Force of nature

The fastest SUV Audi has ever produced arrives in Australia.

Sitting at the very top of the RS family, the awesome new Audi RS Q8 challenges your very perception of what a large, luxury SUV can do.

James McRory

Mark Bramley

16 October, 2020


The power it generates with its 4.0-litre, twin turbo V8 engine is absolutely brutal and yet it is one of the most refined vehicles you will ever drive

Feast your eyes on the first-ever Audi RS Q8 SUV – the very pinnacle of the Audi Sport RS family and a vehicle that defies categorisation and the laws of physics in equal measure. It is the last word in luxurious personal transport, but it is also currently the fastest SUV on the planet. It is a physically large vehicle, yet it handles like a diminutive sports car and can stop ‘on a dime’ as the Americans would say – even from tremendous speed.

The power it generates with its 4.0-litre, twin turbo V8 engine is absolutely brutal and yet it is one of the most refined vehicles you will ever drive. It also demonstrates extraordinary efficiency when driven sedately, thanks to a raft of efficiency measures that quietly go about their business as you quietly go about yours.

So, a contradiction in so many ways, the Audi RS Q8 nevertheless ‘just works’ in every conceivable sense, and changes the way you will perceive high-performance vehicles forever.

On the surface it’s obviously all Audi and a derivative of the Q8 family which has already brought us the Audi Q8 And the performance oriented SQ8 earlier this year. With the RS Q8, those evil geniuses at Audi Sport have effectively dialled everything up to maximum, be that technology, luxury appointment or pure performance, resulting in this grand tourer, race car, limousine, SUV amalgamation.

Looks are an intensely personal thing, but few would argue the sheer presence of the RS Q8 – especially when it looms in the rearview mirror. The big wide single frame grille is finished in the distinctive RS black honeycomb as are the massive air intakes, and the dark tinted HD Matrix LED headlights add to the aggressive face of the vehicle. 

There are the distinctive oval exhausts protruding from the rear apron and the subtle roof lip spoiler, but otherwise, there is nothing over-the-top about the styling – the Sportback-inspired design imparting a coupe-like grace to the RS Q8. Still there is no getting away from the size and purposeful stance of this vehicle. 

For the first time ever on an Audi production vehicle, massive 23-inch wheels are standard, and as you can see from the images, they don't look oversized – nor do the massive brakes they house.

Underneath all that aggressive styling and luxury appointment is the driving force – a twin turbo 4.0-0litre V8 TFSI engine outputting 441kW of power at 6000rpm and a massive 800Nm of torque from 2000 to 4500rpm. The RS Q8 hits 100km/h in a blindingly fast 3.8 seconds despite its size and the fact that it boasts every conceivable luxury and piece of advanced automotive technology. Keep your foot down and 200km/h appears after 13.7 seconds and top speed is limited to 250km/h unless you tick the RS Dynamic package which sees that lifted to 305km/h.

No surprise then that the RS Q8 is the current record holder at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where Audi works driver, Frank Stippler, piloted the RS Q8 to a scorching 7:42.253 lap in 2019 to earn the title of fastest production SUV in the world.

But despite this monstrous power, it is as refined a vehicle as you will find regardless of speed, with impeccable road manners and ride around town.
Then there are the extraordinary levels of grip and handling that once again belie its considerable size. With RS adaptive air suspension, electromechanical active roll stabilisation, quattro all-wheel drive and quattro sport differential, the RS Q8 just does things that logic and even physics suggest it shouldn’t be able to.

No surprise then that the RS Q8 is the current record holder at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, earning the title of fastest production SUV in the world

Despite the elevated ride height of a large SUV, the electromechanical active roll stabilisation allows the RS Q8 to corner like a vehicle with a much, much lower centre of gravity

With its 48-volt mild-hybrid (MHEV) system, the RS Q8 is able to recover up to 12 kW of power while coasting or under light throttle, and with its combination of cylinder-on-demand shutting down four cylinders when not under load and the start/stop system, it is remarkably frugal when driven sedately – something that is likewise at odds with what it can do in the right hands on the right roads.

