Beauty seeking beast: 2021 Audi Q8 and RS Q8 5-seat premium midsize crossover

2020 Audi Q8

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Audi Q8 different?

Addition of a high-performance RS model with near 600 horsepower, for sure. Continued migration of features to the least expensive model, perhaps. New packages that group popular amenities, maybe. Updates to styling and possible further powertrain changes won’t come until a midcycle refresh, probably for model-year 2023.

Until then, this high-fashion premium midsize crossover continues as a 21st Century version of the personal luxury car. Like the rival BMW X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, and Porsche Cayenne Coupe, Audi’s Q8 is showy transport for the well-heeled. It’s the role once played by big two-door cars such as the flashy 1960s Buick Riviera or elegant 1970s Lincoln Mark III.

Despite its digit-higher designation, the Q8 is actually a smidge smaller than Audi’s more family oriented Q7 midsize crossover. It seats five rather than seven, and it’s priced higher. It debuted for model-year 2019 and has been well-received, outselling the aforementioned direct competitors and accounting for 30 percent of combined Q7/Q8 sales through the first three quarters of 2019.   

Should I wait for the 2021 Audi Q8 or buy a 2019?

2020 Q8

Wait if to see if Audi continues to enhance the base-model Q8’s standard equipment, safety features in particular. Wait also if you fancy an Audi crossover in the vein of the BMW X6 M or Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe. The RS Q8 is set to arrive in the U.S. in mid 2020, though whether it’ll arrive tagged a 2020 model or a ’21 is unclear.

Such a specialized Q8 could well cost $120,000, though, so more customers would be better served by enhanced safety features for the entry-level Premium model. Audi made lane-departure warning and automatic highbeam headlights standard instead of optional on the 2020 Premium. For ’21, we’d urge it to do the same for adaptive cruise control and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection. Driver assists like that really ought to be standard on vehicles that cost $70,000 and up.

Otherwise, the model lineup will carry over Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige grades while adding the RS. All but the RS would again share a 335-horsepower turbocharged V-6 engine; the RS would get a twin-turbocharged V-8. Every Q8 will continue with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system standard.

Audi RS Q8

Even without changes to any model’s equipment list, a good range of basic safety tech is standard on all Q8s. So, buying a ’20 Q8 Premium, Premium Plus, or Prestige lets you avoid model-year price inflation on a crossover virtually indistinguishable from a ’21.

As for that expected model-year 2023 freshening, it won’t change the Q8’s looks except by degree and won’t alter its dimensions or basic engineering. Beyond the possible RS, Audi could further expand powertrains to match the electric-assist choices of direct competitors. The cupboard of parent-company Volkswagen and its Porsche brand includes applicable conventional hybrid and plug-in-hybrid systems. For now, however, Audi assigns alternative-fuel duty to its pure-electric e-tron, a five-passenger midsize crossover as comely as the Q8 but even costlier.

Will the styling be different?

2020 Q8

The RS Q8 will have exclusive touches, such as a front fascia with enlarged air intakes and a rear fascia with aero splitters and big dual exhausts. It would also likely have unique 23-inch wheels, a size larger than available on other Q8s.

The returning 2021 Q8s might get new color choices and possibly more appearance packages. But the vehicle’s overall look won’t change. It’ll keep it’s high-riding-hatchback profile, aggressive version of Audi’s Singleframe-grille front end, and a roofline without the severe taper that makes some “four-door-coupe” competitors look awkward.

All models will reprise full LED lighting, artsy frameless side glass, and subtle exterior brightwork, such as side windows outlined in aluminum. The design of the standard alloy wheels — 20-inchers on the Premium, 21s on Plus and Prestige – differ by trim level. Added for ’20 were Black optic and S line packages that included 21- or 22-inch wheels, black trim, red brake calipers, and other touches. These or similar options will return for 2021. 

Like the Q7, the Q8 is built on the same VW Group crossover architecture that underpins the Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga, and Lamorghini Urus. The Q7 and Q8 have the same wheelbase (the span between the front and rear axles), but the Q8’s body is shorter, wider, and lower.

