Dickie Fincher takes the Audi Q8 on the ultimate test drive to the Alps
Audi Q8 50 TDI quattro Tiptronic S-Line, with metallic paint and Comfort Pack
Audi’s Q8 is one of those odd cars that varies in size. Yes, technically it is 16-and-a-half feet long and has a boot which will, with all seats folded, imbibe 1,700+ litres. These are absolutes that place the hatch-backed Q7 firmly in the ‘big vehicle category’, right until you walk away from it, turn back and find yourself counting the steps. Is it small, or just far away?
The design cunningly shrinks the exterior, though clambering inside causes one’s senses to rapidly reappraise. For a start, the passenger seat is some distance away and you’re ensconced in a very tactile, intuitive cockpit of a driving position. And you’re high up because it’s tall – this is still an SUV – and the corners are some considerable distance from the driving seat.
There’s 360-degree camera coverage to find the edges that is verging on essential – it’s not standard on this S-Line version and is part of the Comfort and Sound pack. Since these cars are ridiculously comfortable and quiet I always wonder what the point of a better stereo is, especially when it’s inevitably hijacked by a teenager bouncing tracks via Bluetooth. At least the on-board creature comforts create a microclimate that insulates everyone outside from whatever is happening inside.
Fully loaded, the Q8 simply ate up six pairs of skis and typically oversized bags of test kit for three of us without needing a roofbox. This also keeps the noise down and consumption up, and we managed just over 30mpg on the way down to the Alps. Motorways and autoroutes are as effortless as you’d hope, without rumble or road roar from the wide winter tyres. We’d specced them to avoid the need for chains at the first sniff of snow – big 4wds are very prone to sliding down the camber of icy roads because their weight overcomes any cleverness in the drivetrain.
No such issues here, though moving into the mountains the Audi Q8 grows in size again. The width is significant and the doors are big, making parking in cute-but-tight stone villages a scoping exercise to find a wide enough spot. Back on a clear road the car shrinks and it’s quickly obvious the body control is excellent for such a hefty lump. Hairpins or sudden swerves to avoid apparating logging trucks were deftly dealt with. The drive system, coupled with winter tyres, gave fearsome levels of grip on hard-packed snow. Another, lighter car with 4wd I jumped in had all-season (not winter) tyres but was far less secure heading over an uncleared pass.
The niche these left-field versions of mainstream vehicles fill is pretty specific – not really family oriented, yet hugely comfortable for four people with hatchback practicality and cosseting levels of refinement. I also drove to the Alps in a Volvo XC90 this winter on a family trip and the Audi was quieter and generally better to drive, though the Swede is hardly a poor second. I’d place these SUV super-coupes as a modern version of the luxury coupe but with significantly more useability. Extra doors, taller driving positions, 4wd systems and the long range from diesel options make these just as at home on a continental trip as at the golf club.
VERDICT The Audi Q8 is an off-piste choice of vehicle – we’d suggest it’s one for the empty-nester road warrior who values the unique elements of a large SUV without needing the essential family add-ons.