Sports cars are sexy. Having one in the garage is a dream unfulfilled for many. In India, though, it seems impractical to own one—rarely do you go anywhere with the top of your fancy car down unless you want to be smacked in the face with pollution, roasted in the searing heat, or become a target of a projectile from another vehicle. Even if you don’t choose a convertible, a sports car still isn’t the dream ride it’s supposed to be. Pitted road surfaces, speed breakers and unpredictable traffic mean you have to take it slow in these cars with low ground clearance. So it means you only have the show without the go. Plus, they seat just two—a bit of a squash for the family-loving Indian.
Doors closed to the dream? Maybe not. I suggest a spin in the Audi RS Q8. Now, if you are wondering whether I’m a little crazy to suggest an SUV in place of a sports car, read on.
The RS Q8 is the the high-performance version of the Audi Q8, and shares its DNA with its cousin, the Lamborghini Urus (the luxury sportscar maker’s first super sport utility vehicle), in terms of platform, engine and tech. The RS Q8 proudly wears the badge of being the fastest SUV to lap the Nürburgring in just 7 minutes and 42 seconds. Getting interested? And yes, this SUV turns heads too.
The Q8 is not a conventional square-shouldered SUV. Its muscular lines and coupe-like roof give it loads of appeal. The hunkered down profile looks set for action and its ground clearance and dimensions speak of practicality in our conditions. The RS Q8 raises the stakes with the larger intake systems for the engine, flared wheel arches, oval exhausts and the massive 23” tyre rims that distinguish it from the regular Q8. There is an optional black package too that gives you a blackened grille, rims, badges and other details that add a more menacing look. This SUV does have style quotient.
On the inside, it’s a regular luxury SUV. The highlight of the cabin is the twin-screen infotainment layout. The dedicated RS mode on the digital cockpit gives you all the information you need when you are in the mood to dial it up a notch. For this kind of car, the focus is the experience behind the wheel, but what makes this SUV more user friendly is the back seat, which has enough room for tall passengers and you can get three in there at a pinch. The seat back reclines as well, ensuring the occupants can really get comfortable. The sunroof is an option for a price, and a basic or a panoramic one can be added to really enhance the feeling of space. Since we’ve been talking about practicality, here’s something you won’t find in other sports cars: 605 litres of boot space.
But now, it’s time to get back behind the wheel. I have the RS Q8 for the weekend and take it out early on a Sunday morning. There is still a fair bit of traffic and it trundles along comfortably and sedately with me. But I have a monster under the hood that I’m itching to let loose. As soon as I get to an open stretch of road, I stomp down on the accelerator. The 600bhp fire-breathing, 4.0-litre twin turbo petrol kicks in propelling this 2.3-tonne SUV forward with so much exuberance that I’m thrown back into my seat and there is a grin on my face.
The roar of the V8, and the crackles on the overrun as you slow down and go again are an added delight. It punches up the gears and the 100-mark comes up before you can think it—in just 3.8 seconds. While the performance is certainly thrilling, what really has my jaw dropping is the way it takes a series of corners. You expect it to lean and roll but it just rips around a winding section of road, glued to the tarmac in a way that seems to defy physics. The RS Q8 has quite an arsenal that allows it to do that: The standard all-wheel steering and the Quattro all-wheel drive that sends up to 85% of torque to the rear wheels.
For the real enthusiast, the options of active roll stabilisation and sport rear differential give it the kind of stability and control unimaginable in an SUV, especially one of this size.
Snaking around corners on the hillside, I am amazed by how in control I feel. There is never a moment that gets hairy. The RS Q8 doesn’t run wide; there isn’t any understeer, and it just carves the corners in such a poised manner that I’m left wondering if I am actually driving an SUV. It’s definitely got that sports-car feel.
More impressive is the fact that with all that performance and hardcore handling as well as the 23” wheels, the ride quality is still comfortable. The air suspension softens the blows of bad roads, and the option to switch to off-road mode and increase the ride height by 3.5” means you can tackle the terrible bits quite fearlessly.
Even the most hardcore of enthusiasts will be impressed by its performance and handling. Not only is it the fastest SUV on the holy grail of motoring, the Nürburgring, but it also set blistering lap records for an SUV at all three Indian circuits—NCR’s Buddh International Circuit (BIC), Chennai’s Madras Motor Race Track, and Coimbatore’s Kari Motor Speedway—outdoing a lot of sports cars. But remember, there is always a price to pay when you want the good things in life: the RS Q8 price starts at ₹2.07 crore (ex-showroom) with lots of options to add on. It is expensive, but it shares so much with the Lamborghini Urus, which starts at ₹3.15 crore. The fact that all that thrill factor comes in a practical package for our roads, with space and comfort in good measure, is what makes it a compelling buy. Practicality that offers pure pleasure.
The writer is Editor, Autocar Show