The long wheelbase contributes to an expansive cabin. Rear accommodations are palatial. At 31 cubic feet behind the 40/20/40 split rear seatbacks and 61 with them folded, cargo volume is near top of class, too. Despite an abundance of bins, pockets, and boxes, the interior is curiously short on small-items storage space. At least that reduces clutter, like tidying up your homescreen.

Overall, the interior design is civil and sophisticated. Expect the RS to get its own carbon-fiber-trim theme, along with customized gauges, bolstered sport seats, and combination leather/faux-suede upholstery.

Leather upholstery will return as standard on the other Q8s, along with fine-grain gray-ash or brown eucalyptus wood. The Prestige grade will again get touch-sensitive aluminum switchgear and, along with the Premium Plus, tasteful ambient lighting that pinstripes even the dashboard’s “quattro” badge. You can extend stitched leather to the upper doors and dashboard for another $1,200. Prestige models should again off an indulgent Luxury Package ($6,150 for 2020) with even more surfaces covered in natural hides, aromatic Valcona leather upholstery, and an Alcantara headliner.

Returning as standard on every 20201 Q8 will be the Audi Virtual Cockpit. This 12.3-inch LCD screen fills the main instrument binnacle and is configurable to show high-def mapping – including Google Earth imagery — for the included navigation system. It augments the dashboard’s crisp touchscreens: a 10.1-inch upper display for infotainment and additional mapping, an 8.6-inch lower one for climate, comfort, and vehicle systems.

Many functions can be governed by voice command or redundant steering-wheel controls, but the main interface is via those dashboard screens They provides haptic feedback (and a neat “click” confirmation) bit you’ll likely find this MMI touch response system less driver-friendly than the center-console mouse controller in most other Audis. Plus, the screens are prone to fingerprints.   

Even less sociable is the transmission shifter, a console-mounted grip that toggles to engage gears but relegates Park to a button on its aft surface. An uncomfortable repositioning of your hand is necessary to press it. Less critically, the steering-wheel rim blocks the gas gauge. And the rear side widows lower only about two-thirds of the way.

Any mechanical changes?

2020 Q8

For non-RS Q8s, probably not until the model-year-’23 refresh. Before then, however, we’d urge Audi to recalibrate the Q8’s powertrain software to deliver power with greater consistency. Expect the ’21 Q8’s only engine to remain a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic will stay the sole transmission.

The V-6’s output is commensurate with that of base engines in top rivals. But our tests of Q8s thus far revealed power delivery too dependent on the turbo being on boost and the transmission in the optimal ratio. If not, throttle response was troublingly fickle. There’s fine thrust when everything coalesces.

But even working the standard paddle shifters or engaging the driver-selected Dynamic or Sport modes couldn’t ameliorate the powertrain’s indecisiveness. When you’re aiming for a gap in traffic or want to pass with confidence on a mountain road, unpredictability is no ally.

A rock-solid bearing will again be a selling point, even if overtly sporty handling is not. Don’t expect the ’21 Q8 to be tossable, a rare trait in this class, anyway. Instead, firm steering feel and confident cornering define its road manners. Rear-wheel steering is part of the air-suspension option; low-speed maneuverability seems to be its prime contribution. The standard adaptive suspension helps the taut-riding crossover shrug off bad pavement, even on the low-profile 22-inch tires.

Audi RS Q8

Audi’s quattro AWD defaults to a 40:60 front/rear power split and reshuffles fore and aft to quell tire slip. Consider it primarily a dry-road grip balancer and a slippery-pavement traction enhancer. Settings for gravel, sand, mud, or even snow aren’t included in the standard Drive Select system. For help on the rutted path to your summer cabin, the air suspension does add an off-road setting that increases ground clearance and optimizes the powertrain (it can also lower the rear axle 2.5 inches for easier loading).

Good isolation from road and wind noise make it even more companionable, with the Prestige quieter still thanks to dual-pane acoustic glass.

The Q8 RS would share many of those attributes while dialing up performance considerably. Its engine is the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 also found in RS versions of Audi’s A6 and A7 midsize cars. Expect at least the same output — 591 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque — along with a recalibrated eight-speed automatic transmission. It’ll also get suspension tweaks, four-wheel steering, and performance-enhanced quattro with front torque vectoring. Look for options to include carbon-ceramic brakes, rear-wheel steering, and active anti-roll bars.

