Large but handsome, the Audi Q8 is an enormously well resolved, coherent and comfortable car, worthy of any Palladian driveway says Charles Rangeley-Wilson.
In 2008, BMW spliced rakish coupé bodywork onto a pumped up 4×4 chassis and invented the sport activity vehicle (SAV). Geddit? As opposed to sport utility vehicle (SUV). Motoring journalists whistled and looked the other way: in the midst of the credit crunch, who was going to pay extra for a cramped X5?
Ten years on, Munich’s genetically engineered love child of a tractor and the Batmobile has spawned half a million offspring and look who’s laughing; Bayerische Motoren Werke, that’s who.
That the X6 sold like hot cakes is testament most of all to man’s enduring desire to have his hot cake and eat it. Midlife man, that is. Midlife man wants to drive a sports car, but is too weighed down with the practicalities of life to do without his load-lugging estate: a dilemma with no real answer, short of a Lotus Exige and an old Volvo side by side in the same garage.
Perhaps then, the SAV is here to stay. Mercedes joined the fray a few years ago with the GLE Coupé, as rakishly cut as the X6. As did Lamborghini, true to its tractor-making roots, with the lurid Urus, a 650bhp rocket ship come battlecruiser.
If the new Audi Q8 is late to this particular hot-cake party, Audi would argue it’s fashionably late and all the better for it. ‘It makes a bit of an entrance’ is the catchline of the new advert, as the Quattro diva gatecrashes the stage to the strains of Verdi’s Sturm und Drang.
I first clapped eyes on the Q8, or two dozen of them to be precise, in the more Arcadian setting of Tyringham Hall, a Soane masterpiece and Country Life’s ‘ultimate country house’. I have to say, whether in understated grey or attention-seeking orange, Audi’s new flagship motor didn’t look half bad.
As if to underline quite how this car now defines the marque, the Q8 skips past any of the more modest trim levels available to mere mortals driving lesser cars and lands on S-Line, with more or less all the toys your little heart could desire: adaptive damping, air suspension, LED lights, climate control and a smorgasbord of safety, parking and driver aids.
However, because there’s always someone who wants more, the ‘Vorsprung’ model trumps the S-line with every option box ticked for you – including four-wheel steering – and a ‘that’ll be another £18,000, thank you, sir’. Good value, if you really want all those options.
One choice you don’t have to make just now is over the engine: it’s a three-litre V6 diesel or a three-litre V6 diesel. You won’t need anything else. With 286bhp and stump-pulling torque, my test car rolled along as quickly as you’d ever want to travel in a two-ton motor. Next year, Audi intends to bring out a more overtly sporty 350bhp V6 petrol version, but I doubt it’ll be quicker in the real world.
I have an innate resistance to liking large cars that is consistently overcome by the large cars when I drive them: the Q7, the XC90. The Q8 pulled the same winning-charm trick on me. It is large, but it’s also unarguably handsome. On the inside, it’s as splendid a place to sit as any Audi, only more so; there’s room in the back for three adults and the boot is vast.
On the move, the Q8 is sure-footed, comfortable, sporty on demand and unbelievably quiet. There may be some hotter-cake versions on the way, but what we have here and now is an enormously well resolved, coherent and comfortable car, worthy of any Palladian driveway.
Audi Q8 50 TDI : The details
- Priced from around £65,000; £76,590 as driven
- Combined fuel consumption 41.5 mpg
- Power 286bhp
- 0–60mph 6.3 seconds
- Top speed 152mph
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