With the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe fixed firmly in its sights, the Audi Q8 is Ingolstadt’s gambit into the German-dominated so-called ‘four-door coupe’ premium SUV segment. A well resolved latecomer, the Q8 is based on the same platform underpinning its larger Audi Q7 sister, Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga and Volkswagen Touareg cousins. Introducing Audi’s new SUV design language, it is a tech-laden and sure-footed SUV flagship that inherits the Audi A8 luxury saloon’s 48v mild hybrid technology and twin screen infotainment system.

Aptly making its Middle East debut at Oman’s demandingly steep 3,000-meter high Jebel Akhdar, the Audi Q8 has a distinctly imposing presence, which with Dragon Orange finish and optional 22in alloys, looks like it were sculpted from the rocky surroundings. With sharp ridges and angles, and high, level waistline, the Q8 has a confident and mature aesthetic sensibility. Its central design elements include a vast, snouty and thick single-frame octagonal grille and low roofline, which is subtle next to competitors’ rakishly overstated angles.

Taking primary visual cues from the futuristic 2015 Audi E-tron Quattro Concept, the Q8 however also references the past. Its most obvious nods to the iconic and original Eighties Audi Quattro include blistered wheel-arches and heavily browed headlights, and more discreetly its blacked out section between the rear lights, and C-pillars. Meanwhile, underneath its chiseled surfacing, the Q8 features steel and aluminium construction for strength, rigidity, safety and to help keep its inevitably hefty weight in check.

 

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Initially available only in 55 TFSI guise with a direct injection twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, the Q8 is expected to gain V8 variants in future. That said, the 55 TFSI was rarely found wanting for more power on steep inclines and altitudes of 2,000 meters above sea level. Developing 340bhp at a 5,000-6,400rpm plateau and 500Nm torque throughout a broad and accessibly versatile 1,370-4,500rpm, the Q8 is flexible, confident and quick on the move, and is capable 0-100kph in 6.2-seconds and a 250kph maximum.

Responsive from standstill with quick-spooling turbos, the Q8 pulls hard and consistently through its rev range. Delivery is smooth with a subdued sound, the Q8’s turbo whistle becomes evident when its frameless windows are open. Driving all four-wheels through a slick and quick shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox that makes the most of its output for performance and efficiency, the Q8 also features a 48v mild hybrid system used to power various ancillary, electrical and power systems.

Recharged through regenerative braking and the combustion engine, the Q8’s 48v system contributes to a 0.7 litre per 100km fuel consumption reduction. The 48v system also allows seamless automatic coasting for 40-seconds at speeds between 55 to 160kph, and stop/start system operation from 22kph. Not designed to intrude on the Q8’s driveline, the 48v system however provides a 7Nm torque boost back from the starter-generator, as deemed necessary by complex operating systems. Additionally, the 48v system could potentially power Audi’s high tech electro-mechanical suspension, as featured on high-end A8 versions.

Stable, settled and refined at speed as expected, the Q8 also boasts tenacious traction and road-holding courtesy of Quattro four-wheel-drive. Driving with a default 40:60 front-to-rear power split for greater agility, it can reallocate up to 85 per cent power rearwards or 70 per cent frontwards as necessary on- and off-road. Driving through Jebel Akhdar’s rollercoaster-like hairpins, the Q8 tidy turn in is aided by brake-based torque vectoring. However, it is the Q8’s optional four-wheel-steering system that was the real star through such snaking roads.

 

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Turning 1.5 degrees in the same direction as the front wheels at speed for added stability and responsive directional changes, the Q8’s rear-wheel-steering however turns 5 degress in the opposite direction at lower speed, or as required. Entering and carrying corners with the nimbleness of a smaller, lower and lighter car, the Q8’s rear-wheel-steering effectively simulates a shorter and more maneuverable wheelbase. Pulling speed through inclining hairpins with unexpected agility, huge grip levels and no trace of tyre squeal, the Q8 was as reassuring as if riding on rails.

Driven with optional air suspension, the Q8 was taut and well contained body roll in its firmer and lower riding Dynamic mode. Focused and smooth if slightly firm driven so, the Q8’s Comfort mode however provides a more forgiving, supple and fluent ride over imperfections. Rising to a generous 254mm ground clearance for off-road driving, moderately steep dirt road inclines were dispatched with ease and greater ability than reasonably expected of its segment. Through winding gravel routes, it also proved comfortable, maneuverable, adjustable and reassuringly grippy.

Equipped with standard Middle East specification 22in alloy wheels, the Q8’s 285/40R22 tyres were slightly firm over jagged speed bumps and road imperfections, but otherwise adaptive air suspension well compensated for ride comfort. However, one felt Euro-spec base 19in alloys would have further improved ride. Smaller and lighter wheels could have also improved steering feel for its otherwise well-weighted, direct and quick system. Braking meanwhile was effective and reassuring, with vast ventilated discs and six-piston front calipers well-resisting fade, yet worked hard on steep descents.

 

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Refined, quiet and well-insulated, the Q8’s classy cabin is swathed with quality soft textured materials, leathers and optional black Alcantara roofline. Design and layouts are pleasantly user-friendly, and include large stacked twin infotainment screens with black glass haptic touch feedback buttons.

Driving position is supportive, comfortable and well-adjustable, while rear and reversing visibility is aided by an optional 360 degree camera. Front space, rear legroom and 605-litre luggage room are ample, while rear headroom is adequate for taller passengers, given the Q8’s coupe-like roofline, but not as generous as its Q7 sister.   

Well equipped in Middle East specification, the Q8 comes with standard panoramic roof, four-zone climate control, configurable Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, Isofix child seat latches and Side Assist and Pre-sense safety system. Optional features include seat ventilation, parking assistance, HD Matrix LED headlights and more. Equipped with a single engine option at launch, one however expects 4.0-litre V8 versions in future, and possibly S or RS high performance versions to give its Italian cousin a run for its money.