Audi's Q8 Sportback e-tron is a large SUV that's somehow re-invented itself. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Audi's Q8 e-tron large luxury full-electric SUV is offered with a sharper edge in the form of this Q8 Sportback e-tron model. This Coupe-SUV has a much more stylish look and, like the standard SUV variant, offers the choice of two battery sizes and two or three-motor drive options. If you thought Jaguar's I-PACE was the only battery-powered luxury large SUV capable of rewarding at the wheel, a drive in one of these might make you think again.
What's possibly the least environmentally sensible vehicle genre on the market? That for sporting large coupe-styled luxury SUVs would have to be right up there, cars like the BMW X6, the Mercedes GLE Coupe and the Audi Q8. Could a car of this sort ever be really socially responsible? Could a car of this kind ever be really dynamic and rewarding to drive? With this Q8 Sportback e-tron model, Audi thinks it can be. This car, as its name suggests, is a fastback version of the brand's regular Q8 e-tron, the company's large full-electric EV, which was launched in its original form back in 2019 (badged then simply as the 'e-tron') to battle segment rivals like Jaguar's I-PACE and the Mercedes EQC.
The e-tron Sportback, a sleeker, swoopier Gran Turismo version of that SUV, was unveiled in 2020 and sold better than its boxier showroom stablemate. But it was hampered by the same things that hampered the e-tron SUV, primarily heavy weight and batteries that weren't large or dense enough to provide the driving range that rivals could offer. Hence the update that in late 2022 transformed the e-tron Sportback into the Q8 Sportback e-tron model we look at here. Behind the different badgework, the car is basically the same. But the proposition it offers is very different.
The reason why not enough people bought the e-tron Sportback in its original form wasn't hard to fathom; driving range. The base '50' version could only take you 212 miles, less than some EV superminis. Forget all that now, the offending 71kWh battery of that old car has been junked in favour of the much gutsier 95kWh one of the base Q8 50 Sportback e-tron model that takes the car (a still not exemplary) 281 miles. If you want to do better, the pricier Q8 55 Sportback e-tron variant your dealer will prefer to persuade you into has a huge 114kWh battery capable of 330 miles between charges, which is much more like it.
Both models still have motor on each axle, hence the quattro four-wheel drive system designation. The rear one though, has been improved, now with 14 coils instead of the previous 12, which pushes power up to 340PS in the Q8 50 Sportback e-tron, 27PS more than before. The Q8 55 Sportback e-tron has the same 664Nm torque figure, but serves up 408PS. If you want more, you'll be steered towards the top tri-motor SQ8 Sportback model, basically the old e-tron S Sportback, which means you get an extra motor at the back. With that, there's 503PS and an enormous 973Nm of torque, powering the car to a top speed of 130mph.
Across the range, sprightly performance depends on selection of a 'Dynamic' drive mode that rather decimates the quoted range figures; to get closer to those, you'll need to keep more regularly in the drive select system's 'Auto', 'Comfort' or 'Efficiency' settings. Air suspension is standard with all Q8 Sportback e-tron variants and the ride height can be adjusted, with the 'Efficiency' mode lowering it by 27mm and 'Off-road' mode (yes, there is one) raising the car by 52mm. The steering's still Q5-derived, while much of the suspension uses Q7 bits. As with other electric cars, the low centre of gravity should help in reducing body roll.
Design and Build
There's plenty going on here, the Q8 Sportback e-tron attempting, in Audi's words, to 'combine the power, presence and space of an SUV with the elegance of a four-door coupe and the progressive character of an electric car'. For us, that's a lot of bases to cover in one single design, but we'll leave the subjective judgement to you. What we've got here is certainly a substantial piece of Ingolstadt real estate, over 4.9-metres long and sitting over 1.6-metres high, though there's plenty of panelwork sculpting to disguise the bulk. The key difference over the brand's ordinary Q8 e-tron SUV is obvious from a profile perspective, a coupe-like rear roofline cut from the A7 Sportback, which sweeps back 20mm down, via steeply-raked D-pillars, into a liftback-style tailgate. Changes made over the original version of this model include a smarter grille, revised taillights, re-styled bumpers and LED headlamps with a range of new features.