Will fuel economy improve?

Expect no change to EPA ratings for returning 2021 Q8 models. They’d repeat at 17/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s roughly in line with direct rivals of similar power. Expect ratings for the more powerful RS to be notably lower, but if you have to ask…

Audi will again require premium 91-octane gas for all ’21 Q8s.   

Will there be new features?

The RS would essentially come fully equipped, with all the aforementioned performance, styling, and interior features. Also as mentioned, we’d urge Audi to continue to migrate safety tech to the Premium trim in support of returning standard features such as autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

As mentioned, we’d urge Audi to continue to migrate safety tech to the Premium trim in support of returning standard features such as autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

Optional for 2020 as part of the reasonably priced $850 Convenience Package on the Premium and standard on the other models were blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection and a system that alerts of vehicles approaching from the rear if you’re about to open a side door (it also delays the door-handle opening).

Expect the Premium Plus to again come with adaptive cruise control, sensors that synch seatbelts if you’re about to be rear-ended, automatic highbeam headlights, and a 360-degree camera.

The ’21 Prestige will return with all that, plus safety items optional for the Premium Plus as part of its $1,750 Diver Assistance Package. These include adaptive cruise with stop-and-go capability, plus autonomous braking and counter-steering to prevent you from turning across the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Rear side airbags would be a $350 option across the board. Animated turn signals front and rear (along with headlight washers) should return as standard on the Prestige and a $1,200 option for the Premium Plus.

In addition to features already covered, every ’21 Q8 will again come standard with a hands-free power liftgate, panoramic moonroof with power sunshade, heated power folding mirrors, and a power tilt/telescope steering column. Look for heated eight-way power front seats with four-way power lumbar adjustment to be standard on the Premium. The other models would return with standard perforated leather and heated and ventilated 12-way seats. A head-up display and power soft-closing doors should remain Prestige exclusives.   

Satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, and Google Android Auto will also be standard across the board. Expect Premium Plus and Prestige to again come with wireless phone charging and to replace the Premium’s 10-speaker Audi audio system with a 17-speaker, 730-watt Bang & Olufsen system. Available again on the Prestige will be a $5,000 19-speaker, 1,820-watt upgrade by B&O. Expect Audi to charge $600 to equip any ’21 Q8 with a Cold Weather Package that heats the steering wheel and rear seat.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 Q8

Anticipate increases. Estimated 2021 Q8 base prices here include Audi’s destination fee, which was $995 on the 2020 model. Figure starting prices of around $70,000 for the ’21 Q8 Premium, $74,000 for the Premium Plus, and $79,500 for the Prestige.

Among key options for the 2021 Premium, the Convenience Package should again include the above-noted safety features, plus wireless charging and automatic-dimming mirrors. The Black Optic Package should return at $1,500.

Options shared by the ’21 Premium Plus and Prestige would again include the $750 S line package with unique front and rear bumpers and the 21-inch wheels. The $2,250 S line plus package would return with 22s, plus red calipers and the Black Optic look. The Adaptive Chassis Package with four-wheel steering and air suspension should be back at $2,750.

Among the few Prestige extras would again be the extended leather, the B&O upgrade, and Audi Night Vision Assistant, which can display in the Virtual Cockpit screen a thermal image of a pedestrian or animal up to 984 feet ahead. It cost $2,500 for 2020.

And if you desire a 2021 Q8 in a color other than black or white – say Dragon Orange Metallic or Samurai Gray Metallic – expect to again pay around $600 extra. Load a Prestige with every factory option and you’d be looking at an MSRP of around $97,200. That’s likely the neighborhood in which pricing for the RS Q8 would start.

When does it come out?

2020 Q8

Expect a 2021 Q8 release date in fall 2020

Best competitors

Aston Martin DBX, BMX X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, Audi e-tron, Lamborghini Urus, Jaguar I-Pace, Porsche Cayenne Coupe

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]