Audi redefines the large SUV sector with RS version of the Q8
Hot on the heels of its main rival Merc, highlights Iain Robertson, Audi has revamped its Q8 with a blisteringly rapid variant that will demand a driver refocus of performance expectations and delivery and you just know that it is going to be good.
Even at a time when the dreaded ‘austerity’ continues to roll off MSP Sturgeon’s tongue, with as much machine-gun rapidity as ‘frugality’ from former PM Brown, the pursuit of vibrant potency from the motor industry drowns out political bleating, as though nothing else mattered.
Well, it does. We are all under pressure, firstly from squeezed pay packets and then by the spiralling psychology of Swedish eco-teens, all manner of greens (and blues, from the motor industry) and more opportunities to blame us and then tax us in punishment duties of a fiscal variety. It is little surprise that a General Election held in the winter season is going to result (probably) in more protest votes guaranteed to send political pundits into over-anxious falsetto pitch.
However, all of that lot can be overcome readily by blipping the throttle pedals of any one of a growing number of Vee-engined, fuel-guzzling, CO2-emitting, pseudo off-road chargers carrying bank balance deflating price tags and brand conscious ‘hoorays’ to their next pressing soiree.
A bit like London buses, two come along (Audi and Merc) and a third (from BMW) is sure to follow in short order. However, I am dealing with Audi here and its headline figures (596bhp, 590lbs ft, 0-60mph in 3.5s and an electronically restricted top speed of 155mph) are like Captain Kirk setting the phasers to stun. Let’s face it, cars like this are ‘halo’ models; their purpose is to channel interest to lesser variants in respective ranges, while introducing a limiting factor in the pricing schedule (this one will be announced in early-2020, when the order books open).
To gild the lily, this is the first time that Audi has placed an RS designation on its biggest SUV. It is a confident and defiant move, especially in light of some of those aforementioned pressures. In genetic terms, Audi has a strong lineage to maintain, which is an assurance that the Q8 RS is not a flash-in-the-pan but is focused enough to be worthy of the badge and as dynamically sound as any other RS model.
The biturbo petrol 4.0-litre V8 in the new RS Q8 is supported by a mild-hybrid system (MHEV) that uses 48-volt electrics. It features a belt driven alternator-starter connected to the crankshaft that, during deceleration and braking, can recover up to 12kW of power and store it in a compact lithium-ion battery. It can also coast for up to 40 seconds with the engine off, restarting instantaneously, when the accelerator is actuated. This is its means to attaining more beneficial fuel economy and CO2 emissions results. The system is connected to the camera sensors for even greater efficiency. When stopped, the engine starts again, while the brake pedal is still depressed, as soon as the front camera detects that the vehicle in front of the new RS Q8 begins to move.
To be honest, as you know, I struggle mentally with SUVs, however, I struggle equally with stop-start technology. It is not new, having been with us since the mid-1980s on a select few makes and models, but, in the majority of cases (including Audi), it is a system that applies the brakes and illuminates a high intensity red array at the rear of the vehicle that is not only distracting/blinding to the following motorist but is also searingly dangerous. The more costly the model, the more glaring the illumination.
The enormous power from Audi’s V8 motor is channelled to the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system via the standard eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox. A mechanical centre differential distributes the drive in a 40:60 ratio to the front and rear axles. In the event of slip, more drive goes automatically to the axle with the better traction. Up to 70% can be directed to the front wheels and up to 85% to the rears, which can lead to some highly entertaining handling characteristics.
Adaptive air suspension features electronically controlled damping and means that the Q8 RS is equally at home on a racetrack, as an off-road trail, not that many owners of this class of vehicle would understand its capabilities, let alone apply them. Its suspension tuning allows for a particularly broad spread between comfort and an extremely sporty setup. Dependent on the driving situation and occupants’ needs, the car’s ride height can also be varied by up to 90 millimetres, making it easier to load, while less likely to scrape its bottom at the other end of the height range.
An electromechanical active roll stabilisation system (EAWS) minimises body roll during fast cornering, while four-wheel steer alters the angles of the rear wheels via a high-torque electric spindle drive and two track rods. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn up to five degrees opposite the direction of the front wheels for greater agility. At high speeds, they turn up to 1.5 degrees in the same direction as the front wheels to improve stability during fast lane changes. The standard alloy wheels are of 22.0-inch diameter, shod with ultra-low-profile tyres that transmit an inordinate amount of road noise into an otherwise tranquil and beautifully appointed cabin that features RS-style quilted leather.
You know, the boy-racer in me wants to dig deeply into the Q8 RS’s trough-o’-plenty but I feel strongly that this class of SUV is aimed at fairly mindless footballers’ wives, many of which pay scant regard to speed limits. Its ‘safety’ packaging is on a high level (it needs to be) but ringing in my ears are the Laws of Physics that no amount of advanced electronics can overcome. Too many of them also dull the true responses. As a result, I would feel much happier, even though I can still not afford one, driving an Audi RS6 Avant, which is closer to the tarmac and markedly less compromised.
Technological tour-de-forces can be expected at this end of the luxurious SUV scene. Audi never disappoints with its top-of-the-shop variants and the glowering good looks of the Q8 RS are sure to create a following from people with very deep purses.