Exclusive: 2020 Audi RS Q8 road test review
There's a line of cars up ahead, puzzling on this stretch, with an entire lane free to the side. As I nudge the nose of the RS Q8 around to take a peek, I see why - a dip in the road has collected enough rain water to make some crossovers think twice. Which is when I remember the off-road mode raises this SUV by 50mm, plenty for this situation. On the other side of the mini-lake, a quick glance in the rear-view mirror reveals a few more emboldened souls venturing forward, before I give in to temptation and leave the typically-Mumbai scene far behind in a cloud of furiously misted rain and a lingering V8 snarl.
Oh boy, the Audi RS Q8 has already won me over! Not that we weren't expecting to be impressed with Audi's flagship SUV, having previously driven the regular Q8 with the same results, but wishing it had more ferocity to the way it delivered its performance. And the RS Q8's rev-happy 4-litre twin-turbo V8, making 600PS and 800Nm, is just the ferocity the chassis was begging for. Coming hot on the heels of the launch of the RS7 Sportback in the country, the RS Q8 should satisfy the needs of even the most exacting performance enthusiast - it has set the fastest SUV lap time at the Nurburgring after all. All that, while still being able to be used to its full potential no matter the conditions, as we found out in our road test review.
Does it look the part?
Perhaps the most telling sign that you're looking at the new range-topper, the RS Q8, over the regular car are the standard 23-inch wheels. Standard 23-inch wheels, wrapped in 295/35 section Continental rubber! That's a lot to take in, especially when you consider that the Lamborghini Urus, the more flamboyant cousin to the RS Q8, rides on 21-inch wheels as standard. For an SUV measuring in at over 5m long and 2m wide, the relatively low roof height does help mask its real estate, but on a narrow road you really get a sense for how large the RS Q8 really is.
Over the regular Q8, the RS model gets a 10mm increase in width up front, and a 5mm bump at the rear courtesy RS-specific body cladding, which isn't nearly as recognisable as the wheels. With fully-blacked out ticked on the options list, including the Audi badges, the RS Q8 looks menacing, even in the relatively inconspicuous Navarro Blue shade. If you're not one for the sleeper look, you may remember the bright Java Green the RS Q8 debuted in, which definitely can't be ignored. Around the rear, the optional sports exhaust adds in oval pipe exits, a signature RS touch, in gloss black with the faux diffuser in the same finish. My favourite angle of the RS Q8 has to be the rear-three quarters, where the single continuous lighting strip helps show how wide the SUV is.
What about the interiors?
Like the Q8, the RS Q8 lowers itself by 65mm relative to its normal ride height to aid entry and the interiors get a smattering of RS-specific touches, from the steering, virtual cockpit digital instrumentation, optional heads-up display, infotainment to the upholstery. The two-tier infotainment and climate control screens on the centre stack continue and while the whole system looks exceedingly cool and minimalistic, it does take getting used to while on the move. Thankfully, switching drive modes in a hurry is easier taken care of with the RS button on the steering wheel, which puts you directly into the sportiest of the eight drive modes (!) on offer.
The optional RS sports seats lower you enough that your shoulder is just above the window line, making you feel like part of the car, and are super supportive, further bolstering you when you're driving quickly. At the rear, the bench is adjustable for kneeroom and recline, and is genuinely comfortable. No knees-up positions here, and the bench is wide enough for three to sit abreast in more than decent comfort - a rare sight for a performance car. Even the boot is a genuinely usable 605-litres, with a 21-inch spacesaver under it.
How it drives
Explosively! The RS Q8 has exactly the excitement that the regular Q8 was lacking. While we've experienced the 4-litre twin-turbo V8 in various iterations before, in the 2,315kg RS Q8, it feels even more magical that you're able to move all that weight so rapidly. With 600PS and 800nm torque, the RS Q8 claims a 3.8s run to 100kmph from zero. And in our testing in the wet, we managed an astonishing 4s flat run! It does require the drivetrain, including the optional sports differential in the rear to be warmed up sufficiently, and the RS screen in the infotainment display tells you exactly when that happens. It also keeps track of engine and brake temperatures so you know exactly how hard you've been pushing it, and know when to back off.
The engine is mated to an eight-speed torque convertor, which may not sound ideal for this application, but with a launch mode incorporated, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. In the RS drive mode, shifts can be suitably hard edged, making you really feel every last ounce of performance the engine has to offer. And while the drivetrain is very quick to respond to inputs, there are instance where you press your foot down and don't find the kind of reaction you were hoping for. Again, taking control via one of the more responsive drive modes or paddleshifters is the way to go and you'd better hope your reactions are quick enough to catch the next gear because of how quickly the engine loves to rev. The first six ratios are also fairly closely stacked, making the acceleration feel even more intense. With the RS heads-up display lighting up like a Christmas tree, it's an exciting trip to the redline every single time. Drive like this all the time, and you're bound to see economy suffer. But driven sanely, the RS Q8 delivers surprising efficiency courtesy the 48V mild-hybrid system that allows coasting at speeds up to 113kmph in Efficiency mode, where it (and cylinder deactivation) helped us net a 9.7kmpl highway efficiency figure and a 6.7kmpl city driving figure. Both are not far off from the regular Q8's figures from its 3-litre V6, showing just efficient the larger engine can be.
In our roll-on testing, the RS Q8 posted possibly the best figures we've seen so far, taking near about 1s for all out parameters, while the optional carbon ceramic brakes sized 440m/370mm (largest for any Audi) helped bring the SUV to a dead halt from 100kmph in just 38.7m/2.8s. For reference, the regular Q8 managed the same feat in dry conditions, so you can be sure the RS Q8 will easily better this in the dry. When you're driving hard, the brake pedal firms up just enough to give you the confidence you need to brake harder and later in a corner, while giving you enough modulation in regular driving to not be grabby. While we couldn't test top speed (305kmph with Dynamic Plus pack) for obvious reasons, the RS Q8 gets up to high triple-digit figures in far less time than you would think possible, magically making overtakes with a little flex of your right foot.
As for how the RS Q8 handles, with the sports differential putting power down so effectively, you really feel like you can get on the throttle in any corner and have the big SUV just shoot out the other end. The steering feels like an improvement over the regular Q8, which is a big deal, since the handling of that car was on point. With the standard rear-wheel steering package, which steers the wheels up to 5 degrees (over the Urus' 3 degrees), the RS Q8 begins to feel like a playful hot hatch when you turn up the pace. The speed with which you can get this SUV to rotate is surprising to say the least, and within time you learn to adjust your steering inputs to account for the precision it affords you. We drove around on absolutely soaked roads, and never once did we feel like there was a lack of grip. If there is understeer in this package, we were hard pressed to find it. Surprisingly, the 23-inch wheels don't affect ride quality the way you would think, with the RS Q8 almost maintaining a serene ride quality over most roads, save for the hard edge you can feel over pitted road surfaces. Given the low profile rubber, we wouldn't bomb over bad roads though. The active anti-roll bars have a huge role to play here, helping keep the air suspension at all four corners level and pliant enough for regular driving, while giving the RS Q8 the rigidity it needs for more taxing cornering work.
At a price of Rs 2.07 crore, ex-showroom, the RS Q8 represents a near Rs 70 lakh increase over the Q8 (for good reasons), but starts to sound like huge value when you compare it to its competition, super SUVs like the Lamborghini Urus, or Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Of course, the ultimate bragging rights of fastest SUV at the Nurburgring doesn't hurt it either, all the while remaining extremely usable no matter the conditions.
Photography: Rajeev Gaikwad
Watch the Audi RS Q8 road test review video below:
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