Test Drive:2019 Audi Q8

Ron Sessions | Jul 30, 2019
2019 Audi Q8 photo
Photo: Ron Sessions

Introduction

Audi overhauls the top end of its sedan lineup for 2019 while also adding a pair of range-topping sport-utilities: the brand’s all-electric e-tron and the first-ever Q8. Sitting atop the 7-passenger Q7, the new Q8 is Audi’s most expensive gasoline-powered SUV offering.

The new Q8, however, is not Audi’s largest sport-utility. That distinction continues to belong to the three-row Q7. Although it shares the same 117.9-inch wheelbase as the six- or seven-passenger Q7, the Q8 eliminates the tiny third-row seat and gives second-row occupants flagship-worthy legroom and headroom. In this sense, the five-passenger Q8 offers generous interior accommodations for SUV occupants much the same as the A8 and S8 do for sedan riders, albeit ones riding higher in the saddle.

The new Q8 is 3 inches shorter overall than the Q7 yet still offers generous cargo space: over 30 square feet of it with the rear seat up and more than 60 with the 40/20/40 split back seat folded down.

As with other Audi SUVs, the Q8 is available in three well-equipped trims. Including the somewhat modest $995 destination charge, these include the $68,395 Premium, $72,395 Premium Plus and $77,545 Prestige.

All versions of Audi’s new luxury performance SUV come standard with a new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 teamed with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.  With the 2019 Q8, Audi overhauls the control interfaces for infotainment and climate control and adds new features to its suite of safety and driver-assistance systems.  

2019 Audi Q8 side view photo
Photo: Ron Sessions

Styling and Design

For the Q8, Audi tapped into some design themes of its storied past. Except for the Q8’s tall stance, the overall proportions and sloping roofline recall the sporty cues of the highly regarded Avant wagons of the 1990s. At the rear, the semi-fastback roof pillars, full-width horizontal tail lamp band and roof spoiler honor the Quattro Ur rally cars and Audi GT coupe of the 1980s. It’s an angular look with clean, sharply chiseled lines. Large rear doors with frameless glass provide generous access to the aft section of the cabin.

Up front, the Q8 ushers in Audi’s big and bold eight-sided grille, flanked by slit-like LED headlamps and running lamps as well as large fascia air intakes. Prominent wheel arches house beefy 20, 21 or 22-inch alloy wheels wrapped with all-season tires. Available HD-Matrix lighting plays an animated light show in the head- and tail lamps when the Q8 is locked and unlocked, great for impressing the neighbors.

Inside, the Q8 offers a new wraparound cockpit with all controls and a new MMI touch-response infotainment system angled toward the driver. The horizontally themed dash features a black panel spanning door to door and a pair of touchscreens for most cabin controls. Audi’s driver configurable virtual cockpit is standard on all trims and enables customization of the layout of instruments. It also adds the ability to import the Google Earth 3D navigation map from the center screen and display it directly in front of the driver.    

2019 Audi Q8 dashboard + front row seats photo
Photo: Ron Sessions

Features and Controls

Whereas some automakers such as Ford, Lincoln and Cadillac have backpedaled recently on virtual controls, adding in a few analog buttons and knobs for some cockpit controls previously relegated to touchscreens, Audi moves boldly forward in the 2019 Q8 with a new MMI touch response system that features two high-res screens. The upper touchscreen screen measures 10.1 inches diagonally and is used to access navigation and infotainment functions while the lower 8.6-inch screen is dedicated to climate control and convenience features. There is just a single bank of hard buttons and an audio volume control knob at the bottom of the center stack. What makes the touchscreens so much more effective in the new Q8 is the implementation of both haptic and acoustic feedback. So when you touch an icon on one of the screens, there’s both an audible click and a haptic buzz to signal the system’s response.

The other enabler for the new MMI touch system is greatly improved voice control of many functions using natural language. You can speak requests such as “I’m cold” and the automatic climate control system (standard 3-zone or optional 4-zone) will warm the cabin or “I need food” and the Q8 can find nearby eating establishments.

The bottom screen also features a natural handwriting feature that allows you to write single word commands with your finger. Scribble “mall” and the nav system can plot a path to the nearest shopping extravaganza.

