It is extremely bold, with a gaping front grille, a wide body, sculpted fenders, a crisp coupelike profile, and a slim horizontal taillight strip: We are standing in front of a prototype of the 2019 Audi Q8, which is poised to lead the growing SUV portfolio of the Volkswagen Group’s premium luxury brand.
We’re invited not just to take a seat but to come along for a ride. We’ll gather impressions as the Q8’s technical project director, Werner Kummer, takes us on an extended loop along winding roads through the picturesque Altmühl valley north of Ingolstadt and then back on the speed-unlimited A9 autobahn.
The Q8 project kicked off in 2014. The success of the BMW X6 could no longer be ignored, and it was an open secret that Mercedes-Benz was working on a corresponding variant of its M-class, set to enter the market as the GLE-class coupe. Audi, however, decided to tackle the segment from a higher vantage point: The SUV coupe from Ingolstadt would be based on the newest version of the MLB platform, shared with the Q7 SUV, and retain its wheelbase despite offering just two rows of seats instead of the Q7’s three.
The Q7 is considerably larger than the GLE and the X5, which serve as the basis for the GLE coupe and the X6. No wonder the Q8 literally puts them into the shade. Even though the prototype we rode in was still covered with psychedelic camouflage, we think that it is not only impressive in stature but also quite appealing-much more so than the squarish Q7, a holdover of the previous design era at Audi.
Upon entering the Q8, you notice the first coupelike feature: frameless door glass. The cockpit is spacious, and while still covered up, it is apparent that the dashboard of the Q8 is no longer based on that of the Q7-it appropriates the ultra-modern design language seen in the new A8. That means an operating concept with the new dual-screen MMI infotainment system, aluminum decor, and generously applied glass surfaces. All Q8s in Europe and the United States will be fitted with a broad TFT screen in front of the driver (Audi’s Virtual Cockpit). Only the steering wheel, apparently taken from the Q7, does not quite match the new design language.
The rear compartment is huge. Even with the front seats pushed far back, there is plenty of room for adults. The rear seats recline and are adjustable fore and aft, and behind them is a large cargo area. Initially, there will only be a folding rear bench-seat configuration, but we think the Q8 is destined for a luxurious upgrade with a pair of second-row captain’s chairs.
Under the hood of our prototype was a 3.0-liter V-6 turbo-diesel engine supplemented by a 48-volt hybrid system. Audi won’t disclose exact figures, but this engine’s performance leaves nothing to be desired. It’s not for the U.S. market, however; instead we will get a turbocharged V-6 gasoline engine as the base powerplant. V-8–powered SQ8 and RS Q8 models are a distinct possibility, as is a plug-in hybrid. But when pressed to confirm any of those variants, Dr. Kummer just smiles.
Judging from the passenger seat of this Q8 prototype, the suspension can handle more power. It negotiates uneven and bumpy surfaces skillfully and hustles through the twisting country roads with virtually no body roll. When it comes to market, the Q8 will feature a steel-sprung chassis, and an adaptive air-spring suspension will be on offer. Electrically assisted steering with a variable ratio will be standard, and four-wheel steering will be optional.
As to typical issues with prototype vehicles-shakes, shimmies, rattles, et cetera-we were at a loss to detect any. There were no unruly noises, and the hushed acoustics are impressive even at high speeds. Good thing, since there wouldn’t be much time to fix any issues. In another month or so we’ll be driving the production Q8, which is destined to reach U.S. dealerships around the end of 2018.
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