The 2021 Audi RS Q8 drives nothing like a Lamborghini Urus. The RS Q8 shares its powertrain with the RS 6 Avant and RS 7 hatchback, yes. But the RS Q8 will be the one that matters most simply because it’ll be the best-seller among the three.
As in the regular Q8, dual center screens blend seamlessly into the gloss-black face of the dashboard. The central display is a crisp 10.1-incher, and below it is an 8.6-inch screen. Both use haptic feedback, responding to your touch with a reassuring click like physical Audi buttons have for years. The upper screen handles the typical areas of audio, phone, and navigation, the latter enhanced with Google Earth maps. The myriad vehicle settings are here too, and you swipe to move between screens. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also supported.
The lower unit primarily handles climate control functions, including the heated/cooled seats and the heated steering wheel. It also includes handwriting recognition for entering destinations. Additionally, there is space at the top that can be customized with shortcuts to oft-used features or favorite destinations.
Directly in front of the driver is Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster. Although this has been around for a while, it still feels cutting edge, able to push the speedometer and tach to the sides of the display and make room in between for a navigation map, trip info, or more than the usual audio information. Alternately, it can place a digital speedometer and a bar-graph tach at the center. Choosing among the layouts is done via buttons on the left spoke of the steering wheel. The cars we drove also had a head-up display.
Under the hood of the Audi RS Q8 is a 4.0 liter twin-turbocharged V8, making 591 hp and 590 lb-ft. According to Audi, it can hit 62 mph in 3.8 seconds and top out at 189 mph (with the Dynamic Package, 155 mph without). So it’s seriously fast. That makes it faster than a first-gen Audi R8.
It can also handle far better than an elephant of its size should. Its adaptive air suspension, active roll stabilization and rear-wheel steering help it carve corners with a competence that belies its size. However, there isn’t much joy there.
The RS-specific seats offer more bolstering than the Q8 but still have plenty of cush to them. Meanwhile, the interior is just as plush as the Q8, offering the same dual-touchscreen MMI infotainment system. If you dig into the car’s menu settings you find a few party tricks reserved for the RS, like the rainbow-colored temperature monitoring system and G-force meter. Otherwise, the interior shares more in common with the standard Q8 crossover than it differs.
The design is embellished with dark-tinted matrix LED headlamps, a honeycomb grille, and a rooftop rear spoiler. The aluminum exterior trim can be supplanted with gloss black or carbon fiber. The RS Q8 hunkers down on giant 22- or optional 23-inch wheels.
The major complaint is the transmission’s reluctance to immediately downshift and provide the engine the passing power we need. In the car’s more aggressive drive modes this problem goes away instantaneously, but in Comfort, the RS Q8’s gearbox’s responses are just a tad too slow.
The RS Q8 gets a flat-bottomed, Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, stitched with red threads, that’s bezeled at the best angle to wrap, grip, and twist your knuckles around—no matter how light it feels. The wheel is thinner than those found in Mercedes-AMG models or BMW M cars, although the Audi’s wheel feels a little more luxurious and less overconfident about its credentials. Only a red-ringed start button could be considered the flashiest hardware in the RS Q8, and that’s all. “Restraint” may be the first word a German baby learns.
And its raucous 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 fires up with a hushed burble inside. Audi’s teeter-totter shifter tips into drive and engages the 8-speed automatic that rifles power through a standard permanent all-wheel-drive system that shuttles up to 80 percent of its torque to the rear wheels. Even with the torque split that never forgets the front axle, the RS Q8 rears up and thrusts forward from the tail through the nose like an uppercut that starts at the bellybutton and pushes through your forehead.
There are two RS-specific drive modes, both accessed via steering wheel-mounted button at 3 o’clock. The drive modes are hotkeys: via the infotainment system, drivers can specify RS 1 or RS 2 drive modes that toggle the steering, throttle, transmission, dampers, intake sound, differential behaviors and ride height. RS 2 is the same but can set the stability control to Sport for more freedom around corners.
The RS Q8 will arrive at European dealerships in early 2020, starting at 127,000 euros (the equivalent of $140,000, give or take). American buyers will have to wait until into late spring or early summer before its arrival here, and U.S. pricing has not been disclosed.