UPDATE 8/24/21: This review has been updated with test results.
Optimizing a vehicle for the racetrack is typically at odds with everything you’d want in a daily driver. Ride quality, noise suppression, sometimes even the windows themselves go out the window in the name of going quicker.
But that’s not the case with the 591-hp Audi RS Q8. Although Audi’s super SUV is stuffed with all the performance potential you’d expect for something that once nabbed the Nürburgring lap record for production SUVs—the newer Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT has since one-upped it—the ride quality on RS Q8’s optional 23-inch wheels and summer tires is extremely comfortable. Another typical drawback of performance cars is the rolling noise generated by rubber this wide and grippy, but this Audi sails along at 70 mph with just a 67-decibel whisper of background noise, one more than a Lexus LS sedan.
Audi’s new mega SUV is the first non-car for the RS brand, and the product amounts to much more than sticking RS badges on a Q8. Built on the same MLB platform as the Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne, and Bentley Bentayga, it out-sleeks them all. No fighter-jet cues, no ridiculous chrome grilles, no 911 affectations. Compared to the Q8, there are subtle exterior changes to the grille and rear bumper, a longer spoiler coming off the roof, and those available 23-inch wheels.
A Proper Big Gun
Thanks to the family’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 and eight-speed automatic combo, the 591-hp RS Q8 ran a 60-mph time of 3.2 seconds, dispatched the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 119 mph, and it should be good for up to 190 mph. That output is 50 horses up on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and 50 short of the Urus. Yet, despite its power disadvantage and a nearly 200-pound weight deficit versus the Lambo, the Audi is just 0.1 second slower to 60 mph and 0.3 second behind through the quarter-mile. Punch the accelerator and the RS Q8’s turbochargers wake in an instant, the thrust hits, and the standard air suspension squats hard on its hind quarters, the nose lifts, and hang on, kids, we’re going places. But even with the optional sport exhaust, the RS Q8, as with its RS6 Avant and RS7 Sportback powertrain mates, doesn’t scream as loud as we think something with this much performance should. All-wheel drive assures the repeatability of this exercise and that the Q8’s horses turn to speed. It’s silly fun, a little ridiculous too. Size, mass, power, and the danger inherent in that cocktail are always crowd pleasers. If you go to the circus without the hope that the elephants will trample their handlers, we don’t want to go to the circus with you.
To keep this big cutie from trampling anything, Audi throws in all of its most advanced chassis gear. Ride-height adjustable air suspension and rear-axle steering are standard. Options include obscenely large carbon-ceramic rotors shared with the Urus, a torque-vectoring rear differential, and electronically controlled 48-volt anti-roll bars that flatten the curves and make you believe in SUVs that handle. Even with all the performance gear, the ride quality is so good that no one could possibly infer its capabilities. This is true even at this Audi’s crazy high 48-psi front and 49-psi rear tire pressures that support carrying up to 1100 pounds of people and stuff and towing up to 7700 pounds.
There’s a nonthreatening attitude to the RS Q8 that makes speed easy. No untoward moves. A quick-ratio steering rack is nicely matched to the suspension’s ability to react, and it lulls you into the belief that an SUV can be a sports car. At higher speeds, the four-wheel steering stabilizes the handling so that 190 mph doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. Those wide 295/35R-23 tires keep hanging in there and test just how comfortable you are with approaching the 0.98-g grip limit at SUV height. It initially feels more brutish than ballerina, but we were pleasantly surprised at the playfully neutral balance at the limit enabled by the torque-vectoring rear diff. But here, too, the RS Q8’s remarkable performance cred comes with an unusual bonus of practicality. The square front-to-rear tire fitment means that you can do that most unlikely of performance-car things: rotate the tires.
Bits and Baubles
The interior doesn’t stray too far from the Q8’s. RS seats with an integrated headrest and puffier lateral bolsters are there to hold you in. The seat cushions are stitched in the characteristic RS lattice pattern that’s also on the grille. A digital gauge cluster is standard and has an RS mode that gives you a digital tachometer with a shape that reminded us of the strip tachometer on the 1984 Corvette. A head-up display shows the same information. Rear-seat space is generous for adults, and the rear cargo area swallows eight carry-on-size boxes, two more than a Chevrolet Tahoe.
Even though the RS Q8 will only come with an automatic transmission, the clear tachometer is a nice touch since we found that the transmission isn’t as aggressive with downshifts as it is in the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Under braking for a corner, it often selects too high a gear despite the car being in Dynamic mode and the automatic in Sport mode. We reached for the paddles for better control, and the hockey-stick-shaped tachometer became relevant for upshifts since the power from the V-8 charges right into the redline and the engine never sounds like it’s under any sort of duress.
All this excellence starts at $113,995; our test car had nearly every last performance and luxury option, which brought the price to $138,340. But the fact that the RS Q8 undercuts the Urus, Bentayga, and Cayenne Turbo by margins that range from five to six figures is yet another way it’s far easier to live with than its performance suggests.
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