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The rise of the SUV coupe has been one of motoring’s daftest trends, argues Simon Lambert, taking a big, heavy car and trying to make it sporty. So why do well-heeled buyers want these expensive beasts? 

To find out why luxury car buyers can’t get enough of streamlined SUVs, he borrowed an outgoing version of the Audi Q8 – an updated version will be in showrooms soon – and took it on a 2,000 mile test drive.

Big gun: The Audi Q8 is a streamlined version of its big Q7 SUV – an updated version is on its way to showrooms soon, but we put the outgoing version to the test

What the wealthy want: From posh saloons to SUVs

Back in the day, car buying was easy for the successful high-flier, you bought a big, posh saloon car and if you wanted something fast, you picked up a sports car for fun at the weekend too.

But then the lines started getting blurred, car makers realised there was a healthy market for upselling models if you combined the two elements and created a very fast saloon.

The country that arguably led the way on this was Germany, where bahn-storming, big-engined, four-door BMWs, Mercedes and Audi battled for bragging rights.

As the 1980s became the 1990s, designers and engineers came up with another bright idea, what if you took that recipe and shoehorned the big, powerful engine into an estate car instead? Thus the fast estate emerged as the coolest family car you could own.

Nowadays, there’s a different object of desire for deep-pocketed car buyers, the coupe SUV, and when I look at them I can’t help but ask: ‘where did things go wrong?’

Accomplished the Audi Q8 may be, but taking a hefty Audi Q7 SUV, and adding streamlining in an attempt to make it look and feel sporty does seem somewhat misguided.

However much you dress things up, there’s no escaping that this is a very large two tonne-plus car. Swift and impressive as a Q8 is, common sense says if you want a sporty car then smaller and lighter would be better.

The era when things went awry in rich people car land was the early 2000s, when saloons and estates became old hat and you now needed to be seen in an SUV.

At the pinnacle of premium manufacturers’ ranges appeared large, heavy SUVs, which needed more powerful engines to keep pace with their forerunners and chugged through substantially more fuel.

In a ‘hold my beer’ moment, car makers decided instead to come up with surely the daftest motoring idea ever, the SUV coupe 

At this point, you might think the car industry needed to calm down and spend some time thinking about what it had done.

Mass luxury car makers had other ideas though and in a ‘hold my beer’ moment decided instead to come up with surely the daftest motoring idea ever, the SUV coupe.

BMW has a lot to answer for here, with its X6 leading the charge. Mercedes swiftly followed with coupe versions of its SUVs, and Audi and Porsche got in on the act too.

The trend is now so embedded in the motoring world that your SUV coupe could be either a Lamborghini Urus or a Renault Arkana (we’ve tested both and in the unlikely event that you have the choice between those two, Cars & motoring recommends picking the Lamborghini).

The coupe SUV is an obviously foolish concept. It takes a large practical car and makes it much less practical, sloping off the top of the boot space and often reducing headroom.

At the upper end, these models also inevitably involve effort to make the car fast and sporty, something to which smaller, lower, lighter cars are much better suited.

The Top Trumps-loving inner child in us may love SUVs with sub-six second 0 to 60mph times that match the supercars of our youth, but at a moment in time when we are meant to be thinking about the environment is that what we really need?

If you wanted to build a sleek, quick, good handling car, you wouldn’t start with an SUV 

At the risk of hammering the point home too hard, if you wanted to build a sleek, quick, good handling car, you wouldn’t start with an SUV.

It’s with that admittedly prejudiced mindset that I approached the Audi Q8 I spent ten days with for a family drive to the Alps and back.

This book was to be firmly judged by its cover: the big Audi was obviously going to be comfortable, luxurious, spacious and a very nice place to sit and cross France, but it was foolish.

So, did that 2,000 mile round trip with an S Line 50 TDI version of the Q8 change my mind?

As much as I hate to admit this, it sort of did. This is the problem with modern day cars so accomplished that what is bad in theory can turn out to be good in practice.

The Q8 is more practical than some SUV coupe rivals

Firstly, I think you can make a reasonable case that an Audi Q8 is not quite as daft as a BMW X6, or Mercedes GLE (or even some of Audi’s other coupe SUVs).

With the Q8, Audi has sensibly tempered the reshaping of the car, opting for a broader curve than the full-on coupe attempts that BMW and Mercedes have done on their rivals.

The Q8 is more rounded-off SUV and is a fairly handsome car. It’s huge and wide but manages to pull off the trick of not looking as big as it is when out on the road, it’s only when you properly look that you realise how humungous it is.

The gently curved, rounding-off of the roofline means that you are losing a smaller amount of boot space and not eating into rear headroom in the same way that rivals do.

Audi’s luxury cockpit is a nice place to spend a long journey, meanwhile, even with the rear seats slid forwards there’s tons of room in the back of the Q8 and the 40 / 20/ 40 seat split is handy for long items

In fact, there’s absolutely bags of room in both the luggage compartment and the rear seats of a Q8.