Other Audi Q8 feature highlights include:

  • Standard leather seat coverings with available leather-covered dashboard, console and door armrests
  • Standard panoramic sunroof.
  • Standard heated power front seats with power lumbar and available contour seats with ventilation and massage function.
  • Standard Q-design leather-wrapped steering wheel with power tilt and telescope.
  • Standard shift paddles.
  • Available heated steering wheel and rear seats.
  • Choice of light or dark natural wood inlays.
  • Available multi-color interior ambient lighting.
  • Choice of standard 10-speaker or optional 17- or 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen AM/FM audio systems.
  • Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interface.
  • Standard SiriusXM and HD Radio.
  • Standard MMI Navigation plus
  • Available Audi phone box cellphone signal booster and wireless Qi-enabled phone charger.
  • Optional CD/DVD player.
2019 Audi Q8 under the hood photo
Photo: Ron Sessions

Safety and Technology

As products of a country that does not limit speeds on some of its motorways, German vehicles typically offer strong safety technology. The new Q8 is no different.

In government testing by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the 2019 Audi Q8 receives the top five-star overall rating, with five stars for performance in front and side impacts and four stars for rollover resistance. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety lists the new Q8 as a 2019 Top Safety Pick, giving it Good ratings for small- and moderate-offset front collisions, side impacts, head restraint and seat design, roof strength and LATCH child seat ease of use. IIHS, however, rates the headlamps on the base Premium and midgrade Premium Plus as Poor due to excessive glare.

There are up to 24 different sensors aboard the Q8 that help feed information on the vehicle and its surroundings to various driver-assistance systems. Most of these are either optional or included as standard in the top trim levels only. The base Q8 features a standard backup camera, front and rear acoustic parking assist and Audi pre-sense city with low-speed (below 52 mph) auto emergency braking if a potential collision with a vehicle, pedestrian or bicyclist is detected.

Standard in Premium Plus and Prestige trims is Audi side assist, which bundles blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring with a vehicle exit warning if the Q8’s doors are opened in the face of oncoming traffic. One of the best features of the system’s blind-spot monitoring are large LED warning lamps on the inboard side of the side mirrors that are easy to spot—and heed—in your peripheral vision.

Basic cruise control is standard in the Q8 but the available “hands on wheel” Adaptive Cruise Assist adds corrective lane centering to speed and following distance monitoring. Audi pre-sense rear is an available system that tracks traffic behind the SUV and can cinch down the seatbelts and close the windows and sunroof if it detects a rear-end collision is imminent.

Working at low speeds only are Audi’s available Turn assist which can keep the Q8 from turning left into the path of an oncoming vehicle and Intersection assist which can warn the driver and apply the brakes when entering an intersection where a potential hazard or cross traffic exists.

The available traffic sign recognition system can read speed-limit, no right turn on red, and onramp/offramp freeway recommended speed signs and display them in the instrument panel as well as the optional full-color head-up display.

2019 Audi Q8 headup photo
Photo: Ron Sessions

Driving Impressions

Although it tips the scales at just over 5,000 pounds, the Q8 moves with the personality of a smaller SUV. It’s equipped with the latest version of Audi’s 3.0-liter V-6, now with a twin-scroll turbocharger and updated valve-lift technology for improved tip-in and midrange response. It pumps 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, the latter over a broad range that starts at just 1370 rpm. Audi claims 0-60 mph performance in 5.7 seconds, which is quick enough to get out in front of most of the SUV herd.

The V-6 comes standard with a 48-volt mild hybrid electric assist. In the Q8, the system is used primarily to smooth restarts for the standard stop-start system that shuts off the engine at stoplights to save fuel. Some other automakers use similar systems to also fill in dips in the engine’s torque output.

While the Q8’s EPA 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined is nothing to write home about, it is notable that the Q8’s 420+ mile cruising range with its 22.5 gallon tank is roughly double that of Audi’s other premium SUV, the all-electric e-tron.

Structurally, the Q8 feels bank-vault solid and is nearly as quiet inside as one. Standard adaptive shocks read the road, firming up when needed for swells and sweepers and backing off to take the edge off harsh impacts and poor road surfaces.

The Q8 test vehicle was equipped with the optional air suspension, part of the $2,750 Adaptive Chassis package that also includes all-wheel steering. The latter adds a small degree of rear steering which improves around-town maneuverability and aids stability at highway speeds. The air suspension brings the ability to adjust ride height for additional off-road clearance (something most modern-day SUVs no longer offer) or to lower the vehicle (when parked) to aid loading cargo or passengers.    

2019 Audi Q8 front view photo
Photo: Ron Sessions

Conclusion

In an ever more crowded SUV landscape, the 2019 Q8 adds a dose of personality that harks back to the brand’s storied Quattro coupe rally cars of the 1980s. While few if any of today’s Q8 buyers likely had a connection with the brand 30-40 years ago, the Q8 certainly makes the case that bigger (in terms of 7 seats) isn’t always better for everyone. With sharp design, beautiful interiors and tremendous refinement, the 5-passenger 2019 Audi Q8 may very well be the brand’s new flagship, albeit one wearing elevator heels.

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