Audi’s RS Q8 is a rarity – a Nurburgring record holder that won’t bite your head off and is perfectly content with the quotidian
Tenerife, Canary Islands
This is Audi’s first RS sport utility vehicle (SUV) that will come to Singapore, the RS Q8, which is a hotted-up version of the Q8 coupe-SUV.
RS cars are Audi’s answer to BMW M and Mercedes-AMG, as you probably know by now, and while its German competitors have given the big horsepower-high performance treatment to what seems like every shade and shape of SUV already, RS has taken a more restrained approach.
That’s a good thing, since very-high-performance SUVs haven’t always managed to impress us (especially coupe-SUVs) and RS has a good precedent, at least. The Q8 is only the second SUV from Audi Sport (the sub-brand which makes RS cars), the first being the RS Q3, which was a riotous drive, something like a TT RS on stilts, though it sadly never made it to Singapore.
We tested the Q8 last year and named it the Other Great 8 in Audi’s lineup, with lots of pace and fun behind the wheel coupled with better ride quality than even the A8 luxury limousine. With that in mind we had high expectations of the RS Q8, and Audi has already hyped things up by setting a Nurburgring record for its segment.
Based on figures from the official Nürburgring website (as opposed to manufacturers’ optimistic claims), the 2.3-tonne RS Q8 lapped the Nordschleife in 7:42.253.
Anything below eight minutes is impressively fast, and to put it into further context, the Renault Megane R.S. Trophy-R was clocked at 7:45.39, and it’s the quickest front-wheel drive production car to date.
The most recent, and next fastest, SUV time of 7:54.4 was clocked by the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S. Unfortunately, there was very little buzz around the AMG’s feat in comparison to the RS Q8’s, so it seems like Audi Sport’s uber-SUV has the upper hand in the records game.
After all, the RS Q8’s MLB Evo platform and biturbo 4.0-litre powertrain are shared with fellow VW Group powerhouses such as the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne Coupe (as well Audi’s own uber-wagon, the RS 6 Avant), although we should add the big Audi features a 48V mild-hybrid system for even better emissions/efficiency.
Not that long ago, the SUV and its ilk were blamed for the world’s eco-ills, so there’s some irony it’s still the fastest growing segment (in absolute and aspirational terms), with nary an ill word, nay-say or dirty look levelled their way these days.
Audi’s new ‘Q’ face made its debut on the Q8 – and can be seen on the new Q3 – with a distinctive, oversized singleframe grille to differentiate its Q cars from conventional sedan models. We like this interpretation of the crossover-coupe, because it features a progressively sloping roofline, frameless windows and doesn’t walk down the ‘hunchback’ route that some brands have taken.
The RS Q8 gets a roof spoiler, rear diffuser, discreet fender extensions, a wider stance, and for our test-car, the optional sports exhaust system with accompanying blackened twin-oval tailpipes. Everything is tastefully executed in classic ‘Q-car’ tradition – think subtle musculature, as opposed to swollen and overly bulked-up bodykits for those that need the attention.
Of course, the engine performance is just the tip of this titanic’s iceberg, with the biturbo V8 tuned for 600hp, a gob-stopping 800Nm and the 100km/h blitz from standstill demolished in 3.8-seconds. Assuming you don’t run out of derestricted Autobahn tarmac, our test-car will even stretch to 305km/h because Audi specc’d the cars at the launch drive with the optional RS Dynamic Package Plus.
What does this add? A derestricted, Lamborghini Urus-rivalling 305km/h top speed, ceramic brakes (that save 34kg in unsprung weight compared to the standard steel brakes), massive 23-inch alloy rims and a sports differential, in addition to the RS design elements, carbonfibre and Alcantara on strategic touch points throughout the cabin. We don’t know how much it’ll cost, or even if it’s standard or a paid-for option at this point, but it won’t be cheap.
The best bit about the RS Q8’s performance is it’s never overpowering – well it’ll overpower weaker rivals easily, but we mean to say its credentials never overpower the utility aspect of the RS Q8. The damping is nicely nuanced, so the ride more comfortable than crashy, even on 23-inch footwear; the ceramic brakes can even be modulated in city traffic, even though they’re more than up to the task of hard-on braking during spirited driving as well.
The RS Q8 may ruffle features, but it is unruffled as it unconcernedly blasts through winding passes; it certainly won’t unsettle your occupants as it flows through the mountain roads like a violent force of nature. The V8 is vocal and very charismatic in the upper registers, with a rubber-band-elasticity to its character that’ll see you slingshot from corner to corner with a flex of the right foot.
A feature that helps in both fast-road and city-traffic use is the active rear-steer system, also present on the normal Q8, which ‘virtually’ shortens the RS Q8’s 2,998mm wheelbase. Considering its 5.0-metre length and 2.2m width, it’s no compact hatch by any stretch of the imagination, but the rear-steer works well to endow the leviathan with an agility and lightness of being to carve into gaps in peak hour traffic.
The car’s nimbleness isn’t just for the benefit of three-point parking manoeuvrability either, because when the going goes fast, the rear-biased quattro drivetrain works even better with the rear-steer system to create the sort of engaging dynamics driving enthusiasts will appreciate. We found ourselves working ourselves (and the car) harder during our time in the Cayenne Turbo Coupe, but this stays true to Porsche’s philosophy of rewarding the committed driver after an intense driving workout.
The unanswered question is of course – how much? The RS Q8 is a step below the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, which both have more than 640hp and do 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds, those cars are only incrementally quicker. And we can’t see the RS Q8 costing as much as the Lamborghini’s S$800k w/o COE. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe, which goes for S$621,888 w/o COE, is a closer price point, but in Audi tradition it’s very likely to be a little less expensive than that.
The RS Q8 puts on pace with such haste it’s easy to forget one is at the helm of something this big and heavy, and that’s also been a hallmark of the best RS cars such as the RS 6 Avant: A whole lot of power and capability, but in a package that isn’t bite-your-face-off accessible and very much usable in the day-to-day.
Audi RS Q8
|Engine||3,998cc, V8, twin-turbo|
|Power||600hp at 6000rpm|
|Torque||800Nm at 2200-4500rpm|
|0-100km/h||305km/h (with RS Dynamic Package Plus)|
|Top Speed||3.8 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||TBA / 275g/km|