...so will Tom love its Russian doll replacement?
Audi A7 £56,955 OTR/£73,875 as tested Goodbye Audi Q8 £65,040 OTR/£85,565 as tested
Over six thousand miles in the Q8, and I’ve really enjoyed the big orange weirdo-barge. It is slick, techy, interesting, makes an impression (adoration-versus-outrighthostility running at roughly a 50:50 split), does everything perfectly well and impresses in lots of areas. There’s just one problem: I don’t know what it’s for. I can’t figure out the Q8’s USP. In fact, the only thing I can think the Q8 offers that you can’t get in another car, is the way it looks. And while that’s an entirely valid reason to buy something, it has left me feeling a little bit disconnected from it.
It’s not even that it does anything badly. It’s a big car with decent space and yet a suspension arrangement that manages to disguise its bulk with an insouciance that borders on genius. It’ll drive off-road a little bit, is relatively frugal (evening out at 36– 38mpg during the course of my ownership, which is spectacular for a car of this size) and stows a small family with ease. It might be a tad large to thread through traffic or a central London car park, but sits on a motorway with the casual comfort of the truly unbothered by crosswinds.
No, not all of the forward-thinking systems are things I’d specify (some of them feel a bit beta, like the ocular swarm of cameras whose sensors become ‘obstructed’ regularly, or insist that 40mph roadworks have a 110mph limit), but others have become instant must-haves (LED headlights, 3D parking cameras). It all hangs together very nicely. But I just can’t get excited about a car with such a broad, vague character. Literally the most arresting thing about it is the styling.
Possibly it’s the lack of quirk that makes it feel a little like an appliance, a psychological relentlessness that makes me wonder… why? It’s a question that I suspect
will be answered – at least in part – with the forthcoming RS Q8, a vehicle that might well have the firepower and character to go with the Q8’s shouty face.
But the whole thing has been bothering me. Is progress the relentless deletion of singularity across model ranges, to the point that we’ve finally ended up with a range of cars that are essentially Russian dolls, all intellectually nested inside one another, whose ‘character’ is merely defined by their slight changes in appearance and size? And it’s not just Audi which is doing the divide-and-conquer thing with its modular platform multitudes: see also BMW and Mercedes and the rest of the Volkswagen empire. Should we be worried that the hegemony just provides options without really offering solutions to any specific need?
So, in a slightly odd twist, I’ve asked to flip-flop into a new Audi A7. Which is essentially a squashed Q8, if you think about it. Very similar architecture, same five-seat, hatchbacked, fourdoor, niche-blurring semi-coupe design theme, same 50 TDI engine, same eight-speed automatic gearbox and quattro. Just two feet closer to the floor. It’s cheaper to buy (£8–10k less), tax (though they both sit in insurance group 45), does more mpg and is faster to 62mph by over half a second. Physics is in the A7’s favour, obviously, and it weighs 265kg less than a Q8 depending on spec, but how much difference is there in terms of satisfaction?
This is what we’re going to try and find out. Is Audi more than just a set of cloned parameters in wildly different sets of clothes, or does it have genuine character buried in the multitude that doesn’t wear an RS badge? Stay tuned for more pseudoscience in forthcoming reports…
Ruffles says that the Russian doll design is not to his taste