2021 Audi RS Q8 review: Supercar fun for the whole family

High-performance SUVs with a coupe-like roofline are definitely a class in their own right, with the BMW X6 M Competition, Mercedes-AMG GLE63 and Porsche Cayenne Turbo available today. All of them boast a little more style than traditionally shaped SUVs, not to mention plenty of power and handling capability. The newcomer to this class is the Audi RS Q8, a high-performance CUV so well-honed that it now holds the production SUV lap record of 7 minutes 42.2 seconds on the German Nürburgring.

Like it

  • Great performance and everyday comfort
  • Look elegant inside and out
  • Excellent cab technology

I do not like

  • The drama is missing
  • Lightweight steering
  • It can get very expensive fast

Low profile artist

What does Audi’s lap record at the Nürburgring mean? For automotive idiots it means bragging. For everyone else, not much. But this basic tape story is something people with all automotive knowledge will likely understand. The heart and soul of this achievement is the RS Q8’s Engine: A 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that pushes 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque with the latter giving your back from 2,200 to 4,500 rpm.

Harnessing the power to all wheels of the RS Q8 is an eight-speed automatic transmission, which allows this SUV to reach 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds, reaching a top speed of 190 mph. (Note: This top speed is only unlocked if you choose the enhanced carbon ceramic brakes.) All in all, those are insane stats. But you know what? BMW, Mercedes and Porsche all replicate that 0-60 mph time.

In the real world, the Audi transmission surprisingly doesn’t behave like an angry, hyperactive brute. From a dig, the RS Q8 doesn’t launch with crazy gusto. Instead, it smoothly comes out of the hole, pulls hard up to the engine’s 6,750-rpm red line, and shakes up perfect, timely gear shifts. If you’re not paying close attention, it’s easy to exceed the speed limits indicated on surface roads, thanks to the progressive throttle tuning and low bubbling from the exhaust. Get civil assault from the powertrain. The RS Q8 is never loud, screaming or harsh when going about its business, although I wish it were a little more raw and loud in dynamic mode.

Continuing the fluid theme, tech bits like a lightweight 48-volt hybrid system and cylinder deactivation go unnoticed. There is no instability in the brake pedal and it would be difficult to tell when the V8 is working on some or all of its cylinders. These efforts contribute to the EPA’s estimated 13 mpg city and 19 freeway ratings, putting the RS Q8 on par with the rest of its competitive streak. I observed 13.1mpg during a week of testing.

Compound dynamics

From a performance standpoint, the RS Q8’s handling qualities are its most impressive feature. To help this stronger 5,490-pound hustler, it has a rear-biased all-wheel drive system, torque vector rear differential, air suspension, all-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars, and upgraded 23-inch Y-spoke wheels with 295 Series Tires / 35 (22 inches are standard).

A higher handling IQ is partly offered by some huge 23-inch Continental tires.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Put the Audi Drive Select system in its Dynamic setting and the RS Q8 crouches and clings tightly to the four-leaf clover ramps. We thank the big old tire contact patches and the technological magic of all the performance characteristics for all the grip and composure this crossover displays when driven hard. Getting the sloppy RS Q8 on the street takes a lot tougher flogging than you should responsibly.

The aforementioned carbon ceramic brakes give even more safety to the steering wheel. The $ 9,000 option means there are 10-piston calipers that lock onto monstrous 17.3-inch rotors at the front and still damn big 14.6-inch rotors with single-piston calipers at the rear. Like everything else, pressing the left pedal doesn’t get an insane initial bite, allowing for smooth braking. A little more pressure unlocks the big stop muscle when you want to go deeper into the braking zones or perform panic stops.

In normal Audi fashion, slightly weighted steering is a sticking point in Dynamic. I prefer to have a heavier touch behind the wheel, but I have no complaints about the steering responses. That’s not to say there aren’t times when light steering is beneficial, such as when putting the car into Comfort mode for regular commuting. Speaking of commuting, the RS Q8 is fine here, with adaptive shock absorbers that eliminate all but the biggest road hazards. In addition to the great grip they provide, the large Continental tires deserve compliments for their lack of noise rolling down the road.

