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2020 Audi RS Q8 first drive review: Supercar senses, SUV sensibilities

Audi's 600-horsepower RS Q8 is lovely and sporty and all the good things. Yet somehow, it lacks raw emotion.

The RS Q8 is pointy and snarly in all the right ways.

Audi

Picture yourself in a warm climate, driving up a mountain, kids in the back, gently listening to your favorite tune. Then picture someone in a Porsche 911 giving you some hassle -- you know the guy, driving right up your ass, flashing his lights, revving his engine and generally trying to intimidate you out of the way. This is the exact situation you'll need an Audi RS Q8 to overcome. Poke the RS button on the steering wheel and your mentalist configuration of choice will apply itself to the car, dispatching the wheelytroll in a moment's notice.

This is why the Audi RS Q8 exists. It's for the driver who wants a slice of a supercar but wants to take their kids or fully grown friends along for the ride. They want to know their car's faster than anything else at the gas station en route to swim class. They want everything in one pointy box.

The SUV is, for most people, a useful appliance. It'll fit children, things and animals onboard in comfort. They have high ride heights, so drivers can peer into lesser, smaller cars as they roll on by and feel safer as a consequence. Most have a decent-sized motor on board to keep the car chugging along with a decent speed while getting decent gas mileage. Those with four driven wheels may be sold on the premise of being able to climb a mountain, but that's enough to fill most parents with the confidence to drive across a slightly muddy soccer field.

SUVs have an image -- a mundane one. Even the "premium" SUVs, while leather-clad, shiny and pretty, won't set your crotch alight at the traffic light drag races. Sure, they'll reach a decent speed, but they're no Ferrari, are they?

The Audi RS Q8 is just about as quick as a proper supercar. It'll run from 0 to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds and go on to 189 mph (with the optional Dynamic Package installed, otherwise, 155 mph) thanks to its 600-horsepower, 590-pound-feet, twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V8. European figures rate the RS Q8 as being able to achieve 17.1 miles per gallon during mixed driving, which will only be a concern for people who like to pick holes in fast cars. Because if you want to buy one, expect to pay over $140,000 (prices are TBD), and if you can afford that, you won't pay much credence to the cost of gas. Or milk. Or bread. Probably.

As far as looks go, this is a Q8 with the full RS treatment -- that means two huge, oval tailpipes, RS badges, a new rear spoiler (which Audi says produces actual downforce) and a general shouty aura. A regular Q8, while coated in sharp edges, is an understated thing. The RS toes the line between "a bit much" and "rather slick," though it's one suspect options box tick or misjudged lurid wrap away from being tacky.

Inside, it's pretty slick. The seats are big and cosseting. Audi's MMI interface is present and works well. Despite Audi's insistence on (mostly) abandoning buttons for touch interfaces, the haptic feedback offered on its screens ensures you know when you've hit your mark. Aesthetically, it's peak Audi -- a designer kitchen on wheels. Albeit one so well bolted together it'll outlast you, your children and their grandchildren.

A fancy interior with great MMI tech. Yep, it's an Audi, alright.

Audi

The trunk holds 21 cubic feet of gear, or 62 if you throw the rear seats down. That's more than enough for most people, even those who occasionally need to transport a designer kitchen sink. Despite its sloping roofline, average-sized humans can ride in the rear without having to bend their necks, and there's more than enough legroom to not worry about long drives.

Being a large, premium German SUV, there are plenty of driving modes to choose from. Unlike the first Audi RS, the RS2 Avant, which was all angry all the time, RS Q8 drivers can take their pick of a suite of modes: Comfort, Dynamic, Auto, Efficiency, Off-Road, RS 1 and RS 2. My first-drive route on the Spanish island of Tenerife didn't offer a chance to explore the RS Q8's off-road potential -- not intentionally anyway -- so that appraisal will have to wait for another day.

Comfort mode is where, realistically, the RS Q8 is going to spend most of its time. Its 600 horses are available, but they only appear with some gentle encouragement. The sports exhaust is quiet, too. Throttle response is smooth, the transmission changes gears imperceptibly. It's a regular SUV -- just with more power than an Aston Martin Vantage.

Not many SUVs handle as well as the RS Q8.

Audi

Efficiency mode is designed to peel every available mile out of the tank, which means the controls become light and unexciting. Auto predicts what you're doing and sets the car up to match. Fancy a quick blast of the full beans? Fill your boots and it'll set everything, briefly, to angry, before chilling out as you settle back into a cruise. Dynamic is Audi-speak for, "Bad day, huh?" It sets the car to be thrashed and lets the driver exploit it to their heart's content. You can play with an aggressive gearbox and engine combo, its tailpipes sing, you can pitch it into a corner and let the rear-wheel steering and its active-roll stabilization edge you round bends at pace.

RS 1 and RS 2 let you choose your own adventure. Want a mode with an aggressive powertrain and soft suspension? Done. Want a mode that turns the traction control off, gives you the hardest dampers, and the pipes to their quietest setting? Weird flex, but OK.

The trick with an RS is to, usually, point it at the horizon, nail the gas, and 30 seconds, later you'll be there. The RS Q8 is no different. Despite weighing over 5,000 pounds it is savagely quick. The noise it pumps out is joyous, too, so you'll cover a lot of ground with a decent soundtrack.

Except... it doesn't feel fast. Press all the buttons to make it the angriest, snarliest, everythingiest mother on the road, nail the gas, and you'll see lots of numbers happen very quickly on the (wonderful as ever) Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster. But aside from a gentle push into your seat and the world going blurry, you don't get the impression that 600 stallions are yanking you forward. There's a decent noise, but not enough to blow your head off, either.

The RS Q8 should cost somewhere around $140,000 when it goes on sale in 2020.

Audi

Where the RS Q8 does surprise is in the corners. It's tall, weighs as much as a small island, and has a high center of gravity, yet it can get round bends with some gusto. The steering, in all its many settings, doesn't grant the best feedback in the world, but there's enough feel there to get a judge of what's going on. Turn in, let the car do its thing, trust that its trick electrics and myriad mechanicals will do their jobs, and you'll find yourself going around corners at some alarming pace, though you won't feel overly involved in the process. Largely because you won't feel how fast you're going in the first place.

The RS Q8 an impressively fast car. And one that can be all cars to all people. It offers you choice in how you use it on the regular -- though the people who do plump for it will likely be the ones who miss, or missed out on, sports cars, and want something to plug the fast-family-thing gap. They can brag that their car is the fastest SUV around the Nürburgring, and they can outpace pretty much everything else on the road. But by having a jack of all trades you end up with a master of none. You may peel away from the wheelytroll, but you won't be having as much fun.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.