The Q8’s hatchback boot loads easily and has a 605 litre capacity, a step down on the Q7’s 770 litres, but it easily swallowed our family of four’s luggage and mountain gear. As you rarely pack a SUV or estate boot to the roof, it doesn’t really feel compromised.

With the middle of the rear bench down, skis, snowboards, surfboards, golf clubs, or any other lengthy items you need to transport easily slide through – and Audi deserves praise for making the practical 40 / 20 / 40 split its default rather than the 60 / 40 rear benches many rivals annoyingly persevere with.

The rear bench slides to trade off some extra boot space with rear leg room, but even if you opt for more of the former there will still be plenty of the latter.

The generous legroom in the back combines with wide, comfortable main seats at each side to mean that rear passengers are travelling in luxury.

My two girls looked like they were in club class back there on the big reclining seats and had no complaints about the 12-hour straight journey we did in a day on the way to the French Alps.

The middle seat in the rear won’t be most passengers’ first choice but is sizeable enough to make the Q8 a genuine five-seater.

Upfront the Q8 has the kind of luxurious, well laid out cabin that’s given high-end Audis such a good reputation for interiors these days.

Our car’s stylish piano black wraparound dashboard and soft leather seats combined with the clean lines and switchgear to give a real sense of quality. Large central armrest storage and deep doorbins made it a practical space too.

A double touch screen sits in the middle of the Q8’s dashboard, helpfully splitting climate and other controls and maps to make it easier to use on the move. A simple and well laid out digital display behind the big leather steering wheel, puts the information you need in your eye line.

The Q8’s offers a huge boot that even with four suitcases and a board bag in has plenty of room left to fill

While the sloping roofline eats into the luggage space slightly that is not to the degree of rivals where practicality is more compromised – pack it to the top and it will swallow a huge amount

The Q8 on the road

The Audi Q8 easily passes the big and luxurious test – as you’d quite rightly expect a £72,000 car to – but what’s it like on the road?

The S Line 50 TDI Quattro Tiptronic version that I had to review had a 3.0 litre turbocharged diesel engine putting out 286 horsepower. That’s enough to propel the Q8 from 0 to 62mph in 6.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 150mph.

Diesel engines may not be flavour of the month nowadays, but they are arguably a far more sensible option for a big heavy family SUV, in terms of power delivery, fuel efficiency and trying to be a little kinder to the environment.

The diesel engine packs lots of torque and the Q8 has plenty of punch when you put your foot down, for example, overtaking or pulling onto motorways.

For all its sporting aspirations there’s no getting away from the fact that at a notch under 2.2 tonnes the Q8 is a hefty beast. This means that it won’t be competing with a real sports car – or even a sports saloon – in the bends.

Where it excels is as a long-distance cruiser, knocking off motorway miles with ease as you sit back in the cockpit 

But the Q8 can hustle when it needs to and was good fun to drive up and down mountain roads, bounding along effortlessly and powering out of the bends.

Where it excels is as a long-distance cruiser, knocking off motorway miles with ease as you sit back in the cockpit. Crossing France on empty autoroutes was like driving your living room at high speed.

In fact, whatever the road surface thrown at it, the Q8’s ride is exceptional – supple enough to soak up the bumps but firm enough to be fun to drive.

Fuel economy is obviously not the Q8’s strong point but with a diesel engine the SUV effect is mitigated somewhat. We averaged 29.3mpg over 1,316 miles in total, but most were done fully loaded at French motorway speeds. On the shorter and slower two-hour run back from Dover, the Q8 notched up 36.6mpg over 108 miles.

The Audi Q8 we had on test came with the 3 litre diesel engine that is better suited to a heavy SUV than a petrol equivalent

The Q8 has unmistakeable Audi family looks and while it’s a big car it’s not bad looking

The Cars & motoring verdict

If you’ve got deep pockets and want to buy a big luxurious expensive SUV, there’s a lot of choice out there. So, does the Audi Q8 do enough to stand out from the crowd?

A new version of the Q8 is on its way to showrooms but doesn’t look as if it will be radically different. The outgoing version that we tested can still be picked up and there is probably some room for negotiation on its price.

I’d argue it’s a better and more practical choice than many of its SUV coupe peers, particularly those with the most aggressively sloping rooflines, such as the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLE.

Other options buyers will consider could be the Porsche Cayenne coupe and Range Rover Sport, which similar to the Q8 ease off on the coupe styling slightly.

Those that opt for the Q8 will get an exceptionally talented car, with loads of space, a fantastic cabin and a feel of luxury to it.

But if they really want to go down the route of space and sportiness, perhaps prospective buyers should consider an Audi S6 estate instead: it’s faster, has better fuel economy and as its smaller, lighter and closer to the ground it’s better set up for sporty handling.

Of course, buyers probably won’t choose the estate – they want an SUV, but it’s at least worth trying to convince people otherwise.


Content source – www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com

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