First drive: 2019 Audi Q8

The full-size Audi Q8 has arrived as the leading SUV on the German automaker’s growing range of trucks.

Starting at $67,400, the five-passenger Q8 is smaller and more expensive than its older sibling, the three-row Q7. It also illustrates the growing industry-wide demand for more compact and expensive full-size SUVs.

“With seating for five instead of seven, the focus is more on luxury, comfort and convenience than family travel,” said Stephanie Brinley, analyst at IHS Markit. “Audi explores the higher end of SUV demand after filling in the smaller segments.”

While Audi is marketing the Q7 as a family-oriented SUV for buyers who need seven seats, the Q8 is priced a more fit and luxurious ride intended to compete with Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne.

‘Strong sports car’

“The whole idea is a powerful sports car with a great presence on the road,” Q8 product manager Anthony Falk said during a recent test drive from Park City, Utah, to Telluride, Colorado.

The SUV is powered by a 335-hp, 3.0-liter V6 and Audi’s 48-volt mild-hybrid battery technology (Photo: Audi)

Setting the trend for the Audi SUV portfolio, the Q8 showcases the brand’s “premium future” philosophy that bestows utility and comfort. For example, Audi Connect, which combines digital and real-time vehicle services, can scan your calendar to alert you to your next doctor’s appointment, use smart navigation to set the most efficient route, and help find a parking space on arrival.

The focus on technology will eventually shift to Audi’s other SUVs, which currently account for 57 percent of the brand’s sales, up 6 percent from 2017. Industry-wide, SUVs account for 60 percent of premium new vehicle sales in the United States, an increase of 41 percent since 2013.

Brand Updates

Hoping to capitalize on the shift in consumer demand, Audi has invested heavily in updating and expanding its SUV lineup, with the highly anticipated e-Tron, its first fully electric vehicle, and a mid-year update to its Q3 compact SUV. The brand’s best-selling vehicle, the Q5 midsize SUV, and its second best-selling utility vehicle, the Q7, have received a redesign over the past two years.

Arriving in dealer showrooms in November, the Q8 shares a wheelbase with the Q7 but measures 3 inches, 1 inch lower and 1 inch wider. The extra width translates to more legroom in the rear seat, which is meant for two “luxury sitting” passengers, although it seats three.

The SUV is powered by a 335-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine and Audi’s 48-volt mild-hybrid battery technology. The standard eight-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive system deliver a smooth, capable ride even on bumpy, muddy off-road trips. Four driving modes – Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic and Individual – customize the vehicle’s dynamics, while the adaptive air suspension adjusts the ride height for more ground clearance.

sports profile

Compact and powerful, the Q8 displays a more streamlined and elegant stance than the Q7. The bold single-frame grille with half a dozen chrome vertical struts and LED headlights signals a strong presence. Despite its sporty look and sports coupe-like design, “it doesn’t have a tilted roof that compromises utility,” Volk said.

Two screens on the Q8 2019 provide navigation, infotainment, and handwriting recognition functions. (Photo: Audi)

Inside the Q8, Audi’s latest MMI touch response system runs on a pair of high-resolution displays and features the proven handwriting recognition function when searching for waypoints along the test engine. The center stack’s 10.1-inch upper screen controls navigation, infotainment and navigation functions, while the lower 8.6-inch screen controls climate and handwriting inputs.

More than twenty sensors help the SUV collect and process data to provide a full suite of safety features including adaptive cruise control and cross-traffic assist. The new Audi Vehicle Warning Assist function delays the release of the door handle by a second or two when it detects oncoming obstacles.

The Q8 is less likely to catch customers than the Q7, but Audi will benefit from interest in the new SUV regardless, according to Brinley.

“There is potential for some cannibalism, but the fact that Q8 has fewer people and is more expensive will create some natural separation between the two,” she said. “However, as Q8 takes on a higher price point, seeing a few customers transition from Q7 to Q8 could also mean a more profitable sale.”

The fastest growing segment

Premium midsize crossovers like the Q5 rate are among the fastest-growing new car segments in the United States, with sales expected to grow at an average rate of 1.6 percent annually through 2024, according to IHS Markit.

Meanwhile, premium full-size crossovers, which are more expensive than mid-size models, are growing in popularity, with sales expected to grow 8.9 percent over the same period as automakers launch new entrants.

“The premium brands filled the smaller utility vehicle sizes first, so the field isn’t crowded in the full-size segment – however, at least,” said Brinley.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, attended an event where Audi hosted Travel & Accommodation.

Read next: First drive: the Audi E-Tron crossover will threaten gas rivals

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