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Review: We've driven the hotly-tipped new Audi Q8 SUV. Here's how it matches up to its rivals

Are the BMW X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe and Range Rover Sport better?

IF YOU’RE IN the fortunate position of finding that a BMW X6 or Range Rover Sport doesn’t quite float your boat, then there is good news – the Audi Q8 is set to arrive later this year.

Just when you thought Audi couldn’t possibly fill any more niches, along comes a new flagship SUV. Unlike the Q7, this one will only feature five seats, and it’s a sportier model though barely any less practical. On top of that, it comes loaded with the latest tech including a mild hybrid system.

Unlike the X6, or indeed the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, the Q8 doesn’t get a coupe-like roofline. It does slope down, but it retains plenty of headroom in the back. The grille design is more in-your-face, especially with a contrasting colour surround.

Audi Audi

What isn’t as clear from the images of the car is how big it is. Compare it to the Q7, and you’ll see that it is lower and shorter but gets a wider track. Few SUVs make 21-inch wheels look so normal.

True Audi aficionados will spot the multiple nods to the original Ur-quattro, such as the blistered wheel arches and rear lights that are inset into a black panel spanning the bootlid.

Audi Audi

Behind that lies a generous 605 litres of boot space, and if you need to fold down the rear seats, this swells to 1,755 litres. For those seated in the rear, neither head nor legroom is in short supply, and there’s the option of a panoramic glass roof.

Up front, it is Audi at its very best, with a dashboard that sees button count fall to the bare minimum and high definition touchscreens being the order of the day. Facing the driver is the now-familiar 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display, and this gets some minor graphical tweaks in the Q8. Buyers can add a larger head-up display that projects onto the windscreen.

Roman Raetzke Roman Raetzke

Almost all of the in-car infotainment and settings are controlled via a 10.1- and 8.6-inch screen in the centre console, with haptic feedback helping you feel your way around without taking your eyes off the road. Flash as it might all look at first glance, the fit and finish throughout the interior appears to be among the best in the segment.

But looks aren’t everything, so what better way to put the Q8 through its paces than with an extended drive through the Atacama Desert. Normally one of the driest places on the planet, my time there saw snow and heavy rain, so ideal conditions for trying the quattro all-wheel drive transmission.

Audi Audi

You do feel the weight of the Q8 if you start throwing it into corners but the car grips the road with ease, helped in the tighter corners by the optional rear-wheel steering. This feature can reduce turn circle by up to a metre, useful if you’re frequently in multi-storey car parks.

The air-suspension can lower the car at higher speeds, improving both airflow and centre of gravity. It’s often been easy to criticise Audi for not putting enough steering feel in its vehicles, but this is one area the Q8 does well.

Ample performance levels are provided by the turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel, producing 286hp and a punchy 600Nm of torque to give it plenty of shove out of the corners. That, in turn, gets some help from a mild-hybrid system. The latter doesn’t power the car directly; instead a battery in the rear enables the engine to switch off for up to 40 seconds at a time (usually when coasting on a motorway) – like a start-stop system on the move.

It all happens with remarkable seamlessness, in many cases, you’ll only notice by glancing at the digital tachometer sitting at 0rpm.

Audi Audi

When it arrives on sale later this year, the Audi Q8 isn’t likely to be cheap. Official prices are still being hammered out, but expect it to surpass the Q7. It is also expected to forgo the base model; instead the range will start with the S line version.

The Q8 looks, feels and performs every bit like the range-topping model it professes to be. Crucially, it beats its main rivals in almost every way and being the newest kid on the block should see it earn its place on prospective buyers’ shopping lists.

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READ: Review – The Citroen Berlingo is a spacious MPV that’s a shape-shifter for families >

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