Tenerife, Spain – Some questions don’t need to be asked, but that doesn’t stop folks from working on answers, and in some cases, we’re all the better for it.
Look at the original hot wagon, the 850 T5, and even hotter RS2 for instance; they spawned a whole generation of fast wagons to whet the appetites of petrolheads.
(Click HERE to check out the RS2 Avant)
With crossover/SUV-types the next ‘big’ frontier – especially with traditional supercar brands like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Aston Martin joining the fray – it was a matter of time before the contending powerhouses started swapping fastest ‘Ring lap times, like proper performance machines and hot-hatches used to.
To put Audi’s 2.3-tonne RS Q8’s 7:42.253 accomplishment in perspective, a hot-hatch like the Civic Type R-trumping Megane R.S. Trophy-R was clocked at 7:45.39 around the ‘Ring, while the last fastest SUV time of 7:54.4 was clocked by the GLC 63 S – we should also qualify that these figures are not manufacturers’ claims, but retrieved from the Nürburgring official website.
(Check out the RS Q8's 'Ring Record run HERE)
In a climate where hype is everything, striking hard and fast is imperative to making a digital impact.
Although the MLB Evo platform and biturbo 4.0-litre V8 that underpin the RS Q8 are shared with fellow Group mates, the Urus and Cayenne Turbo Coupe, Audi has been swift in setting a scintillating pace for its first RS-model SUV, even though the question of ‘how fast?’ for such vehicles hasn’t seriously been raised yet.
(Click HERE to read our Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe review)
Moreover, with powerhouses like Lamborghini, Audi RS, Porsche and Bentley under one umbrella, it can’t be easy juggling the complexities of internal brand politics and deciding who gets to shine, when and for how long.
We’re just wondering though, if and when the tit-for-tat battles for ‘fastest lap times’ start...
If initial driving impressions are anything to go by, Audi has managed to retain all the utility and comfort that are the raison d'être of such crossover-type vehicles.
However, with 600hp and a monstrous 800Nm, the same biturbo 4.0-litre V8 that is also found at the heart of the RS 6 injects a hearty dose of fun to the quirky Q8’s function.
The launch of the Q8 saw the debut of the brand’s new ‘Q’ face, with a distinctive, oversized singleframe grille to differentiate its Q models from conventional sedan/Avant cars.
We like Audi’s interpretation of the crossover-coupe, because it features a progressively sloping roofline, frameless windows and doesn’t walk down the ‘hunchback’ route that other brands have taken.
Yes, it’s the size of the Q7, but no, I don’t need three-row seating thank-you-very-much! It’s always amazing how many people still miss the point of the Q8, so it’s likely they’ll miss the point of a RS Q8 that is a ‘Ring record-holder!
Naturally, the RS Q8 gets bespoke bits to distinguish it from the regular Q8 – including bolt-on fender extensions (+10mm front; +5mm rear) for a wider stance (and bigger footwear) – but it’s never too garish or fussy-looking, nor are there impractical aero-diffuser elements that could inadvertently impede its utility.
Our test-car has extensive options and comes with a symphonic RS sports exhaust system (and blackened tailpipes), as well as the RS Dynamic Package Plus, which includes a derestricted Urus-rivalling 305km/h top speed, ceramic brakes, massive 23-inch alloy rims and a sports differential, in addition to the RS design elements and Alcantara on strategic touch points in the cabin.
The RS Q8 is Audi’s first large RS offering (in the 25-year history of RS models) in the ‘Q’ crossover/SUV segment (and current RS range-topper), and it’s tastefully executed in classic ‘Q-car’ tradition as well – think understated and lean, with subtle musculature, as opposed to swollen and overly bulked-up for those who thrive on ‘look-at-me!’ attention.
(Click HERE to read about Audi's first production EV SUV, the e-tron)
A roof-spoiler, rear apron and characteristic oval tail-pipes of all RS models complete the rear treatment.
Unlike the Cayenne Turbo Coupe though, the RS Q8 does without an adaptive rear-spoiler, so the Audi’s clean looks are left unbroken even when the going gets fast.
Fire-up the rumbling V8 and you’ll realise there’s plenty of substance to go with the RS’s inimitable style.
The RS Q8 is mighty nimble in city traffic, with a lightness of being to its reactions that lets it effortlessly exploit gaps in rush hour – no mean feat considering its 5m length x 2.2m width.
The steering is light, yet feelsome, with the all-wheel-steering system working to ‘virtually’ shorten the 2998mm wheelbase of the RS Q8, so it feels like a compact car, but that’s just the least of its talents.
Those familiar with any active rear-steer system will appreciate it isn’t solely for the benefit of negotiating tight city confines or multi-storey carparks, because there’s a dynamic benefit to it too… especially as you’re blitzing down winding mountain passes in stealth bomber style.
Driven in anger, the V8’s 800Nm is unapologetically politically-incorrect, full-bodied and perfectly matched to the staccato sharp shifts of the 8spd Tiptronic transmission, so you won’t miss not having a dual-clutch gearbox.
It’s possible to to whip the car out of the corners onto the straights in spectacular fashion, and in far less time than it takes for the bleeding hearts to gather their breaths to start on the, “How dare you?!”
The rousing baritone soundtrack is similarly authoritative, and will stamp out the rising tumult against the many things petrolheads hold precious that are at risk of going the way of the Dodo.
The V8 brute at the heart of the RS Q8 has an elastic, slingshot quality that helps the big Audi put on speed with deceptive ease.
The 100km/h from standstill is dispatched in 3.8secs, and 200km/h is demolished in 13.7secs, which trumps the 550hp/770Nm Cayenne Turbo Coupe’s 3.9secs and 14.6secs (for the fact fans, the 650hp/850Nm Urus takes 3.6secs and 12.8secs respectively... but doesn’t have a ‘Ring record as feather-in-its-cap).
As a side-note, the Cayenne Turbo S e-Hybrid matches the RS Q8’s 0-100km/h run, but takes just 13.2secs to scamper to 200km/h from standstill.
However, we reckon there are enough driving enthusiasts who appreciate the ‘pure’ driving thrills of a fast car sans electric motor boost, so the Cayenne Turbo remains a better basis of comparison.
Pedal-to-metal, it isn’t just easy to put on speed in the RS Q8, the big RS is surprisingly easy to drive too, but we don’t mean this in a disparaging way.
The driving feel is natural and progressive when you’re blasting a path through the winding roads, and it’s possible to achieve a pace that is fast and fluid as man and machine work intuitively as one.
You never need to hog-wrestle the RS into submission, because you quickly get into its groove and it isn’t long before you’re showing-off some fancy footwork as it dirty dances between apex to apex.
The combination of a rear-biased quattro set-up and active rear steer results in a sweetly-balanced driver’s car that responds well to a deft hand at the helm.
True to the Porsche brand, the Cayenne Turbo Coupe requires harder work, more focus and commitment from the driver when you're attacking the winding roads, and while getting it right is rewarding in itself, there's something to be said about the RS Q8's accessible plug-and-play thrills.
The test-car’s ceramic brakes are 34kg lighter (and this is in terms of meaningful unsprung weight) than the standard steel ones. They not only resist fade on fast winding roads, but let you brake late and hard into the corners, and are more than up to the task of reining-in the RS Q8’s natural high-speed tendencies.
It’s not all fun and games because there’s mild-hybrid 48-volt tech at work in this iteration of the biturbo 4.0-litre V8 and differentiates it from the engine in the Cayenne Turbo Coupe and Urus.
Compared to the top-shelf Cayenne Coupe (the Turbo S e-Hybrid, where an electric motor boosts the turbo’d engine’s performance), the RS Q8 still uses ICE (internal combustion engine) for its go-faster jollies, with the electric motor only kicking-in during cruising/go-easy driving conditions between 55km/h to 160km/h, where it can recuperate/glide for up to 40secs with the engine off and your foot off the gas.
We can wax lyrical about the good ol’days of ‘funner’ cars and run the risk of attracting “Ok, Boomer” diatribes. Unfortunately, there’s not much point comparing today’s sportscars with their counterparts of yesteryear, especially because of changing attitudes to ‘going-fast’, and how even enjoying simple petrolhead thrills like giving the beans on a long and winding road is subject to intense scrutiny and quickly vilified.
Happily enough, the RS Q8 straddles the great divide between ‘bleah’ and ‘blast’ by serving up the sort of zoom we still associate with the ‘Audi RS’ badge.
PHOTOS Audi / David Khoo
AUDI RS Q8
Engine 3996cc, V8, biturbo
Transmission 8spd Tiptronic auto
Top Speed 305km/h (RS Dynamic Package Plus)
Fuel Consumption 12.1l/100km