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2019 Audi Q8 review: Stop worrying and love the roof

Roadshow logo Roadshow 3/18/2019 Andrew Krok
a car parked in a parking lot© Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Am I out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong.

I will admit that I harbored many negative opinions of the first crossover "coupes" and their tapered, space-eating rooflines. But after a week with Audi's new Q8, I recognize the folly in that decision. The Q8 doesn't make as many sacrifices as I thought it would have to, and the result is a genuinely compelling luxury SUV that I think buyers would be silly to not investigate further.

Research the Audi Q8 on MSN Autos | Find an Audi Q8 near you

Related Video: 2019 Audi Q8 is fashion-forward and loaded with tech (Provided by Roadshow)

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Few, if any sacrifices

The Q8 hides its downward sloping roof well enough to the point that it only bears a passing resemblance to similar vehicles like the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe. It goes from roof to glass at a far more severe angle than the three-row Q7, but in person, it doesn't look harsh at all. In fact, I think it's the most fashion-forward vehicle riding on this VW Group platform, out-prettying cars like the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga. It also happens to be easier on the eyes than the X6 and GLE-Class Coupe.

The rest of the package ain't too shabby, either. The taillights look like they were ripped straight from the cover of some pulp sci-fi novel. In an era where headlights are growing ever thinner and grilles ever larger, the Q8's headlight assembly is actually appropriately proportioned to the grille, which hides much of the hardware for its driver-assist systems. The whole package just works, especially in my tester's shade of Glacier White Metallic (a $595 premium over regular Carrara White).

Somehow, the inside is even cooler than the outside. Audi's two dashboard screens, part of the Roadshow-Shift-Award-winning MMI Touch Response system, blend seamlessly into a large swath of glass that runs the width of the dash. There's just a bit of the usual vinyl-ish material up top, and the vents are cleverly hidden in the trim, something Audi's also doing on other models to great effect. Throw in a bit of matte-finish wood that feels expensive to the touch, and you've got the makings of one seriously well-designed SUV.

a close up of a computer: 2019 Audi Q8© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 2019 Audi Q8

If that roof forced Audi to make any sacrifices, I'm having a hard time finding 'em. The front seat isn't just spacious, it offers a good amount of visibility in all directions, including out back, where the glass fills the not-necessarily-small rearview mirror entirely. There's loads of space in the back row, too; my 6-foot frame has a solid couple inches of space between the headliner and the hairs on my heady-head-head. Cargo space is equally excellent, with its 30.5-cubic-foot figure leading its segment.

Holy heck, I dig this tech

Simply put, Audi's MMI Touch Response infotainment system is one of the best I've ever laid hands on, and it's easily the best two-screen setup on the market.

Here's how it works: You've got two screens, one on top of the other. The 8.6-inch screen on the bottom focuses on climate controls, but there are also a few extra functions hidden away here, like the steering wheel heat and auto stop-start. It can also convert to a writing pad, and its handwriting recognition is fast and accurate. The response time is astonishing -- it'll be up and running, on occasion, before the engine finishes turning over.

The 10.1-inch screen above holds all your traditional infotainment bits, like the radio, navigation and phone. The design is simple, pretty close to Porsche's latest iteration of PCM. Response times are just about immediate, and the little bit of haptic feedback it provides feels natural. The design might be too simple for some, but I appreciate a straightforward layout more often than not. Touching is the only way to manipulate it -- there aren't any dials to speak of, except for the volume knob, but I never once clamor for one.

If that isn't enough screen, don't worry, there's one more. Virtual Cockpit is also present in my tester, packing its usual 12.3-inch display that mimics what the 10.1-inch screen shows. It's great for reducing distraction, but it's also available in various forms across much of VW Group's lineup now, so it's kind of old hat. Yet, it's still leagues ahead of most other gauge displays, if only in its flexibility and ease of manipulation (just a couple of buttons on the left steering wheel spoke).

