Audi’s New SUV Is a Bold Statement Waiting for a Retraction

Audi Q8 Concept

The Audi Q8 concept features a brand-new grille, plug-in hybrid drivetrain, and no door handles | Audi

Families are getting smaller, SUVs are getting faster, and every luxury car comes with an optional plug. Audi designers and engineers clearly took these trends to heart when creating the Q8 concept that debuted at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. The result is an ultra-powerful, uber-luxurious statement vehicle that could drive like a Tesla while delivering the comfort of a Range Rover and tech of a new Volvo. It may be a concept, but any production model that comes close would be a bold entry on the U.S. market.

To see how far Audi took your typical chunky SUV, start with the athletic stance. Q8 sits with a lower, wider crouch than Q7 and most other models in the segment. Meanwhile, it seats only four people, has no window frames, and delivers 516 pound-feet of torque. If SUVs are the new minivan, then Q8 must be the new luxury performance sedan. Think AMG, only higher, with space for skis, and capable of 102 MPGe in plug-in mode.

Audi Q8

You won’t find door handles or window frames on the new Q8 | Audi

With sales for models like Mercedes S-Class and Audi’s own sedans on the downswing, this approach makes plenty of sense. But Audi took the Q8 concept further than it had to by giving it an electric car battery capable of powering the car for more than 35 miles in EV mode.

Audi says a production model based on the concept will appear in 2018, so it won’t take long to see how its “full-size SUV in coupe design” pans out.

Audi Q8 concept

The Q8 concept will enter the market in some form by 2018 | Audi

In a company statement, Dietmar Voggenreiter of Audi’s sales and marketing board described Q8 as “Audi in peak form,” a claim that is difficult to dispute. Voggenreiter highlighted the “next-generation display and control solutions … enabling customers to experience connectivity in a whole new way.” Indeed, most of the interior controls forego buttons for touchscreens, and the high-definition main display boasts more than a foot (12.3 inches) in diameter.

When zooming in on the display, it transforms into 3D mode, showing the driver’s position and surroundings on the map. Consumers who had trouble fiddling with knobs and other aspects of cars in the past should find a big upgrade in user-friendliness if Audi delivers on Q8’s promise. Better organization and simplicity are top priorities here. As we alluded to earlier, performance won’t be any problem for next-gen Audi vehicles, either.

The Audi Q8 concept SUV is shown during the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 10, 2017.

Q8 maxes out at 333 horsepower and 516 pounds-feet of torque | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Along with the massive torque quotient, Q8’s 3.0 engine peaks at 333 horsepower with the electric motor’s help. It can make the run to 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds from a stop, Audi said. That puts it just between Tesla Model X 75D (6.0 seconds) and 90D (4.8 seconds). Adaptive air suspension adjusts to the situation, be it highway cruising or a winding mountain road. To stop, Q8’s 20-inch ceramic disc brakes ought to work just fine.

While we shouldn’t expect 23-inch wheels on a finished product, it’s hard to believe Audi wasted its energy on this concept. Maybe we will see something like a smaller Volvo XC90 T8 next year. (In a close race, XC90 topped Audi’s Q7 in 2016 sales.) It won’t be cheap, obviously, no matter what form it takes. But the automaker doesn’t seem ready to compromise on any level here. We wouldn’t expect anything less from “peak Audi.”

Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook!
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY