Winding through Northern California’s Navarro Redwoods behind the wheel of Audi’s latest electric, the Q8 e-tron, I couldn’t help but hear Kim Novak’s voice whispering, “Somewhere in here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you; you took no notice.” It’s from a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen this 1958 thriller, but her character is pointing to a cross section of a thousand-year-old giant redwoods.
These trees are the oldest living things on the planet; many were stretching toward the sun long before Carl Benz built his first Benz Patent-Motorwagen in the 1880s, and they will continue to grow there tall and proud long after the last internal combustion powered cars have vanished from the roads.
The giant redwoods may not notice, but the rings they create in 2023 may mark a tipping point in our race into the electric age, one both the new Audi Q8 e-Tron and its Sportback sibling are helping to usher in.
Nuts and Bolts
The previous generation was known as merely the e-tron, but as Audi is now using that name across their entire electric lineup, the new versions have been dubbed the Q8 e-tron and the e-tron Sportback.
Both have been modestly re-styled with a new front grille, vents in front of the wheels that improve aerodynamic efficiency and a lower rear bumper.
In both the Q8 SUV and the Sportback, a liquid-cooled, 106 kWh lithium-ion battery pack powers a pair of electric motors, one for the front wheels and one for the rear. The combo generates a maximum of 402 horsepower (490 lb-ft of torque) and will throw each off from a dead stop to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Both boast a top speed of 124 mph, and thanks to new battery architecture, the range of the SUV is 285 miles while the Sportback can go 296 miles (or 300 with the ultra package) on a single charge. The battery can take on enough electrons from a 170kw DC fast charger to go from 10% to 80% in 31 minutes. Level 2 charging at 19.2kW takes roughly six and a half hours. On paper, those numbers all sound somewhat average, but the sum here adds up to an experience that is substantially greater than simple arithmetic would suggest.
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On the Road
Starting out in the Sportback from Healdsburg in Sonoma wine country, my drive route traced the Russian River over to the California coast and on to Highway 1 for a long drive up the shore. But obviously, the first chance I got, I popped it into “dynamic” mode (aka sport) and slammed the pedal down to the floor. I’m a child after all, despite what my drivers license says. No, it’s not the fastest EV I’ve driven, but it’s quick and the acceleration is smooth, plenty fleet for a daily driver. In fact, it feels like the correct amount of power for a crossover of this ilk and more than ample for a rapid overtake on a two-lane road. Quite frankly, not everyone needs or can even handle an electric rocket ship. For those who have a serious speed addiction, Audi will offer an SQ8 version later this year, which kicks the horsepower up to 496 and gets to 60 more than a full second quicker. (Maybe I’ll get to drive that version sooner than later.)
While the speed wasn’t shocking, the Sportback’s poise left my jaw somewhere near the brake pedal. Flicking this 5,800 lbs behemoth through the bends, I was so impressed with the precision and balance, I called my better half after about 10 minutes behind the wheel to argue over whether we truly need to own a three-row SUV. She made a decent point about car seats and I hung up without a rebuttal, resigned to waiting a little longer to replace our unleaded swilling school bus. So, I got back to driving. Audi has not only added faster steering and improved the feedback, but they have also upped the rigidity in both e-trons’ five-link fully independent air suspension as well as improved the electronic stability control (ESC) software, torque vectoring and dynamics. So it feels glued to the road and there’s minimal roll when attacking the corners.
Along the way up the coast, I swapped out of the Sportback and into the Q8 SUV before turning inland toward the Redwoods. The performance was similar but slightly muted, which I’ll chalk up mostly to the rubber. The Sportback was outfitted in Continental summer tires, while the SUV was shoed in all-season tires.
For those who prefer a more subdued driving experience or when the situation calls for one, the comfort setting softens the suspension set up and moves the AWD to a rear-wheel bias. The result is a refined and supple drive with the ESC un-wrinkling most bumps on the road. There’s also an “Eco” setting to help maximize range.
To neg them slightly, the brake feel is a bit awkward. The e-trons’ regenerative braking system takes a little getting used to. There is a bit too much resistance before the calipers start to grab in earnest. It’s a modest complaint and certainly wouldn’t be a deal-breaker (lousy pun alert). The system also doesn’t feature a setting to enable one-pedal driving or anything even close to it. But as someone who prefers using both pedals, that’s not a complaint, just a note for anyone who might care.
Bells and Whistles
Audi is a luxury-focused, tech-savvy brand, so as you might expect the e-trons are inviting, well thought-out, spaces on the inside. The seats are well-cushioned but still supportive. The dashboard features a digital instrument cluster for the driver and a pair of haptic-enabled touch screens — one to control the navigation, car systems and media, and another for the climate control.
In terms of amenities, both crossovers start at loaded and work their way up from there. Standard equipment in the “Premium” trim level includes leather, a panoramic sunroof, the aforementioned electronically controlled air suspension system, 20-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, LED headlamps and four-zone automatic climate control.
“Premium Plus” adds a Bang & Olufsen sound system, ventilated front seats and a top view camera system with Virtual 360° view. Tick the “Prestige” box and you get single-frame projector lighting, Valcona-Milano leather seats, digital matrix-design LED headlights, individual contour massaging front seats, intelligent park assist, and matrix-design LED headlights. There’s also a “Launch Edition” with 21” wheels (22” for the Sportback), metallic black finish and an S line exterior.
End of the Road
After the 200-plus mile drive, I still had roughly 70 miles of range left, despite smashing the throttle with the AC on and the massaging seat working on my back for four and a half hours. I handed off the keys and I wandered over to an Audi exec to let him know, “If it had a small third row jump seat, I’d get out my checkbook.” He grinned and offered a cagey chuckle. Of course, that’s coming, and in a short spell, I’ll have a number of choices.
Truthfully, I’ve been waiting quite a while for an EV that fits my family’s lifestyle. So, a few more months of waiting is only really a moment for me, and in the end, I’ll barely notice.
Correction (July 10, 2023, 11:09 a.m.): An earlier version of this article referenced sequoia trees that can be seen in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo. The trees in the movie are actually Giant Redwoods, and the article has been updated to reflect this change.
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