Audi Q8: ‘Is it pretty thuggish or thuggishly pretty?’
0-62mph 6.3 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Visiting some friends years ago, when our kids were young, we distracted our two-year-old son with a bucket of wooden bricks so we could get on with the sanity-saving business of not being parents for a while. He got down to work with the coloured blocks, piling them up with his sticky little hands. Finally, inevitably, as he gingerly put the last brick on the top, he brought the whole tower clattering down. In the silence that followed we looked at him across the room. He looked at us, all Pollyanna curls and big blue eyes, before whispering: “Fuuuuuck!”
In some ways I think this latest Audi is a bit like that final brick. Have we now reached peak SUV? Conventional wisdom in the car business holds that the days of the humble saloon are now numbered. Our long-serving, family-minded, four-door cars are stuck in the slow lane as an endless array of soft-riding sports utility vehicles line up to overtake. The market segment that’s falling fastest is among large luxury saloons as they are replaced by premium SUVs. Brands synonymous with indulgence and narcissism are all getting in on the SUV act. Bentley, Maserati, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and even, soon, Ferrari have all recently added huge 4x4s to their team sheets. They’re following the lead of the SUV game-changers created by the likes of Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Porsche and, of course, Audi.
But Audi already has the whoppingly swanky Q7. So why should insatiable SUV fans have to be tempted to step up to the Audi Q8? (Or as my neighbour misheard a “Saudi Kuwait!”) It is an even more overwhelmingly accomplished car. In any colour (and particularly in Dragon Orange) it’s a look-at-me-me-me-me motor. It’s super-slick, beefy and intimidating. I can’t decide whether it looks pretty thuggish or thuggishly pretty.
The Q8 showcases all the brand’s latest tech: from the all-conquering all-wheel drive system to the air suspension and the silky eight-speed automatic gearbox. It comes in a choice of three power units: a 3-litre diesel TDI with either 286bhp or 231bhp or a V6 petrol TSI with 340bhp. Its multi-screen “Virtual Cockpit” means you have information coming at you from three screens, and there are 39 different driver-assistance systems available at the push of one of its many buttons. It delivers a level of smart innovation you won’t have encountered before and it seems there is nothing the Q8 will not do to make you feel safer and more comfortable.
So why does it make me feel so uncomfortable? You can’t fault its performance, and its fuel economy is remarkable – especially for such a big car. It feels nimble about town and on long hauls ticks off miles as if idly flicking through the pages of a beach novel. But the Q8 feels excessive. Like the saloons it’s replacing it is still just a four-door five-seater – but massively reimagined. In our resource-starved world, it’s not a car that any of us actually needs or should want. But as Oscar Wilde said: “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
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