Cape Town - It's been a while since Audi has released something new in SA, but recently the brand came out of hibernation to reveal its new Q8 SUV. It’s a tough market right now, particularly in the premium category, as consumers look carefully at what they spend their money on. In fact, statistics show that more and more people are actually ‘buying down’.

A brave move then coming in at an entry price of R1.4 million, but the folk at Audi are quite confident that the five-seater Q8 will be a popular choice in the segment.

It’s based on the familiar Q7, but is shorter, lower and slightly wider, which gives it a more impressive presence.

Officially it’s called the Audi Q8 55 TFSI and under the bonnet you’ll find a 3.0-litre V6 (turbocharged petrol) motor that pushes out a solid 250kW and 500Nm of torque, which we got to test at the launch in Cape Town last week. 

Audi claim a 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds and if you keep the loud pedal floored, a limited top speed of 250km/h can be achieved. Meanwhile, consumption they say should be in the region of 8.9 and 9.1L/100km (depending on spec), but probably closer to 11L/100km in real world conditions.

South Africans like their diesel engines though, so there’s only a few months wait before the Q8 3.0 TDI (45 TDI) becomes available from the middle of the year.

For the first time too we got to see what Audis will look like going forward with a redesigned and more defined grille and a spoiler drawn towards the front with large contoured air inlets. Quattro blisters above the wheel arches give it a beefier, more aggressive look that will allow you to fit 22-inch wheels while the sloping roofline of the SUV coupé gives it a more aesthetically pleasing look to the eye (and we received lots of admiring glances in the Cape Town traffic).

The package is rounded off with Audi’s new HD Matrix lighting system that includes special locking and unlocking animations.

Technology keeps on reinventing itself, and in the car industry it’s no different. The Q8 is fitted with a new mild-hybrid technology with a 48 volt main electrical system that incorporates a lithium-ion battery and a belt alternator starter. During braking up to 12kW can be recovered and fed back in to the battery. The system allows the start/stop to cut in at 22km/h, which shuts off the engine every time you slow down for a traffic circle or yield sign. It’s an interesting concept that Audi say can save up to 0.7L/100km. We’re not convinced yet, and it’s pretty nerve-racking (particularly with our sometimes cavalier road users).

Inside it’s pretty much the lap of luxury as the newly designed interior hits our shores.

Sporting more than just a few subtle changes, it’s dominated by dual touchscreens in the centre, so no more rotary knob which we have become so used to, and can be operated by touch, voice and handwriting. The top 25.6cm display is used for the smart infotainment and navigation systems while the 21.8cm screen below that is for temperature control, text input and hotkeys for destinations.

Voice recognition and connectivity is starting to play an ever increasing roll in how we operate driving systems in our cars so for example you can tell it you’re hungry and the system will suggest restaurants in the area.

Once you get behind the wheel, the Q8 wraps comfortably around you with the virtual cockpit giving you crystal clear feedback

With a wider track, the Q8 sits well around bends and corners, aided considerably by its air suspension that easily handles road imperfections.

Acceleration isn’t blisteringly quick, but a throaty roar from the tail pipes sees it pick up speed quick enough to get you into trouble with the local authorities, and while the windows are frameless, wind noise is minimal as is road noise even on a short stretch of dirt road.

With 254mm of ground clearance, permanent all wheel drive and hill descent control, the Q8 will be almost as capable on dirt as it is on the blacktop too.

As you expect from any premium car, safety hasn’t been skimped on at all (if you manage to get things out of their natural order) while Audi have now also bundled options and extras into packs, making it easier to choose upgrade kits, which we believe should have been done a long time ago in the industry.

It’s been a while and as Audi’s halo model, the time in R&D has been well spent, it’s a top-notch offering with every possible tech gadget you can think of and because it’s based on smartphone technology, easy to use. So while it may be a tough market to play in, the Q8 will certainly make people sit up and take notice (and that’s half the battle won), but we reckon once the diesel lands, that will probably be the vehicle of choice.

All Audi Q8 models come with a five-year/100 000km Audi Freeway maintenance plan.

Drive360