Now there’s a stepping stone between the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga.
Things aren't looking too smooth for the Volkswagen group and its SUV lineup. Not that the automaker makes bad family carriers, it’s just that it hasn’t yet filled every possible niche segment that its competitors have, and that’s a problem. Within the Volkswagen family, Audi is the furthest ahead in the SUV stampede with Volkswagen itself playing catch up. Meanwhile Bentley holds down the top tier luxury fort and will soon be reinforced by Lamborghini, but the problem lies a bit lower.
That’s because the Audi Q7 can be had for just a smidgen under $50,000 while the Bentley Bentayga starts around $230,000. Both ride on the same platform and can be considered family, albeit with differing sizes of inheritance, but there is plenty of room for a palate cleanser between the two in the form of a comfort-oriented SUV that wears rings on its grille rather than wings. An SUV that, as it so happens, has been unveiled to Detroit in the form of the 2017 Audi Q8 Concept. Filling a footprint that’s shorter, wider, and nearly as long as the Q7, the Q8 Concept is a four-seat SUV that’s built for those who want prestige, presence, and comfort over utility. Despite what Audi calls a slightly lowered coupe roofline, headroom and shoulder space are a priority.
Enabling a flat roofline are doors lacking window frames that only help the Q8 retain a stretched out look to it. Emphasizing presence is an octagonal grille that’s larger than that of any other Audi, with flat headlights to invoke the sense that the Q8 is glaring at you. Framing the bottom of the car is an aluminum blade flanked by two large air intakes on the bottom lip of the front bumper to help the SUV look like its cutting through the air. Its rounded shape emitting from more straight lines that have a clear goal make the Q8 look Audi TTish. Inside, the futuristic design prevails once again thanks to straight lines that make the cabin look like a space ship designed by modern architects.
A “black panel” that remains decorative when turned off and turns into an interactive screen when switched on helps preserve this look while the rear seats see first class individuality thanks to swaths of interior space afforded by the four seat setup. A new heads-up display helps drivers by projecting relevant road information at it's actual location on the windshield. For example, when approaching a turn, the HUD can place an arrow in the windshield where the driver sees the corner to make it easy to spot. While central to the Audi brand, technology is not the only Q8 feature that's out of this world. That's because powering the all-wheel drive SUV will be a 3.0-liter TFSI engine making 333 horsepower.
This is further supplemented by a 134 horsepower electric motor, boosting total output to 442 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed tiptronic transmission that is operated using a shift-by-wire mechanism helps the plug-in hybrid attain 102 mpg while reserving the ability to rush from standstill to 60 mph in only 5.4 seconds. In all-electric mode, drivers can travel 37 miles on battery power alone. If drivers opt to save the battery, there is a “Battery Hold” mode available to preserve EV power for cities when on the highway while Hybrid mode is reserved as the standard drive mode. Looks are subjective, but in our eyes the styling is more miss than hit.
While the Q8 certainly has presence, it looks a bit too much like a gadget (a shaving razor styled to make it look like it really wants to shave your beard, for example) than it does a car. This design language may bode well for cars like the Honda Civic, but luxury buyers looking to spend what we expect to be Mercedes GLS money on a comfortable SUV to bring friends to the opera with are likely to want more classical styling elements. Unlike other concepts that become sharing bins from which designers can pull inspiration from, the Q8 will be coming to life in 2018 and be based heavily on the concept. Let's just hope Audi ditches some of the SUV's attention seeking looks before the actual debut.