How far would you go to test drive a new car? If the answer is “Down to the local dealership in my lunch hour, if I wasn’t too busy,” you aren’t really a car person. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone is. If you are a car person, though, you might be prepared to go a little further afield. And for the right car, well… you’d probably go almost anywhere.
Which is how GQ recently found ourselves in Chile’s Atacama Desert (where James Bond experienced his Quantum Of Solace), the driest non-polar region on Earth, shivering on a windswept, sand-blasted, rocky plateau 4,500 metres (14,750 feet in old money) above sea level, in the shadow of the Andes, suffering the early effects of altitude sickness. And yet, despite the throbbing headache, nausea, heart palpitations and breathlessness, we couldn’t help but smile. Not because we were experiencing onset drug-like delirium, but for one simple reason: we were in the right car.
The Q8 is Audi’s new flagship SUV, a 4×4 that has the squat, muscular presence of an off-roader with the sleek lines of a coupé. Audi isn’t the first to come up with this design style – BMW’s X6, Mercedes’ GLE and, arguably, the Range Rover Velar arrived at the party a while ago – but the interlopers from Ingolstadt certainly know how to make an entrance.
For starters, it has had a major face-lift. The wide, aggressive grille is an eight-sided single-frame statement that, coupled with its narrowed LED headlamps, doesn’t so much scream, “Look at me”, as menacingly demand, “What the hell are you looking at?” That “want-some?” attitude continues on the Q8’s flanks, with rippling flared wheel arches flattering four serious 21-inch wheels, and continues at the back, where a roof spoiler and flat rear-end complete a body that tips more than a hat to the iconic “Ur” Quattro of the Eighties
“We didn’t just take design cues from the Quattro,” admits Mauricio Monteiro Dos Santos, one of Audi’s lead project designers. “Once you drive it, you will realise the Audi Q8 also shares DNA with our legendary rally car.” Those are very big genetic shoes to fill.
On the inside, instead of a Quattro-inspired dash (you really wouldn’t want that), you get a stark and stripped-back cockpit free of clutter, knobs and various vents. In their place are the elegant virtual dials and haptic touchscreens familiar to Q7 and A8 drivers. Audi does interiors exceptionally well, and the Q8’s is no exception. It might not be what you would call different, but if it ain’t broke…
That said, while those views are truly incredible, they might not be worth suffering a high-altitude cerebral oedema for – even if you are a car person.
Need to know:
Engine: 282bhp, 3.0-litre V6
Performance: 0-62mph, 6.3 seconds; top speed, 144mph