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Halo effect: Can the Q8’s aura help Audi win back customers?

S.Muralidhar | Updated on January 03, 2020 Published on January 02, 2020

Viewed from the side the Q8’s shorter, coupe-like profile is striking

We drive the new flagship to find out more. To be launched later this year, it’ll be highly customisable, and offered only with a V6 petrol engine

Audi’s sport utility vehicles have been extremely popular amongst Indian buyers with the biggest of them all - the Q7, being preferred for its sheer size and road presence. The fact that it also has the versatility offered by three-rows of seats was a bonus that added to its appeal. I know a number of owners whose multi-car garage had flagship luxury saloons and coupes for the office and Saturday night parties; and a Q7 for those trips to the hinterland with the extended family in tow.

For Indian buyers, the Q7’s tall, burly presence has been a big draw. But, after years of seeking size and practicality, have we moved on to suave and sophisticated? There are some pointers in that direction. We already have SUV coupes like the Mercedes-AMG GLE 43, yet, will the new Q8 from the house of four rings find takers? There is no lingering doubt in the minds of the bosses at Audi India. They plan to bring in the SUV coupe later this year. That is good news given how Audi’s India portfolio desperately needs more depth. The first to debut in 2020 will be the new A6 (later this month), but the Q8 will follow as a fully imported unit and it will be highly customisable to the personal tastes and preferences of buyers. Audi India doesn’t expect the Q8 to rake in the numbers, but expect to lean on it for delivering the halo effect when the next generation of it’s sedans and smaller SUVs are launched.

Design

The Q8 is numerically at the top of the hierarchy; it is Audi’s new flagship, but it is not the biggest in terms of overall dimensions. It is wider, but shorter and lower than the Q7 and looks squatter too due to its four-door coupe-like styling. The Q8 also signifies the design direction for future Audi SUVs. The front design of the Q8 has references from the past like the design of the outer edges of the headlamps and the Quattro blisters, but the narrower and wider bonnet grille with its thick, band-like frame is new. Matrix LED (optional addition) arrays in the headlamp and the oversized intakes in the front fender deliver the sporty image impact needed for the new flagship. Crisp creases on the bonnet and side character lines are classic Audi design traits which continue to define the stance of the Q8 too.

 

 

 

Viewed from the side the Q8’s shorter, coupe-like profile is striking. The 21-inch rims you see in these pictures are likely to make it to the India-spec model too. They make the vehicle look strong and the play of light and shadow highlight the unusually broad haunches that seem to merge into the raised lip at the middle of the tailgate. At the rear, the tail-lamps are narrower and show-off a new LED light combination and feature a thin light band that runs right below the lip and connects the two. The 3D construction of the housing and the tailgate lends a lot of character to the rear and even has hints of influence from brands higher up the hierarchy in the Volkswagen group. Dual faux exhausts add more strength to the rear of the new Q8. The tailgate is narrower than the Q7’s, but with the Q8 being a 5-seater, there is oodles of space for luggage (605-litres, 1,755-litres with the rear seats folded down).

Cabin

The Q8 is meant to appeal to a more sophisticated audience and if the exterior kit of the car didn’t already deliver that message, the cabin will do a better job of convincing them. There is a certain clear design metric which involves a pleasing combination of metal, glossy plastic panels, open pore wood and touchscreens. Together they elevate the cabin’s quality and appeal - much needed to convince buyers of the Q8’s flagship status. In terms of the overall layout and design choices, the Q8’s cabin is very similar to the new A6, which I had driven just a few weeks ago.

 

The two touchscreens on the centre stack, with haptic feedback, are easy to use S Muralidhar   -  S Muralidhar

 

 

The two touchscreens on the centre stack (the one on top for infotainment/ navigation and the one below for aircon and other functions) with their very likeable haptic feedback are easy to use, though I did miss physical controls for some of the functions. They have been excellently integrated onto the dashboard to a point where the joints are nearly invisible. Piano black panels, brushed metal edges and wood inserts and trims give the centre console, door panels and the dashboard a very premium finish. The virtual cockpit instrument console is the other feature that really leaves a lasting impression on you with its excellent high-def quality display and intuitive information layout combined with live navigation. Leather seats are excellently bolstered and offered great comfort during the four-hour long drive. There is a centre tunnel running down the middle of the floor at the rear, thankfully it is not too tall and so may not be too much of an inconvenience for a third passenger in the middle.

Performance

The Q8 was launched first with a 3-litre turbocharged diesel engine. But what I was driving in Dubai last month was the 55 TFSI Quattro variant - which will be the one coming to our shores too. This variant sports a 3-litre V6 petrol engine featuring turbocharging and direction injection. The engine delivers a peak power of 340PS and a peak torque of 500Nm. It is paired with a quick-shifting 8-speed tiptronic auto gearbox. The top speed has been restricted to 250kmph and the car is capable of sprinting to 100kmph in 5.9 seconds.

I wasn’t attempting to launch the Q8 from standstill during the test drive in the outskirts of Dubai, but suffice it to say that the powertrain has enough strength and refinement to help set a brisk pace for the vehicle, while keeping its occupants calm and unruffled. Cabin noise levels are really low thanks to an inherently quiet engine, in addition, there is also noise cancellation. The tiptronic gearbox is focused on keeping efficiency high during part throttle input and while cruising. In fact, the Q8 comes with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system too, which features a lithium-ion battery and a belt-alternator starter. With a promise of saving fuel over the long term, the MHEV tech can cut out the engine during long cruising stretches and seamlessly restart on go.

The ride quality of the Q8 is sporty, but not harsh and it keeps its poise even on the short uneven, kutcha stretches of road I drove on outside the city limits of Dubai. It might still be a completely different experience to drive it on Indian roads, but I don’t expect it to be a complete opposite, especially with the suspension featuring damper control as standard. Adaptive air suspension is an optional addition and that should improve performance and ride quality even more. Ride height can be adjusted by upto 90mm. All-wheel steering is also an optional addition. There are seven driving profiles to choose from under Audi Drive Select, including comfort, auto, dynamic, individual, efficiency, allroad and off-road.

Bottom Line

Despite its lower ground clearance compared to the Q7, the Q8’s off-road capability can be expected to be good, thanks to Quattro tech in conjunction with adaptive air suspension. I barely stepped out of tarmac during my drive in Dubai and its surrounding locales, so I can't comment on that aspect.

The India-spec Q8 is expected to be fully loaded, including a lot of driver assistance systems. Some of the radar-based tech is also under consideration. It will also be possible for customers to choose from a range of options for the cabin and body kit, including from a range of 50 different paint shades. The ex-showroom price for the Audi Q8 is expected to start at ₹1.5 crore. I expect it to be a “composed companion for business and leisure”.

 

 

Published on January 02, 2020
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