South Africa

FIRST DRIVE | The 2020 Audi RS Q8 is swift, belligerent and bellowing

FIRST DRIVE | The 2020 Audi RS Q8 is swift, belligerent and bellowing

Hate the genre as much as you like (I do and you probably should, too), mega performance SUVs and crossovers like Audi’s all-new RS Q8 are here to stay.

Of course they are, because people keep paying for them.

They make a lot of money: Porsche’s Cayenne range, BMW (whose X5 range tops out at the X5M and in case you don’t like that one, it has an X6M, too) and Mercedes-AMG with its GLE 63, among others from Jaguar, Bentley and even Lamborghini.

And if they’re here to stay, they might as well be a bit like the Audi RS Q8.

Yes, it’s a huge machine at 2,315kg (before it has any fuel or people in it) and it has a frontal area that’s a full 2.84m², giving it a face like a small yet frantic courtyard.

And, yes, it will run to 305km/h (pity the bird that gets caught in that turbulence). And, yes, it will run to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds.

But it will also cruise effortlessly and calmly on highways, meander through city streets and still monster a winding mountain pass with a combination of brute force and a hi-tech suspension setup that needs to be seen to be believed.

The big unit rides on 22-inch rubber as standard or on 23-inch wheels and tyres, with sliver-like 295/35 R23 rubber and enormous carbon-ceramic brakes, so it all takes some controlling below decks.

Like the Q8, it’s basically a shorter, sportier version of the Q7, but with different technology.

Where the SQ7 goes down the tech path of an electric compressor to spin the engine up faster at low revs, the RS Q8 uses a 48V mild-hybrid boosting system to help its 4.0l, biturbo V8.

The thing is, there is an alternative that is just as fast, but handles better, uses less fuel than the 12.1l/100km combined claim and is every bit as practical. It’s even an Audi. It’s the RS 6 Avant. And if you want it a bit sleeker, there’s the RS 7.

Oh, RS Q8 fans will point to the technology. But there’s a reason it needs all of that.

Remember when we saw the first active anti-roll bars, run by 48V electrical systems? They change the roll resistance in the car via little electric motors on the cross-car anti-roll bars.

Well, the RS Q8 has two of them. There is one on the front axle and one on the back.

There’s also adaptive air suspension, all-wheel steering. the super accurate Sport differential on the back axle and, bizarrely, a hill-descent control system.

The all-wheel drive is normally split so that 60% of it twists through the Torsen rear differential, though it can send up to 70% to the front (or 85% to the rear) when it needs to.

The ride height can change across a 90mm range, which Audi insists gives it off-road ability. On 35-profile tyres ...

There are two reasons it needs so much suspensioneering. It’s heavy and it’s tall. This tech is all here to keep the body under some kind of control.

The interior is as per the Q8, with a few exceptions like the addition of an RS mode button on the steering wheel (wonder where they got that idea from, eh M?).

It lets you personalise two of the driving modes (replacing the old “Individual” mode) and toggle through them on the steering wheel instead.

Not only does Audi Sport cater for off-road work (cough, cough), but also track work. The RS Q8’s specific infotainment displays include a lap timer and a g-analyst, plus a shift light for the driver. Specific RS graphics are also in the (very impressive) head-up display.

Twenty cars to look forward to in 2020

Audi calls it a Big Engine, but it’s only 4.0l of V8 with two turbochargers. The effect is Big though.

I mean, 441kW is a power number for grown ups and so is 800Nm of torque.

It’s tech-heavy, too, with cylinder deactivation, direct fuel injection, particulate filters and a mild-hybrid system.

But it’s not any old boring mild-hybrid system that switches in an out as a starter-generator. This one is a 48V system that can soak up 12kW of braking or decelerating energy for up to 22 seconds. And it’s hooked up to the forward-facing camera in the windscreen.

There’s an obvious question there, and the answer is that the start-stop can shut things down at even 22km/h and if the lights turn green, the camera tells the computer when the car in front has started moving, just so it can refire the engine. Cool, huh?

Still, nobody’s buying it for that part.

Try our quick and cryptic crosswords

They’re buying it for the burbling start-up noise, the brilliance of the acceleration, from any speed, the off-beat roar of the thing at full throttle, the lazy overtaking ability and the snappy lift-off crackles and pops.

They should also be sparing a thought for the eight-speed automatic transmission that’s forced to manage all of this performance, because it does it manfully.

If I’m being honest here, the RS Q8 is so fast so much of the time from almost anywhere in the rev range that I’m afraid it (and others of its ilk) is moving dangerously ahead of the ability of average drivers to comfortably and safely manage it.

One saving grace is a set of carbon-ceramic anchors that never, ever fade and never disappoint. They bite hard, as often as you like, and have a surprising amount of modulation and progression and no noise whatsoever.

It’s swift, belligerent and bellowing, blazing through bends and overtaking easily, diving into corners far faster than logic suggests and toting far more mid-corner speed than sane people would think possible. And it does it relatively easily.

Its handling is nothing to be frightened of, and it easily manages all the power in competent hands.

The Audi RS Q8 will arrive in SA in the second quarter of this year.