New Audi Q8 2023 facelift review: can it come out of the Porsche Cayenne’s shadow?

Updates are only mild, but the Audi Q8 remains a practical and refined SUV

  • 3.5 out of 5

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    We’re dealing with a worthy facelift here rather than an extensive one, then – and a notably different approach from the one taken by Porsche with its latest Cayenne. That car, available in regular and coupé body styles, continues to share its basic platform with the Audi but has been treated to an overhauled cabin, a slightly more powerful version of the V6 engine in base trim, and totally reworked suspension.

    Still, the Q8’s cabin is roomy for four adults, with excellent legroom and headroom, even for rear passengers in a car with a semi-coupe roofline. The in-car tech was solid before and it remains so now – although Audi’s haptic-feedback touchscreens, which require a solid prod to use and offer no scope for muscle-memory inputs on key features, remain a bit of oddity.

    The materials are respectable for the class now rather than stellar, with odd ventilation controls breaking up the finish in the fascia, and gloss-black materials that are less in vogue now than they were three years ago. In general the bits you touch do seem high in quality, but it’s frustrating that the budget for the facelift didn’t extend to replacing the gearshift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel; they felt cheap when the Q8 was launched, and they’re not ageing well.

    As promised, the infotainment system does indeed allow scope for choosing four paired combinations of headlight and tail-light pattern. But in truth, what you actually see from the outside are just subtle variations on the same theme – a world away from the personalisation that’s increasingly available through emerging Chinese manufacturers. Cost and packaging constraints are the reasons behind the modest offering although Audi officials also admit that they’re not entirely comfortable with the idea of allowing owners to create their own lighting motifs, lest they come up with something not befitting of the brand.

    A different alloy wheel design and bumper tweaks aren’t going to change the Q8’s dynamic make-up, and sure enough, it feels pretty much as you were. The V6 engine has enough shove for you to make haste when required, and it’s a smooth performer, fading away nicely into the background at a fast cruise. The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox doesn’t like to be rushed, though, and it’s prone to the odd jerky shift at lower speeds. The manual paddles don’t really make it any slicker, either.

    We also tried the V6 diesel and found it a more accomplished performer, with a better relationship between gearbox and engine, and excellent motorway refinement (it runs at barely 1,600rpm at 70mph). But of course, market trends being what they are, nobody will buy it.

    The chassis set-up is peculiar. UK Q8s get adaptive air suspension as standard, but it seems set up for agility and body control – without truly managing to deliver either with much conviction. The steering is pleasingly direct, but regardless of which of the car’s dynamic modes you’ve selected, the Q8 can get out of phase with itself when you really start to pitch it into corners. 

    This would be less of an issue if the attempt at sportiness hadn’t eroded comfort, but it has. The Q8 only feels truly comfortable with life on smooth, gently undulating roads; over more broken surfaces and, again, regardless of which mode the car is running in, it’s prone to shimmying and shuddering as the system fails to cope with sharp, high-frequency inputs. Factor in the body movement and you end up with a car that struggles to settle itself. 

    Three years ago, when the Q8 was first launched, this was not an uncommon recipe in fast premium SUVs. The worrying thing for Audi is that the aforementioned Cayenne is notably more composed and more capable – and astonishingly, even allowing for a bit of fun with the options list, it is also cheaper.

    Model: Audi Q8 55 TFSI Black Edition
    Price: £80,650
    Engine: 3.0-litre V6 petrol
    Power/torque: 335bhp/500Nm
    Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
    0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
    Top speed: 155mph
    Economy: 26.2mpg
    CO2 emissions: 246g/km
    On sale: Now

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