On a street in Park City, Utah, a 2019 Audi Q8 came to rest at the curb in front of me. The newly redesigned SUV is a two-row, four-seater with a sleek yet still practical silhouette, taking on both boxy and coupe-y versions of other midsize utility vehicles such as the BMW X5 and X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, and Range Rover Sport. And while its sister vehicle, the Q7, is more aimed at families with its three-row configuration, the luxurious Q8 is best saved for the grown-ups.
“The Q8 is for the person who wants to make more of a statement,” says Anthony Foulk, Audi of America’s senior product manager. A wide stance and high belt line give the Q8 presence, and a flat roofline ensures space for people and things inside. Here in the US, we get the long wheelbase, which also means more legroom. The front end is fitted with a bolder version of the brand’s singleframe grille, flanked by intricate headlights that twinkle to life with animation when the car starts up. In the sheet metal, the new Q8 has cleaner, simplified lines, as with its A7 and A8 sedan counterparts. Subtly flared wheel arches suggest the Q8’s standard Quattro all-wheel drive, an homage to early Quattro rally cars of the 1980s.
We head southeast on Highway 40, destined for canyon country. As with the A8, the Q8 is a spacious executive transporter that cradles and comforts with heat and massage, while the center display directs us with detailed Google Earth views (with redundant directions on the full-color head-up display). A lower touchscreen, in lieu of hard buttons or rotary knobs, controls climate functions.
All Q8s employ a mild hybrid system, partnering a 48-volt electric starter/generator with a new 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6. The propulsion system is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. With 335 hp and 369 ft lbs of torque, the Q8 can handle steep terrain and wide-open swaths of highway, all the while providing a quiet and well-sorted ride, especially with the optional air suspension. Along with changeable drive modes, the Q8 gets an optional suite of driver assist functions, which includes adaptive cruise control and a lane centering feature, which will steer the car up to 95 mph. This is a welcome break on a particularly long, vast stretch of desert, although we did occasionally feel the car wandering within its lane, its sensors hunting for road lines. In this respect, Audi’s system didn’t quite measure up to similar offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac.
As we descend from the mountains, we drive through barren towns called Fruitland and Strawberry, whose founders must have had a penchant for irony. Long after we pass through Utah’s mining towns (and a statue of the world’s largest miner), we cross into the Colorado border and back into higher elevations, where mesmerizing rock formations rise up out of the landscape, a sprinkling of snow atop orange and red strata formed thousands of years ago. Here we turn off the main highway and onto a dirt road. The tires and the Q8’s combination of mechanical all-wheel drive and electronic, wheel-selective torque control provide reliable traction. But although the Q8 is capable here, it is not designed for serious off-roading. “There’s no low range; nobody’s going bouldering,” Foulk tells us.
The next morning, we swap our bright orange Q8 for a white one and continue our road trip from Southern Colorado northeast into the Rocky Mountains. Should we not have had a dedicated handler to deliver our car warm and ready, we could have started the engine and turned on the heat remotely via the Audi Connect app. And should we have wanted to leave the comfort of our leather-upholstered cocoon and explored on foot, we could have used the same app to send walking directions from the vehicle to our cell phones. But today was not that day.
Closer to our final destination in Telluride, the sky clears and Mount Sneffels comes into view, with its distinctive, triangular peak, America’s own kind of Matterhorn. Again, the Q8 does a fine job tackling the elevation and terrain. And when we arrive at our five-star resort, it looks perfectly at home in the driveway.
The 2019 Audi A8 is on sale now, with prices starting at $67,400. For the 2019 model year, a special Year One package includes a blacked-out front grille and black exterior trim, red brake calipers, S-line bumpers, and unique 22-inch Audi Sport wheels.