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Review: Audi Q8 E-tron

Five years after the German company’s original EV, E-tron is up for a refresh. But is the Q8 enough?
Audi Q8 Etron parked in a parking lot overlooking mountains
Photograph: AUDI AG
Audi Q8 e-tron
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Peerless interior quality. Seamless user experience. Performance.
Expensive. Improved range, but still not improved enough. Design could be bolder.

Maybe it’s the nature of the technology and the pressure of change, but EVs seem to age more rapidly than their now doomed ICE forebears. Can it really be five years since WIRED first tried the Audi E-tron?

Almost. So it’s time for a major refresh, something this big Audi could really use as key rivals such as the BMW iX and Mercedes EQE have since entered the fray. Note that they’re both purpose-built, clean-sheet EVs that share little to nothing in terms of their architecture with existing combustion-engined siblings.

However, although the Q8 E-tron is renamed to cement its status at the top of an EV line-up that includes the Q4 E-tron and the incoming Q6 E-tron, it’s still based on the same platform that you’ll find beneath the fossil-fuel-powered Q7 SUV and the related Porsche Cayenne, both of the VW family.

The external visual changes introduce some EV-ness into Audi’s increasingly expressive design language, to the extent that even non-brand aficionadoes should be able to spot that change is afoot. There’s a new grille, the Audi logo is more prominent, and the bumpers front and rear are redesigned. A light bar now stretches between the headlights, and there’s a new alloy wheel design.

The E-tron is also available as a Sportback, though I can’t help thinking that all SUV-coupes are somewhat specious. WIRED wouldn’t trade the regular car’s longer rear and greater versatility for this supposed style statement.

Five-Year Service
Photograph: AUDI AG

More important are the tech upgrades. Five years is a long time in the world of electrification, and battery energy density is always improving. The entry-level 50 version sees its usable capacity rise from 71 to 89 kWh, while the 55 model (and performance-oriented SQ8 E-tron) goes from 89 to 106 kWh, which may be more than the coming Kia EV9. Now we’re talking.

The motors have also been revised, and the car’s aerodynamic efficiency further optimized. Audi claims a range of “up to 330 miles” for the 55, and DC charging speeds are improved too. These have gone from 150 to 170 kW, though that’s still some way off the 240-kW limit enjoyed by the excellent Genesis GV70 and others. The battery will go from 10 to 80 percent charge in 31 minutes, but this time that can't beat the EV9's 800V electrical architecture, which can do the same in under 25 minutes.

The Q8 E-tron has also gained some dynamic improvements. The steering is faster and more alert, the suspension has been finessed—all versions ride on air springs—and the stability and traction control algorithms have been tweaked. The 55 has a total of 402 bhp and 490 pound-feet of torque, and it sits between the 335-bhp 50 version and the 496-bhp SQ8. That one gains a third motor.

Imperious, Not Interactive
Photograph: AUDI AG

The dual-motor 55 is a car that has an imperious feel without being what you might call interactive. But then no electric SUV is truly working off a mission statement to entertain—not least because, regardless of the chassis wizardry or engineering smarts at play, the E-tron weighs north of 2.5 tons, and the physics at work are immutable.

It’s certainly up there with the BMW iX, although like all premium German machines of this ilk, there’s still a lurking and spurious emphasis on “sportiness.” For what it’s worth, zero to 62 mph takes 5.6 seconds, and its top speed is 124 mph. Not one for a YouTube-friendly drag race film, then.

Far better to settle into a gentler groove, one that’s only interrupted by a ride quality that can be a little firm, particularly on the UK’s appallingly maintained B roads. The powertrain is silky in operation, the controls smoothly modulated. You can adjust the amount of regenerative braking on the fly via steering-column-mounted paddles, or leave the car to take charge itself in the adaptive drive mode.

During a 100-mile trip that mixed back roads with freeway in unpleasant weather conditions, I was averaging 2.5 miles/kWh, for a total range of around 270 miles. Although some way short of Audi’s claim, it’s about what I’d expect in real-world conditions. And tolerable.

Space Oddity
Photograph: AUDI AG

The interior is familiar and unimpeachably Audi, at least in terms of quality. The infotainment and climate live on separate screens, but the graphics are clear and pleasing, the haptics are good, and it’s all easy to navigate.

Interesting that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes are all on the same path, but the delivery is so different. I’d argue that BMW’s curved glass screen is the paragon, but the Audi is unquestionably high quality. Its kinship with an old-school ICE platform means, strangely, it still has a transmission tunnel between the seats, so the interior real estate is not as imaginatively executed as in the BMW or Mercedes.

The Launch Edition also features Audi’s camera-based side mirrors, which display the image on a pair of screens mounted on the leading edge of the doors. We’ve had five years to get used to this tech, but the jury’s still out on their efficacy. They do help minimize wind noise in that area, though.

Photograph: AUDI AG

Prices start from $74,400 in the US for the Premium and £67,085 in the UK, where its called the “50.” Go for the Sportback body and you’ll need £2,500 (or $3,400) on top of that. That’s an expensive electric adventure right there.