On the driver-assist front, autobrake is standard. My tester one-ups that with the $2,750 Driver Assistance package, which adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, traffic sign recognition and active lane assist. Now, this car might be kitted out with that fancy zFAS controller and lidar emitters that no other automaker can offer at present, but as far as I can tell, the system operates like any other. It goes, it stops, and it does it all relatively smoothly. The steering assist isn't as active as similar systems from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, although I wish it were. It's very much a hands-on system, but I wish it was just a little more robust.

a car parked on the side of a building: 2019 Audi Q8© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 2019 Audi Q8

A pleasant commuter

Right now, the Q8 only has one engine on offer, although a hotter SQ8 is likely on the way. It's a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that turns out 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, improvements of 2 and 44 (respectively) over the Q7's supercharged V6. The Q8's six-pot also makes appearances in the new A6 and A7.

The V6 provides ample get-up-and-go when I lean heavy on the throttle, with the standard, rear-biased all-wheel drive providing loads of traction in the Michigan cold, thanks in part to this test car's 285/45R21 Hankook Dynapro HP2 Plus winter tires. The eight-speed automatic transmission exists largely in the background, shifting up and down with very little movement translated to the cabin.

There is, however, some weirdness in the throttle when starting from a stop. I don't know if it's turbo lag or poor throttle tuning from the factory, but this car does not appreciate a slow start. Light pressure on the gas pedal barely produces any forward motion, but the second I lean just a little harder, off it goes like a rocket. Thankfully, using the custom-tailored Individual drive mode makes up for some of this (engine set to Sport, transmission set to Comfort), but it doesn't eliminate the problem entirely. Setting the transmission to Sport leaves the revs hanging too often, which eats into fuel economy.

There's a 48-volt mild hybrid system baked into the drivetrain, but it only serves to lengthen the (admittedly very smooth) stop-start system. I wish it were more like Mercedes-Benz's EQ Boost, which can provide additional horsepower and torque in small bursts, but alas. And even with longer periods of engine shutoff, I'm not loving the fuel economy. The EPA's numbers of 17 miles per gallon city and 22 highway aren't great, but I am able to reach those numbers.

On the ride-quality front, things are mostly positive. My tester lacks the optional four-corner air suspension (part of a $2,750 package that also adds four-wheel steering), but it still does a commendable job of soaking up trouble on Michigan's Superfund-site-quality roads. The frameless windows only really ramp up the wind noise above 75 miles per hour; otherwise, the cabin is much quieter than the last couple of BMW SUVs I drove on better roads, in better weather.

How I'd spec it

My tester is the penultimate Premium Plus trim, which adds bigger wheels, interior ambient lighting, a surround-view camera system, ventilated front seats, wireless device charging, four-zone climate control and a host of other bits -- a $4,000 premium over the $67,400 base trim. My tester also packs the aforementioned Driver Assistance Package, a $650 towing package that lets you tow 7,700 pounds and a $600 Cold Weather Package that heats the rear seats and steering wheel. Add on $100 for a CD and DVD player and $995 for destination, and the price lands firmly at $77,090.

The $71,400 Premium Plus trim is where I'd start my ideal spec, too. All non-boring paint colors are $595, so I'll make this one bright orange, because I can. From there, I'll go with the no-charge brown leather and the same no-charge wood trim as my tester. I'll skip the Driver Assistance Package, but add the air suspension at the same $2,750 price point. I'll also heat my steering wheel for $600, but that's it. That brings the price down a smidge to $76,340, which is still expensive, but not bad for a flagship-level product.

Down to brass tacks

The Audi Q8 has competition both new and old. The swoopy-coupe BMW X6 is a direct competitor with a slightly lower starting price, but it's a bit older, too. The Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class Coupe would be, but in the US it's only available in AMG form, which sends the starting price north of $70,000. The Porsche Cayenne starts at about the same price, but it prioritizes driving engagement in a way the Q8 doesn't. Audi's own Q7 stands as a three-row complement to the Q8, but it's still running on Audi's last-gen tech.

I went into this review thinking the Q8 would be a car that compromised itself for the sake of fashion, but I was wrong. It's stylish, but its in-vogue silhouette still leaves plenty of space inside for cargo and people alike. It's rewarding to drive, and its tech is at the top of its game. Audi came out the gate swinging with this one.

Research the Audi Q8 on MSN Autos | Find an Audi Q8 near you

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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