2021 Audi RS Q8 review: Supercar fun for the whole family
A blown V8 and impressive reflexes provide incredible performance in a functional package.
High-performance SUVs with coupe-like rooflines are definitely a fully fledged class of their own, with the BMW X6 M Competition, Mercedes-AMG GLE63 and Porsche Cayenne Turbo available today. All boast a dash of additional style over traditionally shaped SUVs, not to mention heaps of power and punched-up handling capabilities. The newcomer in this class is the Audi RS Q8, a performance CUV so well-honed it now holds the production SUV lap record of 7 minutes, 42.2 seconds around Germany's Nürburgring.
What does the Audi's Nürburgring lap record mean? To car dorks it means bragging rights. For everyone else, not much. But this basic tale of the tape is something people of all automotive knowledge bases will likely understand. The heart and soul of this achievement is the RS Q8's engine: a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 shoving out 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque with the latter having your back from 2,200 to 4,500 rpm.
Channeling power to all of the RS Q8's wheels is an eight-speed automatic transmission, allowing this SUV to reach 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 190 mph. (Note: This top speed is only unlocked if you spring for the upgraded carbon ceramic brakes.) All things considered, those are bonkers stats. But you know what? The BMW, Mercedes and Porsche all replicate that 0-to-60-mph time.
In the real world, the Audi's drivetrain surprisingly doesn't behave like an angry, hyperactive brute. From a dig, the RS Q8 doesn't launch with crazy gusto. Instead, it smoothly gets out of the hole, pulls strong to the engine's 6,750-rpm redline and rattles off seamless, well-timed gear changes. If you aren't paying close attention, it's easy to get well past posted speed limits on surface streets, thanks to the progressive throttle tuning and low gurgle from the exhaust. You get civilized aggression from the powertrain. The RS Q8 is never loud, shouty or harsh when going about its business, though I wish it were a bit more raw and loud in Dynamic mode.
Continuing the smooth theme, technological bits like a 48-volt mild-hybrid system and cylinder deactivation go unnoticed. There's no wonkiness in the brake pedal and you'd be hard pressed to tell when the V8 is running on some or all of its cylinders. Those efforts contribute to EPA-estimated 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway ratings, putting the RS Q8 on par with the rest of its competitive set. I observed 13.1 mpg during a week of testing.
From a performance standpoint, the RS Q8's handling chops are its most impressive attribute. To help this 5,490-pounder hustler harder it's got a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, torque-vectoring rear differential, air suspension, all-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars and upgraded 23-inch Y-spoke wheels with 295/35 series tires (22-inchers come standard).
Put the Audi Drive Select system into its Dynamic setting and the RS Q8 hunkers down and hangs on tight around cloverleaf on-ramps. Credit the tires' big ol' contact patches and all the performance features' technological wizardry for all the grip and composure this crossover exhibits when driven hard. Getting the RS Q8 sloppy on the street requires caning it way harder than you responsibly should.
Instilling even more confidence behind the wheel are the aforementioned carbon ceramic brakes. The $9,000 option means there are 10-piston calipers clamping down on monstrous 17.3-inch rotors up front and still-darn-big 14.6-inch rotors with single-piston calipers around back. Like everything else, pressing down on the left pedal doesn't yield crazy initial bite, allowing for smooth brake applications. A little more pressure unlocks the big stopping muscle when you want to go deeper into brake zones or perform panic stops.
In normal Audi fashion, lightly weighted steering is a sticking point in Dynamic. I prefer having a touch more heft in the wheel, but I have no complaints about the steering's responses. That's not to say there aren't times when the light steering is beneficial -- when you put the car in Comfort mode for normal commuting, for example. Speaking of commuting, the RS Q8 does fine here, with the adaptive dampers taking the edge off all but the biggest roadway hazards. In addition to the great grip they provide, the big Continental tires deserve kudos for their lack of noise rolling down the road.
RS style and tech
This RS Q8 painted Daytona Grey Pearl with its extra optional styling goodies is certainly a looker. The changes to the RS over standard Q8 models aren't super drastic, with more aggressive bumpers, honeycomb grille inserts, oval exhaust tips and slicker wheels. Add in a generous carbon fiber diet on the front lip, grille surround, mirror caps, tailgate trim and rear bumper valance, and blacked-out details sprinkled about give the RS Q8 a low-key, but still sinister vibe.
Head inside the RS Q8 and the design is simplistic with lots of straight lines. The front seats offer lots of support to hold riders in place with RS honeycomb accent stitching on the inserts. These chairs offer a massage function with seven different kneading patterns that I love.
Build quality in this Audi is first-rate with lots of high-end materials placed throughout the cabin, like Alcantara on the headliner and door panels, matte carbon fiber dash trim and leather-wrapped and stitched surfaces for most of the big panels. If you're worried about the faster roofline cutting into second-row headroom, don't be, because there's still sufficient space for normal adults. Cargo room also isn't too shabby with a healthy 30.5 cubic feet on offer that grows to 60.7 cubic feet with the back seats folded.
Taking care of infotainment in the RS Q8 is Audi's MMI Touch Response system that is simply stellar. The dual-touchscreen setup has an 8.6-inch display on the bottom for climate function controls and a 10.1-inch display up top for things like the rockin' 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio setup, navigation with Google Maps imagery, phone functions and a Wi-Fi hotspot. It's all intuitive to work through, offering quick responses to inputs and haptic feedback to let you know a command has been entered. The clean center console layout is void of many hard controls, but it does retain a traditional volume knob, which is a very good thing.
On the driver-assist technology front, all RS Q8s get standard forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, a 360-degree camera and auto high beams. A $1,750 Driver Assistance Package adds a few more tricks to this Audi's arsenal like a great adaptive cruise control system, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition and a head-up display.
How I'd spec it
This test car is a well-kitted-out RS Q8. It's got the aforementioned $9,000 carbon ceramic brakes, $4,500 carbon fiber exterior bits, $2,950 black outside trim and bigger wheels, $1,750 Driver Assistance Package, $595 paint job and $4,800 worth of interior extras. On top of all that, it also has a $750 Towing Package enabling it to pull 7,700 pounds. Add in a $1,095 destination charge and you get the not-so-unsubstantial $140,590 as-tested price of this car.
For my ideal spec, I'd spring for the $595 Daytona Gray paint job and the $3,250 Black Optic Package. On the inside I need the massaging seats that are part of the $3,150 Luxury package that also requires you to equip the $2,000 Executive Package that gets me soft-close doors, the head-up display and acoustic glass. This pushes my Audi to a cool $124,590, which is expensive, but certainly more palatable.
Radical family wagon
Of the swoopy midsize performance SUVs available today, the Audi RS Q8 is a standout in several categories. I think exterior styling trumps the BMW X6 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE63 Coupe and the Porsche Cayenne Coupe. The Audi also gets my vote for cabin design and technology over the BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. It isn't, however, my winner in the performance column; the Cayenne Turbo Coupe is a bit more involving from behind the wheel.
In the end, though, the RS Q8 my top pick. It's a head-turner with a great cabin, best-in-class tech and offers all the space and comfort a family should reasonably need. That's enough to outweigh the less emotional drive experience, considering this car's main goal is to be daily-driven. But really, none of these performance SUV-coupes are bad, all offering sub-4-second 0-to-60-mph times and physics-defying handling. Pick the one you like best, and if it isn't the Audi, I'll be here to remind you that yours doesn't hold the Nürburgring record.