REVIEW | Flamboyance pays off for the 2019 Audi Q8
Brenwin Naidu is left suitably impressed by Ingolstadt's most striking SUV offering
Finally, Audi had new products to peddle in 2019. Following a quiet spell in the South African market since 2017, where fellow Germans enjoyed the lion’s share of voice, the Ingolstadt-based firm enjoyed a relatively busy year.
Of course, the calendar has not yet flipped to 2020 – and there are set to be more wares bearing the famed interlinked circles before glasses are clinked and fireworks are lit.
What started the offensive was the arrival of the Q8 in April. Its launch marked a first contribution by the brand to the sport-utility-coupé niche. This is an enclave that needs little introduction by now. With its X6, BMW is widely credited as the pioneers of the genre, inspiring the likes of Mercedes-Benz to follow with a similar format of the GLE-Class. We can add the Lamborghini Urus to such company, albeit on a far more exotic scale. Porsche now wields a sleeker version of the Cayenne as well.
But back to the Audi. Not only does it represent a first pancake in this segment; it also heralds the reoccupation of the flagship spot in the Audi hierarchy. Sure, the A8 is still listed on the local website, but that's the dated, D4-generation vehicle, whereas the latest D5 version has been on sale abroad for some time now.
Audi is evaluating whether there is any sense in bringing the A8 to market after all, since they hardly sell. In September, Audi managed to find 18 buyers for the Q8, which isn't such a poor performance when one considers that even fewer Q7 units were sold (11). Only one person bought an A3 Cabriolet. And just eight examples of the two-door A5 were sold. Heck, the Q8 even outsold its kin from Volkswagen, the Touareg, where just 12 sales were recorded.
So, what can you expect if you are eyeing ownership of the Audi Q-vehicle that has multiplied Quattro by two? We recently spent time with a resplendent black specimen of the Q8 and found ourselves rather endeared by the charms in its arsenal.
First up, the obvious attraction comes in the form of its appearance. These days Audi cannot be convincingly accused of being disinterested in the way its cars look. The Q8 is striking any way you cut it, from the edgy silhouette to the blisters above the wheel arches that are said to evoke the spirit of the original Quattro coupé.
The interior delivers on the touch-and-swipe functionality we expect from appliances in our modern age. Conventional switchgear is minimal. Two displays on the centre fascia have relegated buttons, dials and other anachronisms firmly to the past. Instead, virtually everything is control via the touchscreen setups, which both render haptic feedback. It takes some getting used to. A small rotary controller is still used to adjust audio volume, thankfully.
A criticism we had at launch remains: the abundance of black plastic trim inlays devalues the impression of quality expected from the brand. The stuff is slathered across the dashboard and over the centre console. And the friction between it and the slimmer inlays of metal created rattles that were notable. Factor in the audible wind intrusion, as a consequence of those frameless doors, and you have downers in refinement that are uncharacteristic of Audi.
Luckily, it drives with the level of decorum and composure one expects of a top-tier product.
Forget the sporting pretences: the Q8 is very much a surefooted and soothing barge for open-road sojourns with the odd series of gentle sweeps. Trying to hustle it with more verve reveals what is glaringly obvious: this is a heavy machine, tipping the scales at about 2,220kg. Adaptive air suspension with controlled damping is offered as an option.
The SQ8 and RSQ8 on the horizon are bound to entice enthusiasts wanting more scintillation in the dynamic department. For now, buyers must pick between the 55 TFSI and 45 TDI. Our time was spent with the former, delivering 250kW and 500Nm, from a 2,995cc, turbocharged-petrol V6. It is no slouch, dispatching the 0-100km/h sprint in 5.9 seconds.
The torque-rich 45 TDI might make better sense in this application, with its 2,967cc turbocharged-diesel V6 unit producing 183kW and 600Nm. It is negligibly slower of course, with a claimed sprint time of seven seconds flat.
Referring back to that earlier comparison of sales figures affirms something about consumers in the South African market. We are style conscious and we love to “live our best lives”, as the popular term goes. You would think that the more practical and more affordable Q7 would be getting greater appreciation. Only to be outsold by the more flamboyant but slightly more compromised sibling.
Great indeed, then, that Audi has opted to broaden its scope with offerings that stray away from the conventional templates that have long defined the company.
Pricing: From R1,388,000