When it comes to the business of coupes, it is undeniably hard not to mention the Mercedes-Benz CLS that turned the segment on its roof sixteen years ago. A conventional E-Class it might have been underneath, the coupe-esque look with the benefit of four doors immediately signalled the CLS out as the creator of a segment within a segment, which in the coming years, exploded in popularity as mainstream sedans effectively became practical coupes. Less than four years later, BMW took an equally unconventional decision to transform the X5 into a high-riding coupe in a move reminiscent of what the...
When it comes to the business of coupes, it is undeniably hard not to mention the Mercedes-Benz CLS that turned the segment on its roof sixteen years ago.
A conventional E-Class it might have been underneath, the coupe-esque look with the benefit of four doors immediately signalled the CLS out as the creator of a segment within a segment, which in the coming years, exploded in popularity as mainstream sedans effectively became practical coupes.
Less than four years later, BMW took an equally unconventional decision to transform the X5 into a high-riding coupe in a move reminiscent of what the defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC) had envisioned for the Eagle at the beginning of the 1980s.
Unlike the CLS though, the arrival of the X6 resulted in more criticism than praise as Munich's 'Sports Activity Coupe' felt the wrath of the world's press for its odd looks, lack of practicality and costing more than the X5. Of course, sales went the other way and like the CLS, a new precedent had been set that has become the mainstay of the SUV today.
The X6's success, pounced upon by Stuttgart with the GLE Coupe, seemingly didn't make an impact on Audi who waited until two years ago to unveil the Q8. However, Ingolstadt's response hit a snag right from the off as the chosen model for South Africa, the 55 TFSI, arrived last year with a lacklustre mild-hybrid 3.0 TFSI V6 that felt underpowered and dare I say it, charmless. Now though the four rings has pledged to rectify the mishap with the introduction of the diesel-powered 45 TDI.
As overused as the expression "beauty in the eye of the beholder" is, the Q8, even in its sombre Floret Silver Metallic paint finish, simply looks breath-taking with the Singleframe grille sporting an angular look thanks to its chrome slates, while the actual profile incorporates a method seemingly similar to the S1 quattro in the form of a long front and more compact rear.
Whichever you look at it, the Q8 stands out and while not as polarising as its competition, a degree of machoism still lingers, which in the case of our tester, came from the optional S line Platinum pack that includes the red brake calipers, roof rails, mirror caps and grille surrounds in the mentioned hue, plus the massive 22-inch Audi Sport matte grey alloy wheels.
As much as the styling impresses, the interior simply astonishes. Besides being typical Audi in the quality department, the lashings of aluminium, piano key black accents and leather are outclassed by the tech, which comes in the form of the 10.1-inch MMI Plus Navigation touchscreen infotainment system, the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit Display instrument cluster and an 8.6-inch climate control panel. Despite appearing daunting for the technologically challenged, both the displays have haptick feedback and are easy to use, but the loss of the erstwhile rotary dial could still be a touchy subject for some.
On the standard features front, nearly a separate write-up is required as the extensive list includes a superb 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, soft-touch closing doors, an electric tailgate, quad-zone climate control, a panoramic glass sunroof, heated and cooled front seats with memory function, ambient lighting, Night Vision, Adaptive Cruise Control and a surround view camera system to name but a few.
Underpinned by the MLB Evo platform also used by the Q7, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, the Q8's loss of 66 mm in overall length compared to the Q7 doesn't infringe on space as the cabin feels spacious with rear passengers set to be unfazed by any lacking of room despite the presence of the aforementioned sunroof. The boot is just as impressive for a coupe-SUV with a claimed capacity of 605-litres, or a capacious 1 755-litres with the 60/40 split rear bench folded flat.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight is the 3.0-litre bent-six oil-burner that has transformed the Q8 rather remarkably. Outputting 183kW/600Nm, the power delivery is smooth and the response immediate, but flatten the accelerator and a strong surge emerges together with a rather throaty growl ordinarily not expected from a diesel.
Mated to a slick eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox, the combination has injected an added fun element into the Q8 by virtue of the Audi Drive Select mode that offers five modes; Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Allroad and Individual. Switched to Dynamic, the standard air suspension drops the ground clearance by 90 mm and with the gearbox in manual mode, progress is swift and the power delivery addictive as the acceleration tricks into thinking that you driving something a lot smaller.
Unfortunately, the Q8's biggest handicap remains its near 2.1-ton weight which really causes the heart to pound when you suddenly need to hit the anchors. What's more, extra care will have to be taken with those 285/40 R22 wheels on our badly potholed roads, never mind the feeling of every surface change and imperfection as you go along. Throughout the weeklong stay in mixed conditions and mostly in Comfort mode, the Q8 recorded a best consumption of 9.8 L/100 km, a far cry from the claim 7.8 L/100 km, but still acceptable given that its minder did select Dynamic mode quite a few times.
As heart-breaking as the 55 TFSI had been, the inclusion of the 45 TDI has, until the arrival of the SQ8 and RS Q8, unlocked what the Audi Q8 should have been from the start. While it trounces the petrol on nearly every front, the R1 573 500 minus options sticker price could rate as the TDI's biggest hillock compared to the R56 000 credit presented by the TFSI.
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