We head to the volcanic island of Tenerife to test the equally explosive RS Q8 - Audi’s newest, fastest and wildest SUV.
The sporty and style-focused Q8 was bound to have sportier versions, and it did – the S Q8 and the faster still RS Q8. But the latter, which we have here, isn’t just Audi’s quickest SUV, it’s also the world’s fastest SUV!
Clocking a time of 7min 42.253sec around the Nürburgring, the de facto performance yardstick, the RS Q8 bettered the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S record by around 8sec. Audi says it didn’t set out to build a record holder, but once they realised just how fast it was, they decided to give it a shot. And so, even before its official unveil, Audi test driver Frank Stippler went and broke the record on a damp day; had the conditions been perfect, Stippler reckons another 5sec were there to be had. In any case, RS Q8 bagged the record and thus the bragging rights to being the world’s fastest SUV. And the good news is, it’s headed to India.
Audi couldn’t have selected a better venue for the drive. We were on the volcanic island of Tenerife, which boasts of Spain’s highest point – Mount Teide – at an elevation of 3,718m. The plan was to drive from the beachfront all the way up to the base of the volcanic cone: from sun and sand to snow and through a mix of fast open highways and well laid-out twisty mountain roads. It was the perfect environment to highlight the car’s track-record-breaking strengths of power and poise.
For power, Audi uses the 4.0-litre TFSI V8 that’s also the motive force for the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Lamborghini Urus. Under the hood of the Audi, it puts out 600hp and a massive 800Nm of torque; plenty of bang, more than the Porsche’s 550hp and 770Nm. It, however, is lower than the Urus’ output of 650hp and 850Nm.
Fire the RS Q8 up and it growls to life. Decibel-wise, the rumble is rather low though, and at slow speeds, with the drive mode set to ‘Comfort’, you’d be hard-pressed to tell this version has some serious firepower under its hood. Move into a sportier mode and the mighty V8 will make its arrival known clearly; there’s also an optional RS sport exhaust system that pipes things a notch higher. Signaling the breadth of its talents, the RS Q8 has quite a few drive modes – there’s Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Efficiency, All-road, and even an off-road mode in which ride height can be increased by 90mm. There are two more individually configurable ‘RS’ modes, called RS1 and RS2. RS 1 lets you set up the engine, gearbox, suspension, while RS 2 influences the Electronic Stability Program. The two modes let you store your favourite setup for a quick call to duty via the steering wheel-mounted ‘RS’ hot key. It’s basically the programmable asterisk button from other Audis, but calling it the ‘RS mode’ is more fun.
Before we can relish the mountains, there’s the city to tackle, and with the car in ‘Comfort’, it’s surprising how easily you can potter around town. The RS Q8 is large, of course, but it gets four-wheel-steering, which gives it some good manoeuvrability in traffic and tight parking spots. Given the SUV’s size, I expected to make frequent two-point turns, but I actually didn’t have to.
The 8-speed torque converter is smooth and quick, but, at times, when you need to overtake in traffic, it takes a while to downshift. Moreover, in Comfort mode, upshifts are quite early as it runs at a very economic setting; heck, there’s even a mild-hybrid system with cylinder deactivation. What’s more, Audi says between speeds of 55-160kph, if the driver lifts off the throttle, the engine can deactivate for up to 40sec, if certain powertrain conditions are met. I tried this out but it didn’t shut down. I didn’t try for long though; with this being an RS-spec Q8, I wasn’t interested in driving economically.
Out on the highway, the RS Q8 in ‘Dynamic’ is massively effortless in the way it gathers speed. The wave of torque flowing from the V8 is immense and is accompanied by a nice baritone growl from the exhausts.
Comfy and practical, rear-seat passengers will have little to complain about.
Once we’re in the mountains, my breath is literally taken away – the RS Q8 has power, yes, but the real showstopper here is the handling. Road grip is excellent, and there is negligible body roll – in fact, considering the car’s size, I’d say it’s as good as nothing. The steering too is well weighted and quick. I’m soon attacking corner after corner, and the RS Q8 wants to go faster still.
