TopGear Magazine South Africa was given the honour of conducting a thorough review of the Audi RS Q8 and the Audi RS 6 Avant over the course of a near 1200km road trip across some of SA’s most picturesque landscapes. Read all about it here.
But further to that, I spent a further few hundred kilometres through some lesser known dorpies and towns as I trekked from the Central Drakensberg into Eswatini with the RS Q8 alone for a more intimate and personal test.
The big question was this - is the Nürburgring record-holding RS Q8 really usable as an everyday luxury SUV? The very nature and ubiquity of SUV’s is their bandwidth of ability and we had to consider whether this ultra-fast, ultra-luxurious stunner could take the blows of Southern African roads and life.
The anticipation of RS Q8 had a lot to do with two main pieces of info we had. The first was our firsthand knowledge of how stunning and competent the Q8 was. The second bit of info was that 07:42:253 Nürburgring lap record that trounced some more expensive machinery on which the RS Q8 is based. We won’t mention any names. So, armed with that knowledge, the arrival of a Dragon Orange RS Q8 was always going to be spectacularly exciting.
On the bright face of it, our review car was fitted with a carbon styling package which also blacks out the 4-rings and badge work on the front, presenting some sort of ominous yet understated sleeper. Sitting on 23-inch, 5-Y spoke black alloys backed by massive 440mm brake discs at the front and 370mm at the rear with bold RS-red calipers on the face of them. At the rear the RS Q8 sports a RS-specific diffuser lip and those glorious oval tailpipes finished in black make for a stunning visual clue as to what lies beneath.
To say we’re familiar with Audi’s new cabin architecture and UX is in no way some sort of statement to belittle its layout. It is progressive and brave and finished here in that premium strand so true of Audi’s for some time now. The all-digital affair will wow the visual senses and once you understand the full integration and function of all 3 screens, the experience for both passenger and driver is more immersive.
The menus within the Audi MMI Nav system as well as the Audi Virtual Cockpit are brimming with technology, convenience and customisation. You have access to a huge suite of car, system, ambience, safety and assistance functions and that’s before you get to the online systems and connectivity. The RS Q8 is also equipped with Audi Connect, a service that extends the function and control of your car and ownership experience to your smartphone app.
Beyond the screens and tech, the cabin sumptuously combines honeycomb Audi RS-stitched sports leather seats with heating and cooling functions fore and aft, with zoned climate control, aluminium and piano black inserts and ambient lighting flics throughout. It’s a lesson in modern car interior design.
As a place to spend hours and hours on long drives, the Audi RS Q8 cabin is immensely satisfying. The relationship with all the controls is intuitive and well thought out and that is in addition to impeccable cabin damping and excellent road manners thanks to the adaptive air suspension system.
One gripe I have that showed itself in two areas was the use of small pieces of plastic on the rear seatbelt housing and on the heads-up display housing in front of the driver. When you look quite carefully, you notice that these areas aren’t finished in the quality material you’ve seen elsewhere in the cabin. The only reason I was investigating so thoroughly was because of an annoying rattle / squeak that seemed to show itself on roads that were less than perfect.
I am certain that this an ‘easy fix’ that the dealership could perform but it was an ever-present frustration because of what is truly an amazing place to spend some time.
My jaunt into Eswatini allowed me to really open the taps of the 441kW, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The route is a driving test paradise with stretches of pin straight asphalt followed by forested mountain passes with very little traffic. Heading towards the border between Paulpietersburg and Mahamba, my first instinct is how smart the adaptive damping is. In Comfort settings for instance, the ride is just that even considering the 23-inch wheels and the sporty nature of this car. The suspension soaks up undulations very well and as an honest mile-eater, this RS Q8 plays the part exceptionally well. Quiet, comfortable assisted driving is superb. The semi-autonomous functions are not as controlling as a BMW or Mercedes Benz system for instance where the car will steer for lengthy periods of time – but it does ensure lane keeping and tracking of the vehicle ahead with confident ease.
Across the border and just 40kms in, I arrive at a spectacular mountain pass that I happen to be very familiar with. The roads are relatively new and traffic free for the most part and I click my pre-selected RS1 sport mode from the steering button, and unleash all of the horses. The RS Q8 immediately livens up transforming into something unspeakably fast. Equipped with active electromechanical roll stabilizers that are integrated with the 48-volt electrical system as well as all-wheel steering and all-wheel drive, the RS Q8 admonishes corners in a way that defies your understanding of science. This is a 2,4-ton car with a high centre of gravity and space for my entire family and luggage – and yet, it masters corners with dextrous agility. I throw in the the mid-corner braking test that can quickly unearth the good from great chassis’ and out of all SUV’s I’ve ever driven, this RS Q8 is the most sorted. It accelerates, corners and dances around corners with serious balance and velocity.
Where the RS Q8 suffers, is in its communication to the driver through the steering especially. It feels - computerised. You feel that the car is doing all the thinking for you and that, for the most purist of drivers, may be a small concern. BUT – behind the wheel of this car with the ‘fully send it’ button selected, you quickly realise why the Nürburgring track record was beaten by this. What an eye-opener!
This car is special indeed.
The RS Q8 is excellently positioned here in South Africa. It is strong on design, tech, customisation and a versatile level of practical, comfortable and insane performance. At the base price, it is well poised to steal away some market share by some long-standing brutes in the segment. And well it should, because nothing on the ownership scale lets it down.
The customisation too allows for a lot of packaged technology that will make that part of the buying experience easier. Do you really need Carbon Ceramic brakes at R200 000? Possibly not…unless that track excursion is a real intention.
You may be tempted to think that the RS6 Avant is worthy of consideration against this very car – we did too and the verdict really is this: For everyday ownership, for family, for roadtrips, for the spontaneity of life – the RS Q8 is the better buy simply because it will eat up and absorb so much more without you worrying about where to find new tyres. It the SUV-ness that wins.
Full marks to Audi – almost. This is truly a Super SUV for Sports SUV money. It comes very close to getting the full 100% but for some interior bits that disappointed and perhaps a level of driver involvement and some autonomy in competitors if that’s important to you. Apart from that – the price is strong, the car stronger.
Go all in.