If a Hollywood studio wanted to fake a Mars landing, I’d strongly suggest sending a film crew to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The vast, empty stretches of reddish sand peppered with loose rocks form a convincing backdrop in which to embed UFO-related props. I’m not in an exploration rover, though, or in any kind of Rover for that matter. I’m taking it all in from the driver’s seat of the 2019 Audi Q8. It’s the newest addition to the brand’s growing lineup.
The Q8 finally catapults Audi into a segment it has spent the past few years bird-dogging from the sidelines. Its main competitors include Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport, the BMW X6, and the Porsche Cayenne. It’s the flagship of the Q range, much like the A8 occupies the top spot in the brand’s sedan hierarchy, and it’s the model that sets the design course all future Audi SUVs will follow. It shares its basic platform and its wheelbase with the Q7 but is shorter, lower, and slightly wider.
It’s also sportier. The Q8 receives a turbocharged, direct-injected 3.0-liter V-6 tuned to make 335 horsepower between 5,000 and 6,500 rpm and 368 pound-feet of torque over a broad, usable range that stretches from 1,370 to 4,500 rpm. If these specs sound familiar, it’s likely because the latest A6 sedan and A7 hatchback use the same engine. The difference here is that the power passes through an 8-speed automatic transmission instead of a 7-speed dual-clutch unit before reaching all four wheels. On dry pavement, 60 percent of the engine’s torque goes to the rear axle for a sportier, rear-drive feel.
The V-6 works with a 48-volt electrical architecture to form a mild-hybrid system. The hybrid part of the drivetrain relies on a belt-driven starter-alternator to recuperate energy under braking and feed it back to the electrical system via a lithium-ion battery tucked under the trunk floor. It also ensures the stop-start system fires up the engine smoothly.
Though the Q8 is no lightweight, it’s plenty peppy from a standstill. The turbochargers spool up as the engine revolutions rise and a rush of torque blasts through the driveline to help it overcome its not-insignificant 4,700-pound mass. Catch the V-6 in the middle of the rev range and there’s almost no lag; press the gas pedal and off you go. Passing—a common maneuver in the mercurial Chilean desert, where worse-for-the-wear compact pickups reign supreme—is easy.
Don’t look for jaw-dropping, bladder-emptying performance in the Q8. It’s no R8 or TT RS. Instead, it’s a champion of comfortable, usable daily performance. It's the kind of performance that effortlessly takes you up a mountain pass in the Andes or gets you up a sandy incline on torque alone. Still, the Q8 has a large amount of performance potential and Werner Kummer, the Q8’s lead engineer, told me it won’t remain unexplored for long. Though he’s sworn to near-Masonic secrecy, he suggested it’s safe to speculate there will be hotter S- and RS-branded variants of the SUV with V-8 power between the fenders. We've already spied the prototypes.