Like it or not, the crossover SUV segment is here to stay: It has become wildly popular in virtually every price range. The market niche that interests us most, of course, is the premium luxury category. And while there are many interesting entries, few of them are coupes. In fact, there is only the BMW X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, and perhaps also the Range Rover Sport. Now they will face formidable competition from a new contender: The Audi Q8, an SUV coupe that is based on the Q7.

Even though the Q8 won’t be offered a third row of seats, it retains the wheelbase of the Q7. And thus, it dwarfs the competition from Stuttgart and Munich. Moreover, while the X6 and the GLE Coupe are clearly just derivatives of the X5 and the regular GLE, the Q8 features a completely different style. While the Q7 is an aestetically challenged holdover from a former design era, the Q8 epitomizes the new styling language conceived by chief designer Marc Lichte.

When Audi invited us to go along with the technical project director, Dr.-Ing. Werner Kummer, for a test round, we didn’t think twice. So here we are: Pulling the handle slightly, the door lock opens electrically. And like in a real sports car, the side windows are frameless. The dashboard is still covered, but it is clearly visible: The Q8 takes Audi’s SUV interiors to the next level. It is more A8 than Q7.

Just as expected, the Q8 is equipped with an ultra-fast telematics and infotainment system that offers multiple customisation options. The space is extremely generous, even in the rear. Surprisingly, Audi only plans to offer a five-seat layout. If one car is predestined for single second-row seats, this is it.

The Q8 is fitted with five-link axles front and rear, and the chassis is available in three variants: A steel suspension with damper control is standard, and as an option, Audi offers a regular and a sporty level of its air suspension. An optional four-wheel steering system reduces the turning circle at low speeds and enhances high stability at autobahn velocites. Power is sent to all four wheels through a mechanical center differential.

On our test lap, the Q8 prototype mastered bumpy roads confidently, and it charged through fast corners with virtually no body roll. The chassis offers high reserves and is tuned more sharply than the Q7’s. The standard progressive steering becomes more direct with an increasing steering lock angle.

In Europe, the Q8 will be launched with a 3.0-liter V6 TDI engine with 48-volt hybridization; a V6 gasoline engine will be added later, and we suspect Audi will add SQ8 or RSQ8 models later, powered by V-8 gasoline and diesel engines. Meanwhile, the V6 TDI, whose exact performance figures Audi keeps secret, leaves little to be desired. Except for a bit of sound: It is almost eerily quiet.

Going forward, all engines will be coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission. And on the vast majority of markets, they will be fitted with 48 volt-hybridization (except for a possible high-voltage plug-in hybrid).

In Europe, the Audi Q8 comes to market this summer. Prices are not fixed yet. But one thing is clear already: With its futuristic shape, its clean and powerful engines and its perfectly integrated infotainment system, it will give the competition a lot to chew on.

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