- Chonky looks
- Gobs of grip
- The ride never settles down
- Witless transmission
- Feels its size
It’s helpful when things look the way they drive. Gaze upon the Audi RS Q8, the most powerful, sportiest version of the two-row Q8 you can buy, and there’s no missing its chunky shape, big tires, and—well—its visual mass.
But at 5,452 pounds, the RS Q8 has a lot of actual mass, too, and it’s the second-heaviest vehicle evaluated at our inaugural Performance Vehicle of the Year test. The porkiest? The BMW Alpina XB7, a luxury-lined three-row SUV weighing about 200 pounds more. Needless to say, that’s a lot of cheddar to spread over a twisting road, or, in this case, Hyundai’s proving ground in California’s high desert.
Sure, the RS Q8 is quick. With 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, it ripped to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, well ahead of the XB7’s 4.0 seconds. By the time it passed a quarter mile, the Audi was traveling 116.2 mph, and it took just 11.8 seconds to get there. Stops from 60 mph took just 114 feet, and the Audi’s 23-inch(!) summer tires hung on for 1.00 g of grip around our skidpad.
But the picture around those glowing performance specs is filled in with disappointment. The ride, for starters, is tuned seemingly for freshly laid surfaces that have had every last imperfection shaved off. On more realistic roads—if you can call a proving ground’s manicured pavement such—the Audi refused to settle down. Blame the gigantic wheels, blame the damper tuning, blame whatever you want, but over less than perfect roads, the RS Q8 jitters and jiggles, particularly in its sportier drive modes. There’s wheel flutter—the sense the tires are almost bouncing against the ground—and then there are the body’s vertical pogo sensations translated directly to occupants’ fleshy bits. Think you’re cut? This Audi will find your soft parts and make them quiver.
Ignoring the discombobulated suspension tuning, which is tolerable only in its Normal setting, the handling is capable, not satisfying. There’s a difference. With 56 percent of its mass loading the front tires, the Audi drops its shoulder into corners like a linebacker. (The Alpina XB7, which weighs even more, feels lighter on its feet thanks to the inverse weight distribution, as it carries just 44 percent of its mass on its nose.) A dab of brake sets the Q8’s schnoz down hard on the outside tire; luckily, you can shove the big Audi through using the mighty twin-turbo V-8, whose torque can be directed to the outside rear tire at will via Quattro all-wheel drive and the torque-vectoring rear differential. You’ll need to wait a beat while the transmission fumbles its duty to downshift in a timely manner, but it gets there eventually. The whole dance feels deliberate and, well, chunky.
If Audi could mitigate the RS Q8’s less appreciated vibes while keeping its snarly V-8 noise, urgent acceleration, and clever all-wheel drive, it’d have something here. As it sits, the RS Q8 was nearly unanimously voted out of the finalist round.
Conveniently, the prototype for this idealized Audi also participated in PVOTY this year: the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT. Riding on the same MLB platform and using the same V-8 and other related VW Group components, the some-500-pounds-lighter Porsche wipes the floor with the Audi at the test track while behaving civilly on the street. Ditto other monster MLB-based SUVs, the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley’s Bentayga Speed. Those vehicles all boast moves that belie their size and heft. In the case of this Audi, though, looks aren’t particularly deceiving.
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