Despite the elevated ride height of a large SUV, the electromechanical active roll stabilisation allows the RS Q8 to corner like a vehicle with a much, much lower centre of gravity. Operating off its 48 volt system, it can decouple the stabiliser bar at low, city speeds or out on the highway for ultimate comfort. But when you throw it into tight bends or twisting roads, it re-couples the stabiliser bar and actively assists in reducing or removing body roll altogether. No matter how hard you press on or how tight the bends become, the RS Q8 corners dead flat and, to use an old but very apt expression, ‘handles like it was on rails’. All-wheel steering is also standard and comes into its own both at low and very high speeds, turning the back wheels in the opposite direction to the front at low speeds for greater manoeuvrability, and in the same direction at high speeds for increased stability.

Then there are the aforementioned brakes, which, even in standard form are nothing short of outstanding – and given the RS Q8’s capabilities, they have to be. With 10-piston callipers on 420mm ventilated discs at the front and 370mm on the rear, stopping power is both impressive and reassuring, repeatedly pulling the 2200kg RS Q8 down from high speeds with nary a hint of fade. 

Those blessed with greater skill than I and wanting to push the limits further can opt for the ceramic brake system which is 34 kilograms lighter than the standard and ups the front disc size to 440mm. These can even be selected in grey, red or blue over the standard red colour.

Behind the wheel, the combined effect of this blistering acceleration, all-wheel drive grip, air suspension and dynamic steering serves to shrink the RS Q8 around you as it races from bend to bend like a performance car a fraction the size. Regardless of the road surface or the approach speed, the RS Q8 remains beautifully composed as you find yourself braking later and getting back on the power sooner to get that slingshot feeling out of the bends and that big V8 aural accompaniment.

But while the RS Q8 might accelerate and handle like a pared-down sports car, inside it is anything but. More a monument to understated luxury with its Valcona leather RS sport seats with honeycomb stitching, that feature both heat and ventilation – it is the epitome of automotive luxury. There is four-zone climate control as well as an air quality package that comes with an air ioniser and two bespoke Audi fragrances for the cabin, electric unblinds for the rear window and rear passenger windows (as well as the privacy glass). Then there’s the full complement of infotainment systems and leading-edge connectivity to keep passengers happy and the driver informed. From the MMI touch response system with twin touch screens integrated into the elegant dash, to the Audi virtual cockpit with special RS screens including such additional information as g-forces and power output, lap times and even if you have a tyre that’s getting a little flat.

But while the RS Q8 might accelerate and handle like a pared-down sports car, inside it is anything but

It’s a vehicle that really needs to be experienced first hand to get any real sense of what it can do and just how well it does it

It goes without saying that the likes of the Audi Smartphone Interface with the integration of approved apps (Android auto, wireless Apple CarPlay) are standard equipment, and what luxury vehicle would be complete without a 730 watt Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System with 17 speakers? Add to the equation the Audi phone box light with wireless charging, numerous USB outlets throughout and of course the outstanding Audi connect plus which connects the RS Q8 to the outside world and opens up a realm of services and safety features.

On the broader safety front, the RS Q8 comes with the full suite of Audi safety systems as you would expect, with everything from Audi pre-sense front and rear, to side assist with cross traffic assist, collision avoidance, turn assist and everything in between. 

Audi Australia will also be offering a number of packages for those customers wishing to further enhance various areas of the vehicle. For the interior there is a Sensory package, while the exterior can be tailored with either a matt aluminium or a carbon & black styling package. In terms of performance there is the RS Dynamic package with the ceramic brake system and the top speed increase to 305km/h.

Now available in Australia from $208,500* the RS Q8 redefines the very idea of a performance luxury SUV and is a vehicle that will appeal to a discerning group of high-performance aficionados Down Under. It’s a vehicle that really needs to be experienced first hand to get any real sense of what it can do and just how well it does it, because calling it fast and luxurious doesn’t even scratch the surface of what makes the RS Q8 the standout it is.

(*Manufacturer List Pricing [MLP] – excludes dealer delivery and government statutory charges)