You'll find less that's new inside - but less needed doing there. Audi insists it's different though, primarily in its eco-friendliness. Carpets (like the sound deadening material) are made from recycled fibres, the seatbelt buckles are moulded from reused automotive plastic waste and where microfibre upholstery features, it's sourced from recycled plastic bottles. All of it supporting Audi's claim that this is a completely carbon neutral vehicle. Otherwise, it's as you were with the old e-tron Sportback, which means a 10.1-inch centre screen and an 8.6-inch lower climate control panel, plus the usual 12.3-inch 'Digital cockpit' instrument display. What about rear seat space? Well this Sportback model's 20mm reduction in ceiling height might bother you if you're a 6-footer - your head will be brushing the immaculately crafted roof liner - but otherwise, it feels pretty spacious in the back. There's a decently-sized 615-litre boot, that's 45-litres smaller than the Q8 e-tron SUV. And as with that car, you get an extra little carriage compartment at the front where the engine would normally be, though it's mostly taken up by the charging leads. You could put a laptop or a small bag there though.
Market and Model
You'll need an additional £2,500 to choose this Sportback Q8 e-tron body style, rather than the standard SUV body shape. That means pricing starting from just over £70,000 for the base Q8 50 Sportback e-tron quattro model with its 95kWh battery, but you'll probably want to stretch to the Q8 55 Sportback etron, with its larger 114kWh battery, which prices from just over £80,000. Both the '50' and the '55' are offered with a choice of four trim levels - 'Sport', 'S line', 'Black Edition' and 'Vorsprung'. The top SQ8 Sportback e-tron is only offered in either 'Black Edition' or 'Vorsprung' trim and prices from £100,000.
Equipment highlights fitted as standard across the range include adaptive air suspension, quattro all-wheel drive and progressive steering. All models also include heated and electrically adjustable front seats, a windscreen with acoustic glazing, the Audi 'Virtual cockpit' instrument binnacle screen, keyless-go keyless entry and two-zone automatic air conditioning (including remote preconditioning). This enhanced system now allows customers to heat or cool the car, and activate seat heating and ventilation, and window heating all via the myAudi app. A raft of safety equipment also features as standard, including a rear view camera, lane departure warning, camera traffic sign recognition, Audi's 'pre-sense front and basic' safety systems and a parking set-up with 360 sensors. Matrix LED headlamps are standard across the line-up with Digital Matrix LEDs reserved for top-spec 'Vorsprung' versions.
Cost of Ownership
Like its two German premium brand rivals, Audi still hasn't switched to an 800-volt electrical infrastructure for its EVs, the lower-tech 400-volt system continuing here. We gave you the mileage range figures in our 'Driving' section, these stats enhanced not only by larger battery sizes but also by a 20% increase in battery density and a revised stacking process within the battery structure, with altered electrode placement. The new more efficient electric rear motor and the car's now more slippery aerodynamics also help of course.
But the usual EV downsides remain. Electric cars are going to be able to go considerably further once someone designs a battery that doesn't weigh them down like a brick. Even the smaller of this Q8 Sportback e-tron's two available batteries, that with 95kWh (89kWh usable), tips the scales at 700kgs - which means it accounts for nearly a third of the weight of the whole car. Anyway, you'll want to know about this model's new charging system. The base Q8 50 Sportback e-tron variant offers charging performance of up to 150kW; with the 114kWh battery of the Q8 55 Sportback e-tron or the SQ8 (106kWh of which is usable), charging performance rises to 170kW. Either way, at a public fast charger, your Q8 e-ton should charge from 10-80% in around half an hour.
For a home wallbox or a public AC charger, the Q8 e-tron charges at up to 11kW and if that's not enough, Audi offers an optional AC charging upgrade of up to 22kW. Under ideal conditions, the Q8 50 Sportback e-tron can completely charge in around nine hours and 15 minutes on a 11kW power source - and in around four hours and 45 minutes on a 22kW power source. The Q8 55 Sportback e-tron's larger battery will charge in around 11 hours and 30 minutes at 11kW - and six hours at 22kW. Insurance groupings range from 44E to 50E.
Arguably, this Q8 Sportback e-tron variant is the car the standard Q8 e-tron model ought to be. A large luxury EV that's more than just a statement of technology. But one instead with extra pavement presence and an added dose of engagement. The compromises required over the ordinary Q8 e-tron SUV in terms of rear seat passenger space and luggage capacity shouldn't be too taxing for most likely owners to make. And this Sportback variant makes a more pleasing pavement statement.
The changes made in evolving the original version of this design to create this Q8 Sportback e-tron model have been remarkably far-reaching. It's still a pity though that you have to stretch up to the pricier '55' variant to get really decent operating range. Still, if you can stretch to the larger 114kWh battery, you should find that this Audi has become a real contender in this class. And a much better showcase for the unique tri-motor technology in the SQ8 Sportback model, engineering that rivals still haven't got near to replicating. Ultimately, as with the ordinary Q8 e-tron SUV, you'll have to really like the Audi brand to really want one of these. But if you appreciate Ingolstadt's cool, understated, considered approach to luxury motoring, then here a future that's very Vorsprung durch Elektrisch beckons.