The arid and alien terrain on the island of Tenerife makes a perfect backdrop for the similarly unique Audi RS Q8 during our test drive. The largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, its volcanic genesis is ever-apparent given the snow-capped peak of Mount Teide is visible throughout much of its eponymous national park. Driving the exceptionally twisty roads, the metaphor of an erupting volcano isn’t lost on us when punching the RS Q8’s accelerator. The massive force produced by the four-liter twin-turbo V8 engine (which has “light hybrid” electrical enhancement) propels the very heavy car forward with a stomach-turning dynamic. Tourists throughout the park are also moved by the car—some because of the beautiful exterior design and others who know what the “RS” badge means on an Audi.
The Q8 originally launched in 2018 as the brand’s first SUV coupé and represents the pinnacle of their SUV collection. It’s also the first to wear some new design cues for the category—most noticeably, lines and proportions inspired by the beloved ’80s Quattro rally car. Given the Q8 was born sporty, enhancing its performance with RS level specs means changes that are almost exclusively under the skin of the vehicle. Only subtle details cue the design of the RS version—an ever-so-slight increase to the vehicle width, an overhanging roofline spoiler and oval-shaped tailpipes among them.
Driving this car is a thrill. On the narrow winding roads, its large size is apparent at first but as we settle in, the five-passenger SUV almost shrinks around us. Among its many innovations that enhance the driving experience is four-wheel steering. First seen in the A8, the rear wheels also turn either in opposition to help hug tight corners or in parallel to ease lateral moves like lane changes. And while there’s no denying you’re pushing a heavy car down the road, the RS Q8’s air-suspension adapts to every road type and driving style, keeping the car surprisingly nimble.
Inside the RS Q8 we find the three-way balance of luxury, technology and sportiness Audi is known to deliver. Large screens deliver a very full featured infotainment system. Bang & Olufsen pumps out stellar sound. And the smell of Valcona leather soothes the soul. A simple, new RS button has been added to the steering wheel to offer drivers a customizable shortcut to their favorite driving configuration. The rear seats have ample passenger space and there’s tons of room for junk in the trunk.
While exact pricing and timing for the Audi RS Q8 has yet to be announced for the US, in Europe it will sell for a base price of €127,000 with deliveries beginning during the first quarter of 2020. It’s also worth noting that while production numbers of this car haven’t been reported, it’s a pretty niche offering and we don’t expect a massive number to be available.
Hero image by Josh Rubin