By: Clint Simone
Audi gives its flagship SUV the RS treatment.
It appears Audi’s executives in Ingolstadt heard the collective cry of American enthusiasts. “We want to go fast! And we want fast SUVs, too!” The company is tending to Western demand with several new RS models, including the much-loved RS 6 Avant and second-generation RS 7. And to address the crossover crowd, Audi is following up those models with a shot of adrenaline to its flagship SUV with the 2020 RS Q8. Despite being the largest RS product the company has ever produced, this ferocious SUV means business.
Don’t believe us? Let’s start here: The RS Q8 is the current record holder for the fastest SUV around the Nurburgring, laying down a time of 7 minutes and 42 seconds. It’s also the only Audi product to currently hold a record around the Green Hell. To let us sample the RS Q8’s performance car credentials for ourselves, Audi took us all the way to the Spanish-owned island of Tenerife, just off the coast of West Africa. It’s here that we embarked on a truly epic journey, piloting the car from a quaint sea-level town to the top of a volcano.
Two Fast Audis:
Bonkers Beneath The Surface
Peel back the RS Q8’s sumptuous exterior and there’s an incredible network of technology working together to disguise the car’s size. The main ingredient is a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, which mates to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi says the engine is good for 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, enough to push the beast to sixty miles per hour in 3.8 seconds. VW Group fans will be keen to point out that the RS Q8 shares its MLB Evo platform and engine with the aforementioned Lamborghini Urus and other products like the Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne. However, the Audi deploys a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that provides extra juice to power the car’s most impressive hardware.
Unlike some of its RS family members, the RS Q8 offers a standard air suspension that allows 3.5-inches of travel between drive modes. Additionally, Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system works with a trick four-wheel steering system, just like the one found on the RS 6, to ensure even greater lateral stability. The cherry atop this engineering sundae is the active anti-roll system, which works with the air suspension to fight off body roll through turns. But the on-paper facts, while impressive, don’t do this car justice. It takes time behind the wheel for the RS Q8 to convince us of its astonishing capabilities.
After pounding an early morning espresso and chatting briefly with Audi Sport’s engineering team, we’re tossed the keys to the RS Q8. Plotted in the navigation system is a drive route that leads us to the middle of the island; up thousands of feet in elevation. To reach the swaths of curvacious tarmac that lead to our summit endpoint, we must first escape Tenerife’s congested coastline highways. It’s in these circumstances that the RS Q8 does its best impression of a normal crossover. We leave the car in its default Comfort mode, which keeps the ride height puffed up, the shocks more relaxed, and the powertrain in its most docile setting. Navigating through highway traffic, the RS Q8 feels undoubtedly firmer than the standard Q8, and not too different – at least from a ride-quality perspective – than the Urus.
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.
Our only 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.
Wringing out the powertrain is torque-filled fun and provides total reassurance that the RS Q8 is silly, silly fast.
We conquer the gridlock (yes, even a remote-island like Tenerife has a morning rush hour) and eventually turn onto our first curvaceous mountain road. Immediately inspired and revved up on Spanish caffeine, we change select Dynamic mode and get our very first taste of the RS Q8’s performance. With an open stretch of road, we boot the right pedal and are greeted by a massive wave of torque and the V8’s baritone soundtrack. A tight right-hander rapidly approaches – thirty yards out… twenty yards out – an enthusiastic stab of the Audi’s left pedal forces the optional carbon-ceramic brakes to bring the behemoth back to cornering-appropriate speeds.
With a flick of the wheel from left to right, the four-wheel steering sneaks the RS Q8 around the corner with compact hatch-like agility. It’s only upstaged by the exceptional anti-roll system which keeps the RS Q8 planted and flat. All things considered, It’s clear that the only thing stopping us from pushing even harder is the actual size of the vehicle itself, which is just too big for tight-laned European roads. But still, witnessing the dynamic driving systems at work for the first time on public roads renders the only appropriate reaction from the driver’s seat –Holy shit.
Beyond the series of hairpins lays a final stretch of road that leads to the mountain’s crest. The surroundings become arid as the temperature drops with each mile. In about 45 minutes we drive from what looks like the set of The Hobbit to the set of The Martian. But as the landscape changes, so does the tarmac, which straightens out drastically. This prompts us to put the car in its sportiest “RS 2” mode, activated with two pushes of the RS button on the steering wheel. Once in RS 2 mode, the RS Q8’s electronic stability control (ESC) swaps to Sport and the suspension and powertrain switch over to their most aggressive settings. With no traffic or sudden turns in sight, we put the transmission in its manual mode and work the RS Q8 up to its 7,000 rpm redline.
The V8 engine is potent and snarls when poked, but it’s still quieter than we’d like. The Audi team reassures us later on that this European model is much quieter than a U.S. example because of its emissions restrictions. So we’ll withhold judgment on the RS Q8’s engine’s noise until we dance with the American version. In its sportiest mode, the transmission returns quick shifts, welcoming two-and-even-three gear changes in a row. As we said after driving the RS 6 Avant, we wish the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters themselves were a bit bigger. Otherwise, wringing out the powertrain is torque-filled fun and provides total reassurance that the RS Q8 is silly, silly fast.
A Moment Of Reflection
We’re greeted by a view that is epic beyond words upon reaching the highest point on the island. On a carved-out ridge, we park the RS Q8 and admire it against a backdrop of clouds, trees, and small pieces of coastline in the distance. Its looks are subtle-but-sharp, even in such a dramatic setting. If you’re a fan of the Q8, then you’ll like this charged-up version of the design.
There are slight variances in the looks depending on which exterior package you opt for. Aluminum, Carbon Fiber, and Black packages are offered, with our favorite being the latter, especially against a darker paint color. The accents look tasteful and not overdone. And who doesn’t love a blacked-out Audi badge in the middle of the grille? The magic is really in the side profile, where the RS model diverges from its standard Q8 sibling. With its low-slung adaptive suspension setting and massive, optional 23-inch wheels, the RS Q8 hardly looks the part of a crossover. The same goes for the rear end, with its RS-specific oval tailpipes and can’t-miss-it badging. Taken as a whole, the RS Q8 is striking, but it doesn’t seek attention like some other performance crossovers (cough, Urus, cough).
With its low-slung adaptive suspension setting and massive, optional 23-inch wheels, the RS Q8 hardly looks the part of a crossover.
And that’s really the bottom line here. In the way it drives and certainly in the way it looks, the RS Q8 doesn’t shout nearly as loud as its Lamborghini cousin. Although Audi hasn’t confirmed pricing just yet, the German brand’s high-performance crossover is bound to be much cheaper, too. But even with money removed from the equation, the RS Q8 is an absolute performance riot and a wonderful display of forward-thinking driving technology. Audi’s decision to expand the RS lineup with the Q8 didn’t result in a sloppy-handling crossover with a big engine – it arguably resulted in the new benchmark for fast SUVs.