Audi attempts to redefine the idea of what a luxury brand’s flagship is with its 2019 Q8 Quattro, and does it successfully enough that an Aloft hotel employee ran into the middle of the Grand Circus Park traffic circle to admire the shimmering coppery SUV as I drove by.
The Q8 has top shelf looks, comfort and features, but driving one made me appreciate the A8L sedan that used to be Audi’s top model even more than I already did. SUVs are the rage of the age, however. The Q8 outsold the A8 four to one in the United States through March and will out-earn the A8 substantially.
Before the SUVs inherited the earth, or at least the valet parking lane, it was easy to recognize a luxury brand’s flagship. It was the company’s biggest, most expensive and luxurious sedan. Some people will argue that expensive sports cars like the Audi R8 and Mercedes SL are flagships, but they’re a sideshow, pretty faces with marginal impact on the bottom line. The real money was in big sedans. They were the truest expression of luxury brands’ prestige and capability: The A8, BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-class.
The German brands are just catching up to a reality American luxury brands have lived for years: SUVs are the new kings of the road. The Escalade and Navigator, respectively, have been Cadillac and Lincoln’s flagships for decades.
They’re also Caddy and Lincoln’s biggest vehicles, with seats for seven. The Q8 is unlike them and Bimmer and Benz’s top SUVs in that it has just five.
Behind the Wheel
2019 Audi Q8 Quattro
All-wheel-drive, five-passenger luxury SUV
Price as tested: $88,945 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: Three out of four stars
Reasons to buy: Looks; height; interior look and feel
Shortcomings: Power; rear legroom; touch screen response
Brand new, much shared with Q7
The Q8 is an addition to Audi’s lineup.
Audi builds it in Bratislava, Slovakia, alongside the bigger Q7. The Q7 has three rows of seats and room for seven. Q7 prices start $53,550. The Q8 has the same wheelbase as the Q7, but is 3.0 inches shorter.
The bigger vehicle costs less because Audi thinks its high-end buyers want style more than passenger capacity. Unspoken about the Q8 and other stylish five-passenger SUVs is that the target customer also doesn’t want to be confused with a parent on the way to band practice.
The Q8 measures 196.6 inches long, 6.7 inches less than the seven-passenger BMW X7, and 7.3 inches shorter than a Cadillac Escalade. It’s also shorter than other competitors including the Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes GLS 450, but 4.5 inches longer than the Range Rover Sport.
The Q8 can tow up to 7,700 pounds. That’s slightly more than the X7 and GLS 450, virtually the same as the Range Rover Sport, less than the Escalade and Navigator.
Like many luxury SUVs, the Q8 is not intended for off-roading. Its all-wheel-drive system is engineered more for control on slippery surfaces than rugged terrain.
The Q8’s safety and driver assist features include adaptive cruise control; collision alert with pedestrian detection and automatic front emergency braking; blind spot alert; 360-degree cameras; automatic wipers and high beams.
Specifications as tested
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged V6
Power: 335 hp @ 5,000-6,400 rpm; 369 lb-ft of torque @ 1,370-4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 117.9 inches
Width: 78.5 inches
Height: 67.2 inches: 7,700 pounds
Curb Weight: 5,004 pounds
Assembled in Bratislava, Slovakia
Q8 prices start at $67,400. All Q8s have Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive, a 335-hp 3.0L V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission.
I tested a loaded model with open-pore wood trim, aluminum buttons, Valcona leather upholstery, head turning “Dragon Orange” metallic paint; 22-inch five-spoke wheels; all-season tires; touch screen; voice recognition; wireless charging, and Apple CarPlay; Android Auto; Bang & Olufsen audio; navigation; heated, ventilated and massaging front seats; heated steering wheel; heated rear seats; adaptive air suspension; four-wheel steering and the towing package.
It stickered at $89,945. All prices exclude destination charges
The Q8’s prices are comparable to the larger other luxury SUVs with which it competes.
Competitive base prices
(Excluding destination charges)
(Automatic transmission, all-wheel drive models.)
Audi Q8: $67,400
BMW X7 xDrive4.0i: $73,900
Cadillac Escalade 4WD: $78,195
Land Rover Range Rover Sport MHEV 3.0L: $68,500
Lincoln Navigator Standard 4X4: $75,860
Mercedes GLS 450 4Matic: $70,150
Unique style, strong competition
The Q8 is recognizably an Audi, but it looks like nothing else on the road. Low and wide for an SUV, big tires and wheels at the corners make it look balanced, and LED running lamps and turn signals ensure it’s recognizable at night. The design is restrained compared to the X7’s brash grille.
The steering is quick, with a good on-center feel.
The Q8’s handling is admirable for a tall vehicle, though at 67.2 inches tall, the Q8 is 3.9 inches less tall than an X7, 7.2 less than an Escalade. There’s very little body roll on fast curves. The SUV feels nicely balanced when you push it hard into a corner. Braking is excellent.
The Q8’s 5,004-pound curb weight is a lot for a 335-hp V6 to propel, but the claimed acceleration of 5.6 seconds to 60 mph is quicker than the X7, Range Rover Sport and GLS 450. Cadillac and Lincoln don’t publish 0-60 times for their SUVs but it’d be a surprise if they’re quicker than the Q8.
The Q8’s EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway and 19 combined falls in the middle of the pack. The combined rating trails the bigger and heavier X7 by a whopping 3 mpg. The EPA estimates that would save a driver $350 a year.
The Q8’s combined fuel economy also trails the Range Rover Sport’s new mild hybrid model’s 21 mpg. The Audi beats the Escalade and Navigator’s EPA ratings of 17 and 18 mpg, respectively.
Will size matter?
Luxury isn’t usually about subtlety. That’s why yachts are big and penthouse apartments occupy the top floor. It’s also where the Q8’s modest size and admirable fuel efficiency potentially become drawbacks.
The rear seat has relatively little leg and shoulder room. Front accommodations are excellent. Headroom is good front and rear.
Flagship sedans like the 7-series and A8L promote their rear seats’ luxury, room and features as prominently as infotainment because the rear passenger is often the most important person in the car. Audi clearly thinks Q8 buyers are more focused on the driving experience.
Cargo space is good considering the Q8’s size, but its bigger competitors all offer more.
Audi’s adoption of touch screens improved the usability of its controls enormously. Still, the screen could respond to touches more quickly, and dials probably remain the best way to adjust temperature and fan.
The Q8’s V6 does its best, but all the competitors offer more powerful engines, either standard or as options. While the Q8’s claimed acceleration compares well, passing and acceleration at highway speeds felt a bit leisurely. All the competitors but the X7 have a better power-to-weight ratio.
Don’t be surprised if an SQ8 with a tweaked V6, or some other performance model, joins the lineup.
Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings
(Automatic transmission, all-wheel drive models.)
Audi Q8: 17 city/22 highway/19 combined. Premium gasoline.
BMW X7 xDrive4.0i: 20/25/22. Premium gasoline.
Cadillac Escalade 4WD: 14/21/17. Premium gasoline.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport MHEV 3.0L: 19/25/21. Premium gasoline.
Lincoln Navigator Standard 4X4: 16/21/18. Regular gasoline.
Mercedes GLS 450 4Matic: 16/22/18. Premium gasoline.
(Article written by Mark Phelan)