I recently had the chance to drive the new 2019 Audi Q8, which is a "cool" luxury SUV. I say this because Audi’s prior luxury SUVs, the Q3, the Q5 and the Q7, are all intended to be practical, traditional models that fill in each of their segments. The Q8 is the first time Audi has gone cool.
What I mean by this is that Audi has priced the Q8 like the Q7, but they’ve swapped out the "practical" Q7’s third-row seating for a more aggressive, bolder design. The Q8 isn’t as practical as the Q7, but it’s more fun and more exciting, in the same vein as the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE Coupe.
The Q8 has one big benefit over those cars, though: It isn’t weird looking. While the aforementioned "cool luxury SUV" models all went with an odd sloped-roof design to resemble a coupe, the Q8 — and the Range Rover Velar, maybe its closest competitor — instead chose a more traditional design that still manages to communicate attractiveness and boldness, without resorting to the bizarre, sloped roof rear end.
The idea of an attractive, "cool" SUV appealed to me, so I spent some time with the Q8 thanks to Audi South Coast, an Audi dealership in Orange County, California, where the Q8 has just officially gone on sale. And what I discovered is that the vehicle is gorgeous on the outside. It has a fantastic interior. And I wish it had a little better performance to back up its styling.
Allow me to explain. The exterior of the Q8 really is an asset, and I think it’s easily the best-looking Audi SUV, easily beating out the more practical stuff — and maybe even the Porsche Cayenne and Macan. Audi did a great job with the design, and I think the bulk of the sales will be driven by the Q8’s styling, so that’s a good thing.
The interior, too, is fantastic. The Q8 uses Audi’s latest infotainment system, which is among the most advanced on the market, with three huge screens plus Audi’s excellent "Virtual Cockpit" feature in the gauge cluster. People who lament the proliferation of screens in modern cars may be disappointed by the Q8, but the vast majority of its buyers will likely be tech-savvy shoppers who think the screens are cool — and they are. They’re highly configurable, and you can switch different displays between different screens, meaning you can have the navigation in the gauge cluster and the radio in the center for the passenger to control. Or many, many other combinations.
Where the Q8 falters is the performance. The Q8 currently only offers one powertrain in the United States, which is a turbocharged V6 with 335 horsepower — a different engine than the 333-hp supercharged V6 in the Q7. With the Q8’s handsome styling and its futuristic interior, you’d think you’re getting into a thrilling, exciting car, and you are — until you push the accelerator. Then, it’s acceptable, but not exactly amazing. A forthcoming SQ8 or RSQ8 will be highly appreciated.
Admittedly, the Q8 is not alone with this issue. The Q8 starts around $69,000 with 335 hp, while its closest competitors are all fairly similar: The GLE43 Coupe starts around $71,500 with 385 hp, the BMW X6 starts around $65,000 with 300 hp and the Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic starts from $69,000 with 380 hp. None of these cars are particularly thrilling, unless you spend big money to get high-performance versions like the AMG GLE63 and the X6M. But money was an issue with the Q8 I drove, as it was a "launch edition" car equipped to around $90,000, which is too much for 335 hp. Still, a standard Q8 should be a decent deal compared to rivals.
And given its appearance, it should do well against rivals, especially in a market so energized by SUVs. I personally think the Range Rover Velar is a little better looking, and I think it drives a little better than the Q8, but it’s understandable why many shoppers would want to shy away from the dubious reliability of Land Rover models. Overall, the Q8 is undoubtedly a shining star of this growing segment.