Audi, Like Benz Before It, Chases an Odd BMW.
With the debut of the Q8 concept, Audi becomes the second lemming to chase BMW’s ungainly X6 coupe/SUV over the edge of vehicular reason. Mercedes recently took the same plunge with the GLE and GLC coupes, and we’ve scratched bald spots into our heads mulling the logic of bulky SUVs with a lot of the useful space hacked out of them.
Yet more keep appearing. Maybe it’s because they’re not hard to make. To generate the Q8, Audi will simply scalp the mainstream Q7 down to its running gear. The stylists handle the rest.
Exterior designer Andreas Mindt describes the Q8 concept as four door handles and a rear window wiper away from the actual production Q8 headed to showrooms next year. Next to its steroidal, hunchbacked peers from BMW and Mercedes, the upright Audi looks a bit more dignified, deriving presence from its size more than anything. Mindt insists that was intentional, adding, “We have to go our own way.” We like to think of the Q8’s restrained yet amply embroidered design language as “baroque minimalist,” a pseudo-architectural term we just totally made up.
The Q8’s simple two-box shape and fairly conventional roofline demonstrate the clean part of the aesthetic, as does its lack of haunches stretching wide over the rear tires to denote earth-moving rear-drive muscle, as on the X6. Close up, though, the Q8 has uncharacteristically heavy-handed details. Even without exactly upending decades of Audi’s design restraint, the multiple hood strakes, body creases, and new eight-sided grille with yawning vertical spears present as jarring disruptions. Taken in full, the Q8 awkwardly straddles Audi’s minimalist roots and the in-your-face impact the coupe/SUV segment demands. Musing over the ur-Quattro that inspired the Q8, Mindt declared that the rally coupe “isn’t a beauty, but it is strong.” We’d agree that that just about sums it up.
CHASSIS AND POWERTRAIN
Peek under the Q8’s aluminum skin, and you’ll get a glory shot of the Q7’s mostly steel undercarriage and structure. The VW Group’s modular MLB Evo platform situates all of the longitudinally oriented engine ahead of the front axle, forcing the body’s front-drive proportions. Still outrunning the public relations’ fumes from its diesel snafu, Audi put its e-tron plug-in–hybrid powertrain into the Q8 concept. A gas-fueled, turbocharged 333-hp V-6 drives all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic with an integrated 134-hp electric motor/generator.
Total output is 443 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, and a lithium-ion battery under the trunk floor delivers up to 37 miles of electric-only driving. Expect a similar e-tron setup along with a range of gasoline V-6 and V-8 engines for the production Q8. A sporty RS Q8 iteration might appear, bearing a 500-plus-hp twin-turbo V-8.
Audi is losing its knob—its ubiquitous MMI center-console knob, that is. As on the outside, most everything inside the Q8 concept will carry over to the production version. A stack of touchscreens will succeed the MMI controller, with the upper unit handling music, navigation, and communication functions and the lower display dedicated to climate controls. The reconfigurable digital gauge cluster proliferating throughout Audi’s lineup brings the display count to three.
Finicky capacitive-touch controls have negatively colored our reviews of similarly digitized Cadillac interiors, so here’s hoping the touch-only interfaces work as well as they look. Ditto the large central vent, which lacks any obvious physical controls. Mindt’s eyes twinkled when we asked whether Audi plans to build on the air-vent innovations in the TT sports car, but he declined to elaborate. Expect something special. The rest of the cabin is pure Audi, with an architectural feel and premium materials. Both four- and five-seat configurations will be offered from the outset, proving that Audi learned something from BMW’s X6 teething. Or maybe not.