burst onto the scene to befuddled looks some 11 years ago and now well into its second generation, you can’t help but be surprised it’s taken Ingolstadt this long to catch up with its Bavarian rivals. And while arguably easier on the eye than the BMW, it’s still no oil painting. It’s imposing and brutish rather than attractive, but perhaps that’s the draw for people.
But is there anything else here to tempt people away from the more conventional Q7? To find out, and to try and make sense of the SAC, I took the keys to the Galaxy Blue car you see on this page for a week.
It’s an odd, slightly green-tinged blue, but it’s certainly more subtle than the loud and proud Dragon Orange hue daubed on the car Audi shot the original set of press photos with. Regardless I’m still struggling to warm to the looks - the roofline just seems too low from the front. That said, it looks nicely mean from the rear three-quarter - a little like the related Lamborghini Urus but far less fussy.
In any case, proceedings take a turn for the classier when you step inside, at which point you’re greeted by vast amounts of shiny trim, a big vent stretching almost all the way across the cabin, and the same twin-screen infotainment setup we’ve already seen in the A7 and A8. It’s a slick system, although the haptic feedback surfaces of both - that require a proper press rather than a light touch - will take owners some getting used to.
The Q8 wins further brownie points when you whack it in Dynamic mode and drive it how an SUV shouldn’t really be driven. When you’re hustling, it really is impressive: the front end is very resistant to understeer, considering all the weight the Q8 has sitting up high. In some circumstances, you can even feel the rear axle moving slightly. There’s preciously little roll, and no diving under braking.
All of this is rounded off with light and fast (but not especially feelsome) steering, making quick progress easy and satisfying. The 276bhp, 442.5lb ft V6 diesel engine (the sole powertrain option at the moment) is punchy and refined, meanwhile. It’s a fine driving thing overall, even though we do have to sneak in the usual ‘for an SUV’ caveat.
The trade-off is when you’re driving around normally, the ride is - considering the car’s on air springs and has plenty of suspension travel - a little brittle, certainly not helped by the 21-inch wheels. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t glide over imperfections the same way the oh-so wafty Q7 does.
The fly-by-wire brake pedal also hampers the smoothness of the experience - it’s much more inconsistent than we’d like. You find yourself putting pressure on it only for not a whole lot to happen, then pressing a little harder, at which point the brakes bite harder than expected, lurching you and your unimpressed passengers forward.
It’s also worth pointing out you won’t be able to fit anywhere near as much stuff in this compared to the Q7 - the 605-litre boot isn’t exactly small, but a long way off the 770-litre load bay of the Q8’s less sporty bro. The low, sloping roofline doesn’t cause the kind of rear headroom issues you might anticipate, at least, but there’s no option to have a third row of seats here.
All of this leads us to a similar conclusion to the one we arrived at after trying the new BMW X4 a few months ago. In that case, I was adamant that an X3 would be the superior choice for the majority of people, or better yet, a 3-series Touring. And here, it’s the Q7 that’ll better serve pretty much everyone. Or perhaps even the A6 Avant.
If you simply must make a statement, though, there is plenty to like about the incredibly conspicuous Q8, and it’s only slightly compromised by its striking body shape. Or if you can wait a little while until it arrives, there’s always the anticipated twin-turbo V8 RSQ8 to consider…