The concept Q8 SUV opened up the Audi presentation at the North American International Auto Show with promises of high efficiency and dynamic good looks – all coming to a production model for 2018. Standing for "maximum prestige," the company says, the Q8 combines the utility and interior space of an SUV with the looks of a premium sedan.
This was difficult for us to process right off the bat, given the front grille that can only be described as a "maw." Normally, a gigantic open face on the front of a car is considered "upscale" in today's design language. Just witness any Lexus design for reference. But Audi added vertical stripes that give the Q8 concept a definite Richard Kiel as Jaws (from the James Bond films) motif.
Once past that, though, the Audi Q8 concept really looks good. Simple styling cues, as is the hallmark of the German brand, make for a great-looking SUV. The sedan-styled roofline with its dipped rear quarter, the simplistic bodylines, and the accented fenders at all four corners all hide the fact that this is a monstrous sport utility. Measuring 16.5 feet long (5.02 meters) with a wheelbase of 9.8 feet (3 meters), the Q8 concept is definitely full-sized.
Powering this big SUV is a plug-in hybrid powertrain centered on a 3.0-liter turbocharged engine with a 333 horsepower (245 kW) output that offers 369 foot-pounds (500 Nm) of torque. This engine mates with an eight-speed automatic transmission into which an electric motor has been integrated. That motor combines with the engine for a total system output of 442 hp (330 kW) and 516 lb-ft (700 Nm) of power.
This powertrain, Audi says, would give the Q8 concept a fuel efficiency rating estimated at 102.3 mpge (2.3 l/100km). That includes 37.3 miles (60 km) of all-electric driving, thanks to the Q8 concept's 17.9 kWh of lithium-ion battery cells. Total range for the SUV is estimated to be 621 miles (1,000 km) when both the fuel tank and batteries are full. Charging time for the batteries is about two and a half hours at 7.2 kW.
The Q8 concept's drive system is controlled through both a built-in predictive efficiency assistant and driver-toggled controls. Audi says the automatic systems use a combination of near-vehicle and active drive sensors, as well as routing data from the navigation system to adjust hybrid, engine, and all-electric drive modes. The driver can toggle both the stop-start system and three drive mode options for tailored driving expectations. These modes include prioritizing electric driving ("EV Mode"), a hybrid (or default) mode that lets the automated systems do their thing, and "Battery Hold" mode to prioritize keeping the battery charged for later use.
Mode selection is on the steering wheel, which is a flat-bottomed sport wheel jutting from an uplifted, modern dash made up of Audi's signature horizontal lines of motion. It should be noted that the huge Audi Q8 concept is a full-size SUV that seats only four. This unusual configuration is a further nod to the Q8's conceptual status, as it's very likely that a production SUV of this size would have three rows and seating for seven or eight. As such, its nearest competitor would be the BMW X5 PHEV.
Much of the Audi Q8 concept's interior design is focused on the integration of technology with traditional elements. Touchscreen displays use Audi's new "virtual cockpit" design and a head-up display for the driver. A digital design concept, Audi says, allows all screens in the Q8 to concentrate on important things according to what's happening in and around the car.
Most interesting about this, though, is the sort of light-duty augmented reality that Audi has incorporated into the Q8's conceptuals. This places important things into the windshield in front of the driver, allowing navigation, for example, to overlay onto the street to show turns. The 12.3-inch TFT display at the instrument cluster is a robust 1920 x 720 pixel resolution which can use three-dimensional augmentation for navigation maps on zoom. This same 3D display augmentation is used when the driver selects Sport mode, adding shadows to the cluster to create a faster-paced, 3D effect.
For the central infotainment screen, the gear lever below is wide and flat, allowing it to be used as a wrist/forearm rest while controlling the central touchscreen. Some aspects of the infotainment screen are disabled when a front seat passenger is not detected (via weight sensors in the seat). This includes not displaying passenger-side dual climate information when there is no right-seat occupant.
Finally, the chassis of the Q8 concept is based on a big all-wheel drive drivetrain with a wide track and individual torque control at each wheel. This torque control is done through braking, enhancing stability dynamics through the ceramic brakes. The suspension utilizes an air-ride system with the air suspension allowing for varied damping to adjust to different driving modes and conditions. Two round clearance levels are pre-set for selection, with about 3.5 inches (90 mm) of height difference between them.
Audi is making it clear that the Q8 SUV is a concept, but it appears near enough to production that we are willing to guess that it's very much like what the actual production model, promised for 2018, will look like.
Take a closer look at the Q8 on the road in the video below:
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