Audi has unleashed its new SUV performance champion with the unveiling at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week of the RS Q8, the first time Audi Sport has given a full-size, five-door SUV the RS treatment.
Audi didn’t hold back. To go with its already imposing size is a design makeover full of high performance promise – a promise met by an electrified V8 drivetrain whose 600PS (591bhp) can blast it from standstill to 62mph in 3.8 seconds and to 124mph in 13.7 seconds.
Endowing Audi’s largest and heaviest SUV with such sporting dynamic ability ranked as one of Audi Sport’s larger challenges, one that required an extensive makeover to live up to RS expectations honed over the past quarter of a century. With a recent flurry of new models, the RS badge is now spread across most of the Audi range, but there has never been one quite like this before.
“For the first time in the 25-year history of Audi RS models, we are putting a large SUV coupé with the genes of a true high-performance sports car on the road,” said Audi Sport chef Oliver Hoffmann.
With its gloss black honeycomb grille and giant air inlets the new flagship presents a very RS face to the world, while at the back it’s the new roof spoiler, rear skirt, oval tailpipes and gloss black diffuser that distinguish the RS version. Front and rear tracks have been widened a little in signature RS fashion, but it’s achieved with trim strips rather than wider new bodywork; the Q8 already has the quattro-style blisters. Sills finished in grey add to the athletic look.
The engine of choice is a 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 with a mild hybrid side courtesy of a 48-volt starter generator. To back up its 600PS there’s 800Nm (590lb ft) of torque peaking from as low as 2,200rpm, and all of it goes to all four 22-inch star design alloy wheels via an eight-speed tiptronic transmission. In regular driving the quattro power split is 40-60 front-rear but up to 70 per cent can be directed to the front wheels, or up to 85 percent to the rear wheels, if things get slippy.
The engine’s greener side is shown by the starter generator, which is able to power an engine stop-start facility at speeds of up to 13mph, and a cylinder shut-off feature that turns off the fuel injection to four cylinders at low load, saving fuel.
But it’s the power of acceleration that impresses most here; that 3.8 second 0-62mph time is the same as the mighty RS6 Avant from 2014 achieved. The RS Q8 can deploy its power on a variety of different surfaces, too, Audi saying the car is equally at home on the racetrack or an off-road trail.
Just as RS specific on this car as the drivetrain and styling are the adaptive air suspension, all-wheel-steering, quattro sport differential and 48-volt electromechanical active roll control system. All of this plus a ride height that can vary by up to 90mm allows for what Audi says is a particularly broad spread of ability. All the different systems can be bespoked according to need and mood by choosing one of the eight available drive modes, or by configuring your own personal RS profile selected by the RS control on the steering wheel.
The cabin, already notable for its minimalist design, “black panel” look and discreet technology, gets upgrades in the form of RS specific graphics for the “virtual cockpit” displays, RS badges and trim details, with more goodies reserved for the top Vorsprung edition.
Audi’s fastest-ever SUV, and answer to SUV performance heavyweights like the BMW X6M and (also new this week) AMG 63 versions of the Mercedes GLE and GLS, goes on sale in the New Year, at prices to be announced.