The heaviest steering feel for the RS Q8 is on the wish list.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

RS style and technology

This Daytona Gray Pearl painted RS Q8 with its optional extra style goodies is sure to be a feast for the eyes. The changes to the RS over the standard Q8 models aren’t super drastic, with more aggressive bumpers, honeycomb grille inserts, oval tailpipes, and slippery wheels. Add a generous carbon fiber diet on the front lip, grille surround, mirror caps, tailgate trim and rear bumper valance, and blacked-out details sprinkled to give the RS Q8 a low-key vibe, but still sinister.

Enter the file RS Q8 and the design is simplistic with a lot of straight lines. The front seats offer plenty of support to hold riders in place with RS honeycomb stitching on the inserts. These chairs offer a massage function with seven different dough patterns which I love.

The build quality in this Audi is top notch with many high-end materials placed throughout the cabin, such as Alcantara on the headliner and door panels, matte carbon fiber dashboard trim and leather-covered surfaces and sewn for most of the large panels. If you’re worried about the faster roofline cutting into the second row header, don’t be, as there’s still enough room for regular adults. The cargo room isn’t too dingy either with a healthy 30.5 cubic feet on offer growing to 60.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

A simple design and fantastic build quality highlight the interior of the RS Q8.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Taking care of the infotainment in the RS Q8 is Audi’s MMI Touch Response system which is simply stellar. The dual touchscreen setup has an 8.6-inch display at the bottom for climate function controls and a 10.1-inch display at the top for things like 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio setup, navigation with Google Maps images, phone functions and a Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s all intuitive to work with, offering quick responses to inputs and haptic feedback to let you know a command has been entered. The clean center console layout lacks a lot of stiff controls, but retains a traditional volume knob, which is a great thing.

On the driver assistance technology front, all RS Q8s get a standard front collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic warning, a 360-degree camera and automatic high beam. A $ 1,750 driving assistance package adds a few other tricks to this Audi’s arsenal such as a great adaptive cruise control system, lane keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition, and a head-up display.

The MMI Touch Response system is a roadshow favorite.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

How would I specify it

This test machine is well equipped RS Q8. It has the aforementioned $ 9,000 carbon ceramic brakes, $ 4,500 carbon fiber exterior parts, $ 2,950 black exterior trims and larger wheels, $ 1,750 driver assistance package, $ 595 paintwork, and interior extras for a value of $ 4,800. On top of all that, it also has a $ 750 towing package that allows it to haul 7,700 pounds. Add in a destination charge of $ 1,095 and you get the not-so-inconsistent price tag of $ 140,590 as tested of this car.

For my ideal specs, I’d like the $ 595 Daytona Gray paintwork and the $ 3,250 Black Optic package. Inside I need the massage seats which are part of the $ 3,150 Luxury package which also requires you to equip the $ 2,000 Executive package which makes me lock the doors, head-up display and acoustic glass. This pushes my Audi to a fantastic $ 124,590, which is expensive, but certainly more palatable.

The 2021 Audi RS Q8 starts at $ 115,595, including $ 1,095 for the destination.

Jon Wong / Roadshow

Radical family wagon

Among the swoopy midsize SUVs available today, the Audi RS Q8 stands out in several categories. I think the exterior styling prevails on the BMW X6 M, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 Coupe and the Porsche Cayenne Coupe. Audi also gets my vote for interior design and technology over BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. However, it’s not my winner in the performance column; the Cayenne Turbo Coupé is a little more immersive from behind the wheel.

Ultimately though, the RS Q8 is my first choice. It is a masterpiece with a fantastic cabin, best-in-class technology, and offers all the space and comfort a family should reasonably need. This is enough to overcome the less emotional driving experience, considering that the main focus of this car is daily driving. But in reality, none of these high-performance SUV coupes are bad, all offering sub-4-second times from 0 to 60 mph and handling that defies physics. Pick the one you like best, and if it’s not Audi, I’ll be here to remind you that yours doesn’t hold the Nürburgring record.

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