The handling is simply sublime, you’ll want to push on and on. This isn’t something I enjoy doing in an SUV, even some of the sporty ones, as hustling around all that mass eventually gets to you. But here it’s just so phenomenally car-like; of course, there’s good reason for this. Bestowing the RS Q8 with its track-record-busting handling is some serious hardware. For starters, the front and rear track are wider, there’s four-wheel steering, and it uses the same air suspension setup as the S Q8 but with the spring and damper rates firmed up for RS duty. In addition to the Quattro system, there is an option of what Audi calls the ‘Quattro Sport Differential’ for active torque vectoring at the rear axle.
More magic comes from the 48V active anti-roll bar system that decouples two halves of the roll bar for better ride comfort, but then in corners, an electric motor twists them in the opposite direction to counter body roll. What’s interesting is that the motor also acts as a generator, charging the system when the wheels are deflected, like by bumps on the road; suffice to say, we’ll always have a fully charged system in Mumbai.
RS button: a performance shortcut key.
Rounding off the handling bits are the massive 22-inch 295/40 tyres offered as standard – the largest factory-installed units on an Audi. There’s also an option of 23-inchers. Audi says the large rims were also a necessity due to the large disc brakes used. The brakes work consistently, but arresting two tonnes of speeding metal will tax any system, and on some fast downhill driving, the optional carbon-ceramic brakes heated up and began squealing. Backing off for a while brings things back to normal though.
Like the city streets, thehighway and mountain roads are so fantastically well surfaced (even better than those in the Spanish mainland) that they make it hard to judge overall ride quality. There is an indication of a slightly firm ride – understandable, given the firmer spring and damper rates – but we’ll have to see how it fares on our roads.
Against the Grain
The Q8 is meant to join the SUV-coupé bandwagon but its roofline doesn’t dip as sharply as its competitors. So, if you love the mash-up of a sharply sloping coupé roof and a high-sided SUV body, then the RS Q8’s competitors would be more to your taste. To me, however, the mildly sloping roofline makes it look sporty and purposeful.
Adding to the sporty look are the enlarged front air intakes, the glossy black honeycomb grille, and RS-specific roof spoiler, rear skirt and oval tailpipes. Audi has also used a lot of black instead of chrome, as seen on the regular Q8, and, of course, there’s RS badging, both on the outside and inside.
One of the many RS-specific displays.
As with the exterior, the interiors are shared too. So, you get the touchscreen and touch-surface-intensive dashboard but with RS goodies, such as a lot of Alcantara and carbon-fibre finish, special RS displays in the Virtual Cockpit, and multimedia display for power, torque, lap times and G-forces. The optional head-up display gets RS-specific screens as well. The entire dash area looks very state of the art, and it’s only the area ahead of the front passenger that looks too slab-sided.
Our car had the RS sport seats, which were comfy enough and didn’t leave us with any complaints. Just to better the experience, Audi has even thrown in a massage function, as well as heating and cooling. As for other equipment, the RS Q8 comes loaded with all the goodies you’d expect from a high-end Audi – the Virtual Cockpit display, a killer 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, and loads of driver assists like collision avoidance assist and intersection assist.
Badge of Honour
While the Audi RS Q8 will remain a niche model, it could be among the better-faring options. Its low roof lends it a sporty enough look, and by avoiding the sharp coupé-like dip at the rear, there’s more headroom, and thus it could appeal to a wider audience. Furthermore, in ascending to the altar of speed, Audi hasn’t made any sacrifices – the RS Q8 is comfy, practical and well loaded. You could drive it to your golf club, take your family out on a quick dash across the country, or even take it to the racetrack for a bit of fun.
The RS Q8 isn’t going to be cheap though, as it will be a full import and is likely to cost close to
Rs 2 crore. As a competitor to the BMW X6 M and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 Coupe, it would sit well against them and the Cayenne Turbo Coupe as well. Interestingly, though, look at it against the Lamborghini Urus and it would be a relative bargain. No doubt the Urus is an extremely capable SUV, with a fancier nameplate to boot, but then again, the Audi has the title of the world’s fastest SUV.
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