Yep, as unbelievable as it already is that a 2.3-tonne beast of a car can haul itself off the line and to 100kmh faster than a manual Porsche 911 GT3, the reality is it’s brisker still. I’ve seen test results ranging from 3.6 seconds down to a hysterical 3.4 seconds. And there’s even an onboard acceleration timer, as though Audi is egging you on to beat its conservative numbers.
It’s not just about the raw figures, of course. The way the RS Q8 shoots its way down the road boggles the mind. It makes a good noise, too; perhaps the best of the ever-bigger list of cars using this 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. It sounds furious, but oddly distant, like a mass brawl has just kicked off next door. Dynamic mode adds a small hint of fake noise, but - unlike the augmentation used in the related Lamborghini Urus - it sounds reasonably natural.
For a 4.0-litre V8 belting out 592bhp and 590lb ft of torque, I was expecting more turbo lag, but there isn’t a whole lot. Other things conspicuously absent are understeer, body roll and the general feeling that you’re driving something that weighs about the same as two Ford Fiestas.
SUVs that belie their size, weight and height are nothing new, but just when we thought this concept couldn’t be taken any further, the RS Q8 seems to have taken proceedings up a notch. The way it changes direction suggests it’s hundreds of kilos lighter than it actually is, and a lot of that is to do with the vast quantities of tech Audi Sport has lobbed the RS Q8’s way.
It gets an incredible five degrees of rear-axle steering (Porsche’s system gives 2.8, for comparison), air suspension which can raise the ride height by 50mm for off-roading, or drop it by 40mm to help slice through the air, and electronic roll stabilisation. It’s the rear steering that’s probably the most obvious element, resulting in a noticeable pivoting feeling in tighter corners.
It’s not all about the clever electronic stuff, though. The RS Q8 is another vehicle that suggests Audi is finally starting to suss out good steering with gasps some degree of feedback from the road surface.
Granted, some of that good work is undone by having surprisingly different steering characteristics between the driving modes, but you do at least get plenty of control over settings. Audi Sport has taken a leaf out of BMW M Division’s book by giving two programmable modes dubbed ‘RS1’ and ‘RS2’, selectable via a handy button on the steering wheel.
The all-wheel drive system will occasionally give a nudge at the rear axle, but this is a car that likes to stay neutral most of the time, happily chucking you out of a corner with deranged enthusiasm. Slowing down before the next one is no issue either, thanks to meaty 10 piston brakes at the front. Carbon ceramics are optional.
To drive quickly, the RS Q8 is truly impressive. The only problem is, there’s always going to be a little give and take, and sure enough, the super SUV’s incredible dynamics have come at a cost.
There was a moment early in my RS Q8 stint where I thought I’d left it in Dynamic mode. But no, it is just that firm in Comfort. If you do forget to switch away from Dynamic after you’re done giving it what for, prepare to bounce over speed bumps with a distinct lack of grace and in a whole lot of discomfort.
The source of the RS Q8’s ride issues are two-fold - firm damping, and on our test car, optional 23-inch wheels, wrapped in the sort of low-profile tyres you’d never normally get on an SUV. Thankfully, Audi has said this is as big as it’ll ever go in terms of diameter.
The ride isn’t as tragic as something like a BMW X3 M, but it remains busy over even smooth stretches of road. It’s frustrating as it doesn’t have to be this way; some fast SUVs, like the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, happily trade the mind-blowing Nurburgring time (7min 42sec for the RS Q8, in case you were wondering) and outright cornering ability for a more balanced approach. These kinds of cars are better when the limitations of the SUV package are worked with, rather than beaten into submission by stiffening everything up.
There are other elements of the RS Q8 that annoy, too. The latest Audi user experience simply isn’t as nice as it used to be, with most tactile controls replaced with a haptic feedback touchscreen that’s fiddly to operate on the move. Then there’s the automatic speed limit recognition system on the cruise control, which once decided to start braking because it decided a 70mph stretch of road had a 20 limit, and later read a 50mph section as 90. This doesn’t bode well for the incoming mandatory speed limiters, although Audi UK has said it’ll check if there’s a specific issue with our test car.
You’re also expected to part with a huge pile of cash for this imperfect package. The car you see here is £133,105 once options are taken into account, although we can’t really single the RS Q8 out too much for its price when we’re also testing a BMW M850i Gran Coupe that costs £118,000. That’s just the way with premium V8 barges now, and indeed, we’ve seen plenty of RS6s kicking around for similar money.
Despite the fact it isn’t much cheaper, though, we can’t help but feel you’d be better off with an RS6. Yes, I know we say something similar pretty much every time a fast SUV is being tested and there’s a similarly powerful wagon available from the same company, but that’s especially true here.
If you’re adamant it must be a performance SUV, however, there are options out there that nail the brief more successfully. The RS Q8 might just have edged the Cayenne Turbo when it comes to capability - and praise doesn’t come much higher than that - but Porsche’s rapid V8 on stilts is much better at the non-hooning stuff. In other words, the kind of driving you do most of the time.
As a technological achievement, the RS Q8 is one of the best things Audi has ever made. But as a car to live with daily, you may want to